Learning to Be Thankful

Mended Little Hearts


By Melissa O’Donnell, new mom and new CHD advocate and student

“I am going to send you to cardiology. It’s probably nothing, but I need you to go now.”

My husband and I had just arrived at our two-week pediatric check up. I whispered, “It’s probably nothing” and rolled my eyes at Ryan. I felt extremely inconvenienced. I was cold, tired and hungry, not to mention depressed. My postpartum depression likes to come out of its cage and make rude comments every now and again.

My eye roll came from a deeper place than just our pediatrician sending us to the cardiologist. At five weeks pregnant, I was told I would never have Ryleigh. That my pregnancy was “chemical” and I should prepare for a miscarriage.

Instead, what I should have prepared for was 30 weeks of misery. My body didn’t like being pregnant. I threw up for 30 straight weeks, unable to eat anything healthy. This resulted in me turning to the morning sickness drug that quite honestly changed my life. I remember thinking, “At least I can function at work and then go home and sleep” almost every day of my pregnancy.

Ryleigh was due on December 14th but arrived three weeks early on November 23rd, 2018. She was an easy delivery,  until I was unable to deliver the placenta and they rushed me to the OR while Ryan was left with our 4 pound girl to feed. I never got that skin-to-skin bonding time I was so desperately looking forward to after a rough pregnancy.

In the hospital, two nurses and a pediatrician “kind of” heard a murmur in Ryleigh. Two weeks later that murmur haunted us again at that check up. While in the sonogram room, not only did the cardiologist confirm the murmur, or the very large Ventricular Septal Defect, but they discovered a “severe” coarctation of the aorta. We needed to be rushed to the ICU to put her on medicine to keep her heart beating, but worst of all, our baby needed to be transported for emergency open heart surgery.

The rush of emotions quickly took over and I kept saying, “I am just going to take her home,” immediately feeling guilty for the lack of healthy food I couldn’t eat in my pregnancy, or the morning sickness drug that helped me live a normal life. Now look at us. Nothing about our lives has been “normal” and I blamed myself for being so selfish throughout those 37 weeks up to her delivery.

“Mrs. O’Donnell, this is nothing you did during pregnancy or could have prepared Ryleigh for.”

Me? Mrs. O’Donnell? I had only been Mrs. O’Donnell for a year and a mother for three weeks. How could I be responsible for making decisions involving open heart surgery? We had a life, including a dog and a home. I had just received my degree in educational leadership. I thought, “How is this happening?”

The next two weeks were hard, especially during the holiday season. That being said, our daughter survived a seven-hour open heart surgery and the surgeon was able to correct both of her issues. We were fortunate. Extremely fortunate.

Mended Little Hearts

It’s only appropriate that our daughter was born the day after Thanksgiving. I am so grateful for all that I’ve learned. I learned that my pediatrician is an angel, someone I will never be able to thank enough. I learned that I married the right man — that the one who makes me laugh on a daily basis is more than my husband, but someone I can face the world with and come out alive. I learned how much I admire my daughter. A 4-pound warrior and a true inspiration. I learned that the love that I have for my child is completely unconditional, which is something I questioned prior to stepping foot inside that doctor’s office. But most of all, I learned how I needed to care for myself and lean on others. Family is truly everything. Not to mention, I have remarkable friends, who are people who support me regardless of what I am going through.

PPD is serious, whether you have a child with a CHD or not. It’s important to rely on anyone you can to help you. As a new CHD mom I also learned it was nothing I did to “give” this to my daughter. No matter how healthy I ate or what medicine I took, she was always going to be 1 in 110.

I will give you this advice my own mother gave to me. Always look beyond the wires, tubes and IVs. Despite all of those things, it is still your child in there. Learn to be thankful for every minute you have with your child. It is the hardest job in the world, and you are doing everything you can.

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