When you think of being strong what do you think of?
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A strong man?
A strong woman?
The definition of strong, according to the dictionary, is:
‘Having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks. Or able to withstand force, pressure, or wear.’
People regularly perceive me as a strong person because of what we have been through. That I am a strong mother. Often because they couldn't imagine being in my shoes. They don't know how they would handle it. Therefore, I must be strong - that couldn't be further from the truth.
You may think I am strong when I tell you how I gambled my son's life, when I tell you how much force I withstood waiting for blood work, reports and second opinions. In some aspects we did ‘withstand the pressure’; in others we gave in.
You may think I look strong when I am discussing my son’s health with the consultants. I know what I am talking about and I will push for what I think it best.
You may think I am strong when I help others going through the same thing.
But I am not strong, I am far from it. And I feel like a fraud. I can't accept that title. I crumbled under the pressure of not knowing whether my baby would see his first birthday. And for the first time I admit, I feel like I let him down.
If you want to see real strength take a look at my child. My child who spent 9 days in NICU and had open heart surgery at 6 months. He's the real super hero in all of this. Because not only was he physically strong enough to cope, he was strong enough to survive. Although it could be argued he didn’t know what was happening, mentally he was strong. He wasn't going to give up on himself - he was determined.
But I wasn’t.
I wasn’t strong when they took my baby away 12 hours after birth and delivered the devastating blow that not only did he have a heart defect; he also had suffered a neo natal stroke.
I wasn’t strong when I brought Elijah home and couldn’t get over the fact that my birth experience was so awful, that I didn’t get to have what everyone else did. That I had to spend the first few weeks attending hospital appointments discussing when my son’s life threatening surgery would be.
I wasn’t strong waiting for that surgery date, I couldn’t enjoy our time together, I couldn’t be a normal mother, let it go and just enjoy him. Every time he fell asleep I worried whether he would wake up, whether another day on a waiting list would be one day too long.
When I finally felt I could take him out and have fun, it would lead to me crying my eyes out in the middle of the park. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, everything about it consumed me. It changed me as a person.
Which strong person sits their baby on their lap in pre-op with a ventilator over their babies face to sedate them and can't even bring themselves to kiss their own child? Me that's who. I couldn't even kiss my own baby for fear of it being the last time.
I didn't feel strong when we came home, when I fell into a pit of depression and suffered flashbacks and nightmares. I didn’t physically go through this, what right did I have to feel like this? Or was it because deep down I felt it was all my fault that he did had to go through this?
When I went to the doctors to get help, I felt weak, I felt like a failure and I certainly didn’t feel strong when I was prescribed medication.
Mentally, I don’t think I was strong when I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Elijah’s Dad could cope. Why was I such a train wreck? Was I just not strong enough?
I didn’t feel strong when the guilt came, the hindsight and the I should have, could have, would have regrets began to pile up like the washing. I don’t feel strong when I freak out if Elijah becomes ill, or when he bumps his head and I think, come on kid you had open heart surgery!
Or the fact that if Elijah sleeps through still, I wake up and go and check if he is still breathing. I don’t feel strong when I cannot sleep or control my nerves before every hospital appointment.
Yes, we made it through this first part of the journey and have a happy and healthy little boy but it doesn’t stop me worrying about the future.
That he has a 9/10 chance of having to have open heart surgery again when he is a teenager to have a valve replaced. Or, that he may begin to resent us, as he can't go out and be a normal teenager, that he can't rebel like the rest of his friends.
I look at my son and he is the definition of strong. When I look at myself? I see an emotional mess who barely managed to get through this in one piece.
We may not feel strong but as mothers we find strength from somewhere to keep the family together. But inside we're breaking and not looking after ourselves. So, I guess you could say he makes me stronger, he makes me a stronger version of myself. But I am certainly not strong, I still have PTSD, I am still on medication but I have my heart warrior to help me.
He is my strength and with him, I AM strong.