Friday, March 20, 1987—that was the day that I came into the world at 2 lbs. 3 oz.; screaming and roaring like a fighter and then almost instantaneously, fell quiet as if I had never entered at all. That is the way my mother would describe it to you, if you asked her—which trust me—she tells me the story of the day of and after my birth quiet often. Likely because they are still painful for her and it helps her to talk it through because it all ended up being okay for the most part. But, I digress. Let’s go back to the day of my birth and start from the beginning. My mother was scheduled for a cesarean section at the Tinker Bell Air Force hospital in Oklahoma City, OK where my father was currently stationed with the Air Force. She was taken to the hospital by a friend of hers with my three year-old, big sister in tow to be prepped for surgery—my father was nowhere to be found at the time. There was a lot of tension between my parents at the time, so it wasn’t exactly surprising to my mom that my father wasn’t at the hospital like he said he would be. Eventually, my mother learned that as she was being prepped for surgery, my father’s commander tracked him down and demanded that he go to the hospital for the birth of his child and to help take of his other 3 year-old daughter. So, just as my mother was being rolled into surgery, my father showed up, suited up, and was in the operating room to see the birth of his second child. My parents were unaware of my gender, but I’ve read many letters my father had written my mother during the time of their marriage and her pregnancy with me—he was set on me being a boy (this will carry weight later on). My mother claims she didn’t care either way, but always had a feeling I was a girl. At 9:09 a.m. I was pulled from the womb, It’s a Girl! shouted out by the medical staff to announce the arrival of my parent’s new baby girl. There was one cry, one very strong cry, and then silence. Immediately my mother could hear the whispers and saw one of the nurses whisk me by her—I was not crying, I was not moving, I was blue, my tiny body lifeless and limp—but she did catch a glimpse at a full head of black curly hair. She couldn’t do anything but lay on a table, numb from the chest down, abdomen cut wide open, and watch helplessly as the medical team began resuscitation efforts on her newborn daughter. The doctors were unaware of exactly what was wrong with me at the time, as far as they knew I was completely fine and healthy when they pulled me out of the womb, small, but still okay as they saw it. They were perplexed as to why I stopped breathing and eventually went into cardiac arrest within seconds of cutting the umbilical cord. I was eventually rushed out of the operating room into a different operating room where my father was not allowed to follow so he stayed with my mother as they stitched her up and prepared her for recovery—in complete silence. After my mother was brought to the recovery room, my big sister Kimberly, was allowed to greet my parents in the room. She was very eager to meet her “baby sister”, and was full of questions as to where I was—all of which could not be answered to an adult let alone a 3 year-old child. After about 45 minutes of waiting in the recovery area I was rolled into my mother’s room in an incubator, intubated and fully dependant on a ventilator, leads and wires coming from all directions of my body, and with 2 IVs in my head. I was still blue, but I was alive for the time being. My parents were told that there was something wrong with my heart and that I would need to be life-flighted to The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center to undergo surgery within hours. My parents were shocked. My father said nothing. My sister said “That’s my baby sister! Can I hold her now? She’s MY baby!” My mother was full of questions that she was told could not be answered because the flight team was waiting, so she asked two last questions, first question: where did her hair go? “Ma’am, we had to shave it to insert the IVs because her veins are too small to hold a catheter. Her head was the only place we could access any viable veins.” Question two: can we stick our hand in and touch her? “Yes, your daughter may also touch her arm or leg and then we’ve got to go.” Something can be said about a mother’s touch—because in the few brief moments that my mother was able to touch me, my tiny body stopped shaking and my vital signs steadied. My sister got to finally touch her baby, but just couldn’t understand why she could hold me in her little arms. That must have been so confusing for my 3 year-old sister—she was expecting a baby doll, not an alien baby on life support that she couldn’t hold like her favorite baby dolls. That also had to have broken my mother’s heart to try to explain why he baby sister was in that condition when she didn’t quite understand herself. My father stood on the other side of my mother’s bed, possibly too shocked to move—he was frozen, he could not ask a question, he could not blink or look away, he could not move his body to walk over and touch his daughter and say goodbye, possibly for the last time. Clearly, I do not remember these things—these are all details I’ve been told by my mother. Nobody knows how my father was truly feeling in those moments, nobody knows if he was too scared to touch me because of how fragile I was, or if he just couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye to a child he thought he’d never see alive again. It’s possible he felt all of those things—he was a human, he was a father, he was not a stone-cold, heartless man for his actions, or lack thereof that day. Shortly after I was flown to The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center my father took my sister home to let my mother rest. There was no rest for my mother though, as soon as she could she was begging to be wheeled outside to a phone so she could contact the hospital and find out any information they could give her on her newborn. She also had one more phone call to make and that was to her father, a man you will hear me refer to as “Dada”. That term will become clear later on. Once my mother was able to reach the staff at OU Medical Center she was told that I was currently in surgery to have a balloon placed as a temporary fix until I could have open heart surgery the following morning at 6:00 a.m. to correct the congenital heart defect I had call transposition of the great arteries. To break it down, transposition of the great arteries is a serious but rare heart defect present at birth (congenital), in which the two main arteries (in this case, the aorta and pulmonary valve) leaving the heart are reversed (transposed). Transposition of the great arteries changes the way blood circulates through the body, leaving a shortage of oxygen in blood flowing from the heart to the rest of the body. Without an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood, the body can’t function properly and the child faces serious complications or death without treatment. This news was completely devastating to my mother and to add insult to injury she was told that there was only one other currently surviving child that had had the specific surgery I needed. Without getting too technical and medically boring, I should just say that the surgeon that was set to perform my surgery in the coming hours is the doctor that basically invented the arterial switch surgery. Dr. Ronald Elkins had only performed it once before on a little boy that was about 2 years older than me, but at the time was doing great. Before this specific arterial switch procedure became an option for babies with TGA, a different procedure that wasn’t always statistically successful—the Mustard and Senning repair—was the only surgical option available. I was about 5 pounds smaller than the other child who had the successful arterial switch and the surgeons weren’t sure if I would be able to withstand the surgery that I needed to survive. Within a few hours my mother had managed to get out of bed unassisted to pack her things because she was determined to be with me at OU Medical Center and in the process ripped open her c-section incision. This was not about to stop her from getting to the other hospital though and somehow she managed to convince the doctors to pack the incision with sterile gauze and release her from the hospital less than 12 hours after giving birth via cesarean section; she got a ride from her friend to the new hospital where I was currently in very critical condition in the NICU. There were no cell phones or pagers back in 1987, at least not anything like that that was accessible to people with the low-middle class means of my parents, so my father was unreachable and unaware of the situation. A lot of the details from here are scattered as I’m sure the whole situation was very traumatic and emotionally and mentally taxing on my mother. When I underwent my first open heart operation at less than 24 hours old, my mother was at the hospital waiting alone during my nearly 6 hour operation. It is still unclear as to where exactly my father was at this time or what he was doing or thinking. But, as a parent myself now, I just can’t understand how, under any circumstances, you could not be there for your sick child during such a difficult and major operation—regardless of what issues were going on in the marriage at that point. But again, I digress. I came out of surgery and my mother was told that it was successful but I was still very critical and the next 48 hours would be the most crucial in my recovery and to my ultimate survival. My mother could not hold me or touch me because any extra stimuli would put too much stress on my already overly-stressed, fragile heart. She did not get to hold me for 4 days, which was hell for her. I recovered very rapidly, and grew stronger with each passing day. My father came to visit me twice while I was in the NICU at OU Medical Center, his whereabouts and reasoning for his absence are still and will forever remain unknown to me. My mother brought me home at 9 days old, free of any leads, wires, monitors, or respiratory support. I had gained weight at a rapid rate and if you looked at me with clothes on, I looked like a normal, healthy baby. If miracles truly do exist, I was and am definitely one of them! In the weeks after being brought home, things between my parents had only gotten worse and they ultimately decided to get a divorce. Because my father was in the Air Force and was stationed in Oklahoma City only a few short months before I was born, my mother had no family and only 2-3 close friends in the area so she decided to uproot her 3 year-old and 1 month-old children and return home to Utah where she was born and raised and all of her family resided. My father remained in Oklahoma due to his Air Force obligations. Although he was born and raised in Metamora, Illinois, he moved all around the eastern US and ultimately ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina a few years later. So my mother packed up what she could, sold or gave away what she couldn’t and my Dada and Grandma drove across the country with my 8 year-old cousin, Jed, in his pickup truck with a small trailer to pack us up and bring us back to Layton, Utah. My sister rode in the truck with my grandparents and cousin, Jed and I rode in the car my dad gave my mother all the way to Utah. When we arrived in Utah we stayed with my grandparents until my mother could get back on her feet and get our own place a couple of minutes away from my grandparent’s home just a few months after arriving. During the time we lived with my grandparents, my Dada had formed a very special bond with me and I became the center of his universe. He would come home from work every night and hold me before he ate the dinner my Gram had prepared and waiting for him on the table. He’d rock me to sleep every single night in his la-z-boy until his arms fell numb. He couldn’t stand to hear me cry, ever, so he’d pick me up and hold me each time my mother wasn’t there the second I started crying. I was his baby, I still am—and I am so grateful for that. Up until that point, my mother and her father did not have a very close relationship—but it’s not my place to go into that because it’s not my story, it’s hers. The bond and attachment that my Dada and I had formed over the few months that we lived with him and continued to build and keep after we moved out on our own, opened the door to rebuild a new father-daughter relationship with my mother and her father; which was exactly what she needed most at that time. I’ll definitely dive deeper into the relationship I have with my Dada and Gram as I write more, but what I’ll say now is: My Dada and Gram saved the three of us, in more ways that I can count here and now. I know that I personally owe so much of who/what I am today to them and their helping hands in raising my sister and I alongside my amazing mother.
So there it is my friends, this is how my story begins. To say it was a little rough would be an understatement and a disservice to all of the pain, strength and sacrifices my mother made in this time and continued to make throughout our lives after I came into the world. But this is how I came crashing into the world and into my parent’s lives like a wrecking ball in an already dismantled foundation. This is the beginnings of how I got my unwavering strength and courage from my mother to continually rise from the ashes and keep trucking along; and this is also how I began my journey of being an absentee father’s daughter. As for how that has shaped me as a person, a woman, and a mother—well that will become clear without necessarily having to spell it out nice and neatly for you as you read on.
*Some details have been left out or condensed to save you from severe boredom and because some of the details are simply too personal and not mine to share with the world. Unfortunately, I only have my mother’s recollection of events. I was never able to really speak to my father in order to understand his recollection of these events and reasons for his absence. Every time I think of him, I ask him these questions in my mind—because every part of my soul aches to know his side of things to try to make sense of why he just didn’t care–and if he did then what the hell was he thinking, oh and where the hell was he when I was needing him most?! (I’ll bet you’re understanding the name of this blog now, huh? Haha) I will never have the opportunity to ask these questions or to have these answers and that causes a permanent hole in my heart that will never go away and can never be repaired. Below are some photos of me with the people mentioned in this blog post. I do not have a single photo of my father and myself from when I was a baby—that breaks my heart realizing that right now.
My sister, Kimberly, watching over me the day I arrived home. She’s been protective of me from day one.
Big sister finally getting to hold HER baby. I am still her baby. She is truly my best friend and the greatest gift our parents ever gave me.
My beautiful Mother and a very unhappy baby!
My Dada; My Rock; My Hero
My Gram; My Idol; My Heroine