The phone call came towards the end of November – we had a date for Jessica’s open-heart surgery. We had hoped that we might be able to have Christmas together first but it was not to be – the surgery was set for 14th December.
We couldn’t focus on the thought of Christmas – not with such a huge obstacle in the way of it all. I took Jessica to see Santa at the local shopping centre, determined to at least get one Christmassy photo before she went into hospital but otherwise all our thoughts were on the operation and praying that Jessica would get through it. It would be her biggest surgery to date – and the riskiest – an attempt to combine two major procedures and replumb her little heart.
Two Christmasses before, my dad had died suddenly in the run-up to Christmas; the previous Christmas I had suddenly been made redundant ten days before Christmas and I prayed that bad things would not come in threes as far as Christmas was concerned. We spent early December focusing on enjoying the moments with our three-month old daughter and trying hard not to think of what lay ahead.
The day before the surgery was a whirlwind of medical checks – blood tests, ECGs, echocardiograms and X-rays, talks with the surgeon and the anaesthetist. As I sat giving Jessica her last breastfeed in the early hours of the morning, I took in every detail of her little face, how she felt in my arms and locked it away in my heart, praying that there would be more moments like this. The wait for the porters to come to escort her to theatre that morning felt endless and yet too short. We kissed her goodbye and managed to stay strong as we handed her to the anaesthetist but broke down the minute she disappeared from our sight.
Up on the ward, we tried to stay distracted, helping the staff put up Christmas decorations, filling in Jessica’s baby book, reading magazines – anything to keep us occupied during the hours of waiting. It was late evening before we were finally told that Jessica was out of theatre and heading to the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU). The surgery had been difficult and complex and they had not been able to do both procedures as hoped meaning that further surgery would be needed in the new year, but for now Jessica was stable although her recovery was likely to be rocky. We certainly got a taste of that later that night as shortly after leaving PICU having seen her, we were called to come back immediately as Jessica’s sats were dropping and the surgeon needed to open her chest there and then on the unit as they suspected a blood clot. We were told to give her a quick kiss and wait in the parents’ room for news – the most terrifying hour of our lives as we were both utterly convinced that we were about to lose her. Thankfully she got through and whilst her recovery was slow and bumpy, she was well enough to be transferred back up to the ward ten days later – on Christmas Eve.
We had had a couple of Christmassy visits whilst on PICU – one from Peppa Pig and George and another from Father Christmas (when we were interviewed for the local news) and although we were spending Jessica’s first Christmas in hospital, we were both full of joy – our daughter was here and we were spending Christmas as a family. It didn’t matter where we were, just as long as we were together.
The staff went to a lot of effort to try and make it as nice as possible for the families on the ward. When I went to see Jessica on Christmas morning, there was a stocking next to her bed (in addition to the one I had hung the previous night) which had been left there by the ward Santa with a couple of presents for her and a couple of thoughtful little gifts for hubby and myself. Later that morning, Father Christmas himself came to visit and wish us a Merry Christmas (although admittedly got a little more than he bargained for as I had been expressing milk when he arrived and forgot to put my breast away before getting up to take photos!)
After having been so very poorly down on PICU, Jessica was starting to look better again and the best Christmas present came that morning when we were treated to our first smiles since her surgery. It was wonderful to be able to pick her up again and give her cuddles – which we hadn’t been able to do for a week after the surgery – and whilst it was still awkward with all the tubes and wires, it was still the best feeling ever to have her back in my arms where she belonged.
We left the hospital to have our Christmas lunch later in the afternoon whilst Jessica had her nap. Hubby’s parents had come down to spend Christmas Day with us and a couple of friends who lived locally (but had gone away for Christmas) had given us their house key so we could go and heat up our Christmas dinner (which my in-laws had brought with them) and sit at the table together having a proper Christmas dinner in comfort rather than in a hospital canteen. It was so kind of them and helped give us some feeling of normality that day. Later that evening, after hubby’s parents had left, a close friend of mine also visited with presents and a big bag of Christmassy snacks and nibbles so we could have an evening feast.
Having our first family Christmas in hospital with a poorly baby is perhaps an odd choice for a favourite Christmas memory but it really brought home the meaning of Christmas. We were together as a family, feeling very thankful and incredibly blessed to be so and the little touches that helped make that Christmas extra special were due to the kindness and thoughtfulness of friends, family and the ward staff. The little unexpected stocking gifts, being able to have Christmas dinner in a home environment, having a friend take time out of her own family Christmas to help us celebrate and feeling so utterly surrounded by love and prayer was what made it a magical Christmas. Not to mention the best Christmas gift of all – having our baby girl there with us, thanks to the wonderful skills of the surgeon and the medical team. Family, blessings and love – what more really could we have asked for?
Linking up with mumturnedmom for the Prompt – ‘Christmas‘