A warning to my family – this is about what we’re going through. You might not want to read it. I have Lyndsey’s permission to post it.
I spent my life waiting to be an aunty. That relationship was more important to me than being a mother. In my culture aunties and uncles are parents too. They’re disciplinarians that back up the parents, step in to help out and pick up any slack needed. But they are also friends and confidantes.
When I had problems at home, I’d run to my Aunty Linda. I’m very close to my mum, but Aunt has a special place in my heart. I love all my aunts, uncles and cousins, each in their own unique ways. It’s my favourite thing about my big family – the love is endless and only seems to multiply.
I was so excited when my sisters got pregnant. So grateful when they delivered their babies safely. I tell you this so you’ll understand, when I say I’m madly in love with my nieces and nephews, it’s no exaggeration.
My nephew, Akel, the one we call our little Muhammad Ali, went in for his surgery almost three weeks ago. He’s okay now, and our little fighter is bouncing back. Just like he has all 3 years of his life. He has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and we knew when he was in utero that he’d have a fight on his hands. Just not this much.
In the days leading up to it, I kept a close eye on my phone. They could reschedule any time; it had already happened before. COVID-19 has made the whole process more difficult. The staff have to manage the numbers, deal with incoming emergencies and take extra special care to protect the kids. And good on them for it!
Then it happened.
The one surgery with two parts was only supposed to go for six hours. I watched that clock tick around.
Five. Six… Seven? Eight!
Do the math. He has to go in, prep time counts. Then they have to close him up. Stay calm. Stay calm.
I tried to be stoic for my mother and sisters from a thousand kilometres away. Hiding all the time my own growing dread. Cursing the closed borders. It dragged on for so long I’m confused now. Was it ten hours? Or twelve?
The call came.
It didn’t go well.
He ended up needing four surgeries in five days. I spent that time unable to focus on anything for longer than ten minutes. Pacing the house, or frozen on the couch watching movies that I already knew. I felt like my body and soul were vibrating. Whatever was holding me together had pulled taut, restricting.
Staring at my phone. Wishing it would ring and feeling sick to my guts every time it did. I lay in bed whispering to my ancestors, my grandparents, anyone that was listening, ‘Please be with him, please give him strength.’
When I did manage to sleep, I’d wake, hands already scrabbling for my phone.
That fifth surgery did the trick, he came good. After that phone call I felt like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
He’s out of the woods and doing better every single day, and I’ll get on my knees and thank all my ancestors, the staff, bloody anyone and everyone.
There was at least one other procedure after his fifth, I’ve lost track of those too. He’s with expert staff who truly care. Some of the best in the country I’m told are up at the Lady Cilento. (Sorry but I’m never calling it the Queensland Children’s Hospital.) Those people have been with him since day one, and they are saints!
My sister sends us videos of them helping him with his recovery. You can tell how much they care, and it gives me comfort. His little face is pained and cranky, but his eyes are open, and his colour is good.
One by one the tubes have come out. It’s not a straight path. Some days it’s two steps forward and one back, but it’s progress. And that’s all we can ask.
Our collective relief is big enough to fill the Grand Canyon.
And yet… every time that phone buzzes, I feel sick. I snatch it up and answer regardless of what I’m doing. When my whole family knows I’m hopeless at answering my phone and replying to texts.
I’ve been trying to go back to work, but it’s still hard to focus.
I start crying at weird moments and I just have to let it happen. Because I have this horrible feeling that if I don’t I’ll end up bottling it. Fermenting it into trauma.
My whole family jokes that we’re all going to need counselling after this.
Only, it’s not really a joke.
I’m not sure why I’m writing this now. It’s late and I desperately need sleep. Maybe because writing always helps me, no matter what’s happening. Maybe so people will understand why I’ve been so absent the last few weeks, and why I’m still a mess right now.
All I know for sure is, that’s the closest we’ve come to losing one of our precious babies. And I never ever want to get that close again!