The day of my daughter’s surgery was the worst day of my life. We drove in silence, a silence so loud I could hear it. I was unable to make a single cheery remark. My cheerleader self was shaken to the core and I swiped the tears away before my little girl noticed. I watched her in the mirror as she stared off into space, out the window, clutching her little doll Sara, her favorite despite having painted-on hair.
When they came to take her for the surgery, I was overcome by fear that she would never come back out. She was so tiny as she lay on the movable bed. She was hungry. She was afraid. As the anesthesiologist went to place the mask over her mouth, she looked over at me with her liquid brown eyes, tears spilling down her cheeks. She waved and said softly, “Okay bye Mommy. Take care of Sara. Bye Daddy.” I was breathing underwater. All I could think was, “please let her make it. I will die if she dies. I would die for her right now. I would without hesitation give my life so she could live hers.”
My husband led me by my elbow to the waiting room where I sat and completed a five hundred-piece puzzle on the waiting room floor to avoid looking at the clock or any person. We had about four hours to wait before we would hear anything. The time crept by so slowly. My personal agony never subsided, only got stronger, as my thoughts ran down random worry alleyways. My husband stared at the wall stoically, and every hour on the hour, said, “this is good. It’s almost done. We’ll have good news at any minute.”
When the surgeon came out and told us the procedure was a success, I jumped into his arms and wept. He must see that a lot because he didn’t even flinch. When my little girl recovered enough to come home, I was terrified that she would break. It’s hard to keep an active child quiet and we had a two and a half year old son at home who wanted to play with her. But somehow the skies cleared and her bandages were removed; I consciously made myself let her the climb the ladder to the slide or pump her own tiny legs on the swings, even as I held my breath.
A month later, I had lunch with my boss to discuss my return. He was selling me hard to come back. I felt immensely flattered and wanted. His big plans were indeed big, including a business development role with lots of international travel. He said, “You are one step away from being an HR leader for one of our smaller businesses. You are one of our highest potential females. How long have you been back in the U.S.? We need to put that global brain of yours back to work.” My boss assumed I would work out the balance issues with my husband. That I would put my work wings back on and show up, ready to fly. I thanked him for his support and said, “’ll come back after the holidays. I’m so excited.” I meant it at the time. I even shook on it. I danced to my car with the song, “I’m free, free falling” echoing in my head.
It didn't work out that way. I was nauseous and my lower back was aching so I stopped at the pharmacy and got a home pregnancy kit. The decision that being a stay-at-home mom was best for our family was made the moment I peed on the stick. As much as I was thrilled when I saw the double line, I saw the career me flying away into the clouds. I pictured my boss saying, “I had big plans for her. She had promise. Too bad we lost her.”
I switched from a hard pounding working mom, clinging to career hopes, into a full time stay-at-home mom, buried under the insatiable needs of two, three, then four tiny people. And their needs were immense. Of course my husband didn’t want to be left out so he lumped his needs in as well and then got us a puppy. I was lured in by their little, teeny-sized clothes (babies’, not husband’s or puppy’s) and then held captive by their innocent faces as they slept. I never sat for a second and I’m not even sure I exhaled often.
I experienced so many moments of profound love and joy, but sometimes, when I wasn’t paying attention, a profound tidal wave of loss would set in as I missed the work me. And somehow, I started to transfer all my hopes and dreams onto the ankle biters.