It’s hard to come up with the words to describe this past week. Nothing I can write could explain what has been going on in my mind, heart and soul. It’s been hard. A hard you can’t describe. It’s tough to even write about because I can’t seem to get my feelings down on paper. I write, I erase. I write, I erase.
For a long time, I played over in my head how I would hand her off for surgery. How would I let her go…knowing what she was about to encounter? How would I have no control of my baby girl for a full 5 plus hours? The weeks building up to her surgery, this is what kept me up at night. The handoff.
The night before her surgery, I went to our church and poured my heart out because I didn’t know what else to do. As I was leaving, I went to go see Mary because she was who I prayed to since she knew firsthand the struggles of motherhood. What caught my eye was a little white heart on her pinky. I immediately felt an inner peace because one of Gabriella’s unique traits is that her pinky doesn’t close all the way and there sat a beautiful heart. Throughout the last few months, hearts have been appearing whenever I needed them most, so this was comforting.
When the day finally arrived, the drive to the hospital was incredibly difficult. My stomach was in knots and Steve and I were just silent. As we made our way up to the 3rd floor to “check in”, my panic hit a whole new level. The moment was here and all I wanted to do was freeze time as if I was watching a movie. She held onto me so tightly and I know deep down, she knew something was up.
My entire family was waiting for us in the waiting room and even our priest from Providence, Fr. Nowel who married us and baptized all our girls was there too. He came in the room to give her special blessing just minutes before her surgery. Handing her off to my husband to take her back to the OR made me fall to my knees.
My body went boneless.
Nothing can prepare you for this moment. Especially a surgery so invasive to your sweet little girl’s precious and adorable head.
The only way I can explain the feeling is that moment you lose sight of your child in the grocery store. That pit that overtakes your emotions until you find them in aisle 7 looking at the bright colored cereal boxes. That is what I felt when she entered those double doors. I felt that for 5 straight hours. 18,000 long seconds.
My husband was my superhero that day. I wanted to take her into the OR myself, but I was afraid I’d faint and also that she would feel how fast my heart was beating. The umbilical cord is never really cut, so what I feel, she feels. When he came back through those doors with red, watery eyes, he held me tighter than he’s ever held me. It was the ultimate display of faith. Faith in the anesthesiologist. Faith in the neurosurgeon. Faith in the plastic surgeon. Faith in the nurse watching her vital signs. Faith in the nurse handing the right tools to the doctor. Faith in each and ever person on Gabriella’s team that day. And faith in God. I had to trust that everything was going to be fine. I held tight to the words I read right from the bible, the morning of her surgery. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6. On the drive in, I kept saying, “Fear not, for I am with you” and I held onto each and every word.
My family that day was my life savior. They told stories, we prayed, we read and at times we were just silent. They were there and it was a much-needed distraction. My sister had an envelope of incredible letters that people wrote to wish Gabriella the best and provide comfort for Steve and I. I am grateful for all of those notes and will save them for her to read one day to see how many people were praying for her during surgery.
To be honest, a lot of the day was a blur and I think I went numb. Each second felt eternal. The final seconds when the doctor came around the corner and said they were DONE was one of the greatest moments I’ve ever experienced.
Over 100 stitches later, a blood transfusion and newly shaped skull, we were able to see our baby girl in ICU. It was hard to recognize her due to the swelling, but when she woke up, she yelled Mommy and I could finally breathe again. It was my first time in ICU and boy is it a busy place. As I was looking at my little girl, I caught a glimpse of the drain in her head emptying blood and immediately felt light headed. I made eye contact with the nurse and said, I’m going down”. She grabbed Gabriella and I literally fell the chair seeing nothing but floating white spots. You couldn’t prepare me for this moment and my emotions overtook my body. After a few minutes and a ginger ale, I was able to snap out of it.
And from that moment, she didn’t leave anyones arms until we left the hospital 4 days later. Her Daddy, Pop Pop, Nonna, Auntie E, Uncle Chewy, Uncle Doug, Meme, Fr. Parrish, Amanda, Nicole and Emily all took turns holding her tight in their arms.
The stay at Boston Children’s was as good as a hospital stay can get. The doctors and nurses treated her like she was their own. It truly is a special place and I will forever be grateful for each and every one of them. Angels on earth.
We knew the 48 hours after surgery were going to be incredibly difficult as her swelling would get so bad that her eyes would shut. My husband, family members and I took turns holding her upright every second in the hospital to help the swelling. Between the hourly check ups, constant beeping noises, sharing a room with another baby and sleeping next to a 2 year old, you can imagine how exhausted we were (and still are!). She had 5 IVs in her body and a drain in her head so passing her off for bathroom breaks was about a 15-minute process and a lot of anxiety.
When her eyes finally opened on day 3, it was the biggest relief. Through the next few days, her eyes progressively opened more and swelling started to go down. We were able to leave a day early and going home and being with her sisters was definitely the best medicine for healing. It’s amazing to me that after ALL she went through, she left the hospital with no bandage and just Motrin. Kids are resilient and the true definition of a Badass. Capital B.
Steve and I walked out of that hospital on Saturday as different people than when we walked through 4 days earlier.
As time passes, her hair will grow and cover her scar, but beneath the hair, her warrior crown will always be there. It will always be a reminder that Gabriella is our little angel. I believe she was touched by God during that surgery and our prayers were answered. When I look at her scar, I immediately see a Rosary. It was the first thing I noticed. She is our fearless and brave girl who represents hope and resiliency. She also is the reason no one in the house can ever complain about a “boo-boo” anymore.
And now we heal. One day at a time. We pray that she grows into her skull the way she is supposed too or else she will need another surgery and I’m not sure I can handle that.
One day at a time. One heart message at a time.
Some people may not believe in signs or even in God, but sweet Gabriella, I can promise you that I know for sure you have been touched by angels. The last picture we took of you in your hospital bed was with Daddy as you were trying to eat and when I went back and looked at the photo, it was then that I knew how truly loved you are.
The help and support we have received has been above and beyond and I wish I could thank everyone personally. We are filled with gratitude like never before. Thank you to the doctors and nurses who literally saved her life. Thank you to everyone who has prayed for her. Thank you for the cards, the incredible gifts, the messages, the support…it’s been incredibly humbling. Thank you to my incredible company who has been so supportive and given us an opportunity to be by her side this entire journey and beyond. Thanks to my sister who has been my backbone. We can’t thank our families enough for being there for us each step of the way. Thank you to her superhero sisters, Austyn and Hadley who helped her bounce back quicker than anyone else could have.
But the biggest thank you of all goes to you Gabriella.
Gabriella, thank you for reminding us the power of faith, not just in the light, but in the darkness too. And thank you for choosing us to be your parents.
It’s the biggest honor of all.