Mama Bear Strikes Again

MamaBear (Welcome to my first guest poster, Shirie Leng. Shirie is a Biola University alum and an anesthesiologist who blogs about all things health care with a smattering of motherhood at I used to sit behind her in the first violins where she patiently tolerated my out-of-tune scratchings. Welcome, Shirie!)

My husband cried. A single sob escaping from him as he stared out the window. I had never heard him cry. I hope I never do again.

Our daughter Sarah came fast. I hung around at home in labor until I practically delivered in the car on the way to the hospital. She shot out limp and blue. “She’s a little stunned. We’ll keep an eye on her” they said. Of course she was fine. As an “elderly mother” at 41 years old I had had ultrasounds once a week for months. Everything was fine, no problems, baby looked great. She must be fine. 6 hours after birth Sarah was in the NICU at Children’s Hospital Boston.

She had what is known as a congenital diaphragmatic hernia or CDH. A hole in her diaphragm through which her bowel escaped up into her chest, crushing the new lung. I was told it was “a small hole." I’m a doctor. I saw the x-ray. I cried.

To have a child in the hospital is a little like being Alice through the rabbit hole, but without the clever rhymes and cute cats. My whole life contracted in those days into a hospital room, a heart rate monitor, the quest for calories, for weight. Sarah couldn’t eat; neither could I. Sarah didn’t sleep; neither did I. Sarah didn’t gain weight; I despaired. I have an older child I didn’t see and couldn’t care for. I have a husband I couldn’t care for either, though he needed it.

Sarah had thoracic surgery at age 3 days. She came out on a ventilator with a chest tube, a tiny catheter in an artery in her wrist and an IV in her saphenous vein. To hold her required that you also hold the drains, the tubes, the monitor lines. I wanted to hold her as much as possible.

I became a tiger mother. I fought at every turn. I knew the system and I worked it. I stalked the doctors, paged surgeons, harassed nurses and ignored interns. I called in every favor and used every contact. I was there for rounds at 5 AM. I was there for every weight measurement. I carried her to X-ray. I was there when they put the feeding tube in. I was there when they added oxygen, when they hung her intravenous nutrition, when the women’s auxiliary gave her a crocheted blanket in a hundred colors. I pushed for results, for progress. The residents were afraid of me. I think some of the senior doctors were too.

I finally took Sarah home. She came home with a feeding tube and oxygen. That’s what I agreed to, to get her home. I’ll do anything, I said.

My story has a happy ending. Sarah thrived. I am lucky. And changed. Mothers we are strong. We can be sweet and loving but facing threat we become like animals, fierce and protective, focused and obsessed. Hear me roar? You better believe it.

(If you are interested in guest posting here at Whole Mama, please read this.)