The Friday Before Thanksgiving

 
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{This post may be triggering.}

Four years ago, on the Friday before Thanksgiving - I kissed this little on her forehead and whispered into her ear. After 7+ hours of open-heart surgery, we were grateful the hardest part was over. As I leaned over her hospital bed, I prayed she could hear me. 

I was so relieved to be back in the same room as her - to see and touch her face. So relieved. So grateful. And, as I lay back down on the cold bench in the back of her CICU room, an overwhelming wave of uncertainty swallowed me, making it difficult to fall back asleep. 

I woke up before the alarms sounded. Frozen with fear. My body paralyzed by what felt like cement in my veins. I didn't want to bother the nurse with more questions, so I kept repeating - "Let go. And, trust. Let go. And, trust." 

At 4:48am - minutes after I woke up frozen with fear - and just two hours after my middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom and those extra kisses, Mia's heart failed.

In a split second, the steady beep of her heart monitor turned into utter chaos. One glance at her nurse and I knew. 

I've never seen such intensity and focus in my life. Teamwork taken to a level I didn't know was possible. Synchronized. Clear. On a mission.

They were fighting with every ounce of their being to save my baby's life.

The overhead alarms confirmed my worst nightmare. This was really happening.

Code in Room Two. This cannot be happening. This cannot be real. 

Fight Mia, fight. I cannot live without you.

A torrent of thoughts burst into my head - very few that I can remember. The booming sounds pierced through my ears. Beeping. Buzzing. Paging. Orders being shouted from the nurses and doctors. 

There was no preparing for this. 

After the third attempt to defibrillate, I felt her soul leave that room.

She was safe. Protected. And warm. I knew she was in the arms of angels. And yet, I pleaded.

You cannot go. How will I ever tell Kylie. And, Jayden, your twin sister. You cannot go. She needs you. We need you. Fight, Mia, fight.

How is this happening? This isn't supposed to happen. 

Bodies started swarming into her room. Nurses. Doctors. Respiratory therapists. Secretaries. Fellows. It felt like the entire cardiac floor came running.

All I heard was the flatline. I had no idea what they were doing. What they could do. It felt like they were mutilating her physical body - just the shell of her. All those bodies standing around her brightly lit hospital bed.

She's gone. Oh my God. She's gone. How can it be? She can't be gone. Fight, Mia, fight.

"REST. Let her rest," the nurse said to me - the nurse who pulled me from the back of Room Two.

It was in that moment that I fully FELT what it's like to surrender. To ask for help. To release my need for control. Because, in that moment, there was nothing I could do to help my baby girl - other than letting go. 

Only through deep reflection and work with my therapist have I been able edit this part of the story.

Now, I see those bodies helping. In unison. Helping to save her life.

Letting go isn't giving up hope. Letting go meant trusting in a force more powerful than me.

Letting go IS hope. 

Now, I see those bodies working diligently to connect her to a machine that would give her the gift of time. To heal and recover. 

The days and weeks that followed were tumultuous. I was tested in ways I never could have imagined.

There was no preparing for this. 

After six days of being on the fullest level of support possible, we were already past the five day mark - the 'typical' course for a child revived by ECMO. I had met with the chaplain, reverend, rabbi and entire end-of-life care team - along with the electrophysiologist and geneticist; her case was a mystery.

On day six, Mia's heart failed the first 'test' to come off of ECMO. And at this point, transplant wasn't an option. You have to qualify. And, her heart wasn't there yet. 

That night was my absolute rock bottom.

Losing her once was brutal beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Losing her twice. I couldn't. 

I collapsed on my parents floor.

I'd been broken before, but never like this. Hearing Kylie and Jayden playing in the bath crippled me. We needed their sister home. The empty crib next to Jayden. Mia's clothes in the suitcase. The outfit she was supposed to wear on Thanksgiving. Her high chair. Her lovies.

It was all too much.

I wanted to disappear. 

And, I knew. I couldn't.

Every night, I would scroll through all the comments on our CaringBridge page - and let the love and support that filled those pages carry me through the next day, filling me with hope. 

One message from a friend stood out. Her unwavering support and strength filled my soul with hope: 

Keep the Faith, she wrote. Every. Single. Day.

Every night, I would take a bath and visualize Mia's heart healing. In as much detail as possible, I would imagine a wave of warmth and light flooding her damaged heart cells - clearing out toxins and bringing with it nourishment. Bringing her back to life.

I prayed to the Universe to give me the strength to keep going.

To keep her safe. To let her heal.  

I surrendered on a level I never knew how.

Because, at my core - I knew this was out of my control. 

On night six, I went to bed with the phone tucked next to my face - like I had for the past five nights. My mom and Rob alternated overnights so I could nurse Jayden and tuck both girls into bed.

When my phone pinged at 3am, I woke with horror - assuming the worst. 

She came out of heart block.

That was all he wrote. 

I knew. 

Her heart was healing. 

We were on day seven of ECMO. We were literally running out of time. And, there was this glimmer of hope. Her heart's electrical wiring was back - firing on its own. A miracle. On Thanksgiving morning.

Up until this point, we hadn't brought the girls in to see M - because the CICU is just not a place you want to bring kids. And, I was afraid that they'd have a hard time.

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But, on Thanksgiving morning - we decided to bring in Jayden. In part, because we weren't sure how Mia's story would end. In part, because they are identical twin sisters - connected in a way that's impossible to measure.

And, Jayden knew. 

On that Friday morning before Thanksgiving - when Mia's heart was failing - Jayden had woken from a sound sleep. Crying. Unsettled. Knowing.

They had just celebrated their first birthday together. We didn't know what to expect bringing a 12 month-old in a CICU. To see her sister. In that state.

Even though Mia's eyes were shut and her chest bones were pinned open, with just a green gauze covering her exposed heart - lines, tubes and machines everywhere - it didn't matter. 

Jayden's face lit up with the most breathtaking joy. She dove for her sister, reached out her hand and placed it on Mia's forehead. 

Magical doesn't begin to describe that moment.

And, Mia felt it. I know she did.

Twelve hours later, Mia's heart passed the second test. And, on Thanksgiving Day - after seven long days - her surgeon came in to take her off of ECMO.

Her nurses nicknamed her Mighty Mia because, against the odds, her heart started to heal. One small step at a time, she started to recover.

Forty-two days after her surgery, we were able to put her in the stroller and wheel her out the front door of Children's - her car seat no longer empty.

She came home.

It took a year for her heart to function without the support of meds. And two years before her right ventricle recovered. 

A true miracle.

Four years later. She's running, jumping, flipping, dancing, telling jokes, writing her letters,  loving on her baby sister and making major strides in school. Doing everything that Dr. Blume - her cardiologist - said she would, transplant or no transplant.

And less than a month ago, we celebrated FIVE. With two cakes.

Two cakes that symbolize so much more than a birthday.

Two cakes that brought me to my knees with gratitude.

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I'm still on my journey of healing and acceptance - humbled by all that I've learned.

This mighty little girl has taught me so much about life. And love. 

That Friday before Thanksgiving changed me, forever.

It shattered me into a million pieces - and in the rubble, my perfectionist armor. The very thing that was stopping me from fully living. 

I'm awake now.

Releasing all that I cannot control. 

Surrendering to the Universe. 

Honoring the magic within.

Practicing gratitude every.single.day.

Meeting myself with compassion and grace.

No longer afraid to be seen.

I'm off the endless treadmill of achievement. I am no longer living my life exhausted and depleted, irritable and resentful - constantly obsessed with all that's not.

Because, I know that there is nothing out there that will make me feel complete. And worthy. And enough.

I'm still a dream chaser. And, I am more fulfilled than I've ever been in my life.

Because, my worthiness isn't dependent on the outcome of my dreams. I know now - more than ever - that JOY isn't something we get out there. It's already inside of us.

One last thing - when perfection was driving - I believed that if I just did x, then I would be able to control the outcome. I thought if I just worried enough + controlled all.the.things before Mia's surgery, that it would somehow prepare me for the depths of pain that I would experience if something went wrong. 

There's no preparing for pain like this. Trying to do so is wasted energy. And wasted time. 

So, I ask you:

How are you showing up in your life? Are you allowing yourself the time + space to FEEL deep joy? 

You are worthy of your dreams. 

You. Are. Enough. 

~

Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mama of four.  She inspires and empowers others to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance needed to let go of perfection and other limiting beliefs so they can live their dream. Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.  

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.  

You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com