Today I was scrolling through my phone when the photos of my daughter’s time in the hospital popped up. I swiped through them looking at her sweet face with a breathing tube taped to her cheek and the chest tube taped to her side. It’s been five years, and yet, I still feel a wave of pain wash over me every time I look at those pictures.
And this is my life, the life of every mother who has held her child and wondered if they would make it through . . . and it can be lonely.
I have four kids and every one of them has ridden in an ambulance. Each of them has had at least one close call. I’ll never forget the time my second son almost passed out in an ambulance during anaphylaxis or when my youngest son couldn’t speak with severe croup, but the fear in his eyes told me everything. At Christmastime every year, I’m reminded of the 12 days my daughter spent in the hospital. Most of them spent spiraling downhill with RSV, complicated pneumonia, sepsis, and a damaged left lung. Terrifying. Heartbreaking.
Time passes, but the pain sticks with me.
That’s one of the hardest parts as a mother processing our child’s medical trauma. Every time we have one of these terrifying moments the fear and pain linger. We hold our children tight, but the pain of trauma won’t let go.
I realize I’m one of the lucky ones. In the end, my children have been OK. After each awful trip to the hospital, I got to leave with my precious child. What’s there to worry about right? Move on.
But it’s never that easy.
With every close call, there is a mountain of pain. There is a tidal wave of fear and anxiety. There’s the brutal replay cycle of the moment it all went wrong.
Everyone around me has moved on, but I’m stuck in my grief. I’m paralyzed with worry and pain. On the surface, I’m technically whole, but deep down I’m so terribly fragile and broken because you can’t just bounce back from a brush with death. Especially not when it’s your child who you’ve devoted your life to loving and keeping safe.
One of the hardest parts of medical trauma is that nobody seems to understand the weight you still carry.
Nobody gets that you’re grieving even though you still get to tuck in your precious baby at night.
You recount that awful moment to those around you, looking for someone to see past your calm exterior to the pain that lies below, but nobody seems to understand.
So you carry your pain in silence. And slowly it gets easier, but it creeps back in with every fever, cough, and wheeze. With every photo that sparks memories of pain.
You silently grieve the trauma all alone, but that’s not what you want. It’s definitely not what you need.
You need someone to check in.
Someone to ask and really mean it when they say, “Are you OK?”
So I guess what I’m saying is when your friend or family member gets to bring their precious child home, don’t ignore the pain. Don’t assume everything is OK because they get to tuck in their baby at night. Check-in. Listen. Let them cry.
Even if you don’t understand, just be there because the pain lingers, and sometimes, we just need someone to listen so eventually, we can let it go.
We need a friend. We need someone to acknowledge our pain and fight against the urge to press on and ignore our grief. Because grief is healthy, but it’s so hard to do alone.