Experiences in Parenting: Intuitive Parenting + My Son's Surgery

"Always trust a father's suspicion and a mother's intuition." - Unknown

As I write this post, my son is sleeping next to me in bed. We have a "family" bed because he never made the transition from a crib to a toddler bed - mostly because intuitively it didn't seem right. He never slept through the night and always woke up crying, alone, needing/wanting me. We could've sleep trained him but at two-years-old my husband and I figured we'd roll with this phase of his development. We bought a king-size bed, cuddle together at night, and it works for us.

But this post isn't actually about co-sleeping. This post is about intuitive parenting, and how I knew early on that there was something off about Gio's sleep. More specifically, his breathing. Part of our concern with his sleep is he snores. Not sometimes, but every night. His snoring is akin to an adult - the kind that might require ear plugs to make it through the night. In addition, he holds his breath frequently while sleeping (gasp) and even occasionally grinds his teeth. 

Unrelated to sleep was the excessive drooling resulting in minor speech impediments (most likely due to extra tissue in his throat); an umbilical hernia (that wasn't just an outie belly button?!); and inner-ear hearing loss due to fluid behind his ears (could also affect his speech).

So we scheduled the gamut: Tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, tubes, umbilical hernia repair. 

Leading up to the surgery was not easy. We mentally prepared for the worst but (cautiously) hoped for the best. Although his procedures were all elective and routine, it seemed so invasive. So much to put a three year old boy through. The anesthesia, the recovery, the medicine, the risks of bleeding and rushing back to the ER, the risks of dehydration. There were just so many unknowns and so much to plan for. Not to mention the emotional component of it. Do we discuss it with him in advance? How much does he need to know? And because his surgery required the ENT surgeon and general surgeon, the scheduling was complicated, and surgery was booked two and a half months out. All the knowing and anticipation wore me out. Such a big part of me didn't ever want the day to arrive, but at the same time it couldn't have come soon enough. By the end there was nothing more to prepare. We could only show up and walk through the fear. Trust in the process. Trust in ourselves that it was the right decision for our son and family. Hope and pray for the best...

Being a parent can be HARD. I can't believe it's just been over 24 hours since we returned home from the hospital. And that the toughest parenting day of my life was only yesterday. It was compounded by the months leading up to it. Frequent concerns if we were doing the right thing, all of the doctors appointments and research, fear of the outcome, sadness for the pain I knew Gio would feel.

Gio's surgery was at the American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, WI, and the facility, doctors and staff were amazing. Purely by luck it was schedule first thing in the morning and that helped a lot with the mandatory pre-surgery fasting (I can't tell you how much I agonized over that). There was a Child Life Specialist who used dramatic play to help Gio prepare for anesthesia. He picked out a mask, "painted" it with flavoring, put it on his pup, then on me and his dad, then himself. We did decide to talk to him about his surgery in advance, so he wasn't totally blindsided. I am still glad we took that approach—the promise of unlimited ice cream and popsicles is powerful. Gio got to pick a special pillow case and we spoiled him with Thomas Mini Train Blind Bags in the hospital. Gio was a champ until it wasn't fun anymore. He didn't want to get weighed, so threw himself on the floor. He didn't want to wear the purple jammies they gave him, "yucky Jammies," he said. He didn't want to cooperate at all. I felt and shared his unease.

Enter next tough decision: Do we give him medication for anxiety? Will that help calm him down? Does he really need it?

We talked it over with ourselves and the staff, and decided it was the right thing to do at the time. We prepped as he quickly mellowed. I donned the paper-thin blue scrubs and hat and booties. We snuggled together on the bed and were wheeled in our chariot to the OR for anesthesia. I sang him our special song (A Bushel and a Peck by Doris Day, which my Grandmother used to sing to me); I told him stories and he laughed. He was pretty loopy at this point and it was sweet and funny. I tried not to feel guilty for thinking he was being funny. I silently prayed. Thank goodness for the anti-anxiety meds because he didn't bat an eye at all the medical equipment. They pushed the hospital bed up to the operating table and gently lifted him onto it. Sweet boy even made a cute joke about "a bed for Gio and a bed for mommy" as the two beds were side by side. He didn't even object to the mask which he painted with strawberry flavoring and decorated with car stickers not long before. I sang him more songs and told him I loved him and at the very end he thrashed a bit before surrendering to sleep. The anesthesiologist told me to kiss him and leave the room. It wasn't a request and I knew I had to comply. As the Child Life Specialist escorted me out of the room it felt like someone ripped my heart out of my chest and left it bleeding on the table. I walked out like a zombie with tears streaming down my face.

The waiting is the hardest part and that was pretty much all we could do for the next two hours. My mom had flown in from California and she and my husband went to get us some food and coffee. The hospital room was empty without his bed in it. There was plenty of space to do yoga but my shoulders were so tight from the stress that I didn't want to get into a downward dog (although I'm sure it would've helped in the end). I opted for the subtler parts of my yoga and spiritual practice. I grounded myself with Pranayama deep breathing. I visualized Gio's body and tried to help heal him by meditating on his chakras that were being affected by the surgery (his sacral chakra and throat chakra). I created a strong cord between our hearts and left my heart wide open to him. I imagined a soft, pink, loving energy flowing between our hearts. I sent every guardian angel and spirit guide of mine into the room with him and saw them holding hands in a protective circle around him. I straight up knelt on the cold hospital floor and prayed out loud. And then, when my mom and Matt returned with food, I consoled myself with gluten and caffeine.

After we ate it didn't seem like long until the doc came in and announced that the surgeries were over. All went well and Gio was being awoken in the recovery room. Two of us could enter so Matt and I went in. We heard him crying, ran up to the bed and saw him writhing. We had been warned and knew this was a normal reaction for some kids when waking up from anesthesia; It didn't make it any easier. We were talking to him, touching him, caressing him. The nurse gave him some more pain medication through the IV and I jumped in the bed with him. Shortly he calmed down and slept on me, his little body collapsing to comfort. I was terrified. I was done trying to be strong. How could we do this to our baby? The guilt and responsibility I felt for his pain was magnanimous.

Fast forward one day. Gio is sleeping next to me, he is quiet, relaxed, and the only way I know he's breathing is because I can see the gentle rise-and-fall of his little belly and chest. We were forewarned that it could be some time before we see an improvement in his breathing and sleep, but his changes are immediate. His recovery has been routine and he is (dare I say it?) thriving already. Better sleep, better hearing, better speech (his voice is different and much clearer); eating, drinking, going to the bathroom. Obviously round the clock medication is extremely important for pain management. It results in sleepless nights for me and Matt but healing vibes for little G. I'm hopeful the hardest part to come will be keeping his activity levels low for the next 5 days.

This mama is experiencing healing relief, peace and gratitude and right now. Gratitude for the universe pointing us down this path. Gratitude for listening to my son's body and trusting my own intuition. Gratitude for my husband, parents, in-laws...our "village" who provided generous support and unconditional love during this time. I am most grateful for the resilience of my little guy, and how quickly his body is healing. He is on the express train to recovery and I know in my heart he will be even better than ever in just a week's time. And that will make this whole experience worth it.

With love and blessings,