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The Bob Marley Quote I’d Go Back and Tell Myself When My Daughter Was Diagnosed

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I have a few friends who are expecting babies soon. Each of them are having different issues with their pregnancies, and a few of them even asked me for advice or words of wisdom. (Apparently, I look like I know what I’m doing on the outside these days. Who knew?) As I thought about how I would answer each of them, I realized there were certain things I would go back and tell myself before we started this journey with my daughter, Kendall, who has mitochondrial disease. I questioned if I would really want to know, ahead of time, everything that we would went through.

Would I go back and tell myself to watch out for everything that was coming up, that bend in the road or that shoulder you think you can pull over and rest on but gives way? Would I go way, way back and tell that punk sitting in her physiology class to pay more attention during the Krebs cycle part of the curriculum because someday you’ll wish you understood what a geneticist was trying to explain to you about your daughters metabolic defect? I don’t know what it would change. Because life has this funny way of taking you on a ride that ends up being far different from whatever you imagined when you got behind the driver’s wheel. Even if you have programmed your GPS to plan out your route and accommodate traffic, you’ll still be shocked and surprised at where you end up in life.

So I think I would just tell myself this: Everything will be all right. Just like the lyrics of the Bob Marley song. Someday you’ll sing that to your baby girl as she lays struggling for breath. Everything’s gonna be all right.

But it won’t feel like things will be all right for many days. You’ll spend long hours wondering how exactly this is all going to turn out right when it all feels very wrong. You’ll learn to stop counting time in weeks or days. Instead, you’ll learn to take things hour by hour and minute by minute. You’ll learn that being “all right” will change in meaning. What you once thought of as being good and OK will suddenly be a pipe dream, and you’ll settle for things that would have once shocked you.

You’ll learn a whole new vocabulary. But this is OK, because you have always loved words and meanings and using big words just to watch people’s faces. This trait will come in handy someday when you are schooling medical students and residents (who you will take to calling “baby doctors” or “doclings”) about how to pay attention to your baby’s labs, vitals and painful screams. Words like thrombocytopenia and electroencephalogram will one day roll off your tongue as smoothly as the swear words you’ll find yourself dropping far more often. While you have always hated numbers and math, you’ll have this sudden capacity to store two months worth of CBC values in your head so you can glance at your child’s lab results and know instantly whether she is getting an infection.

You’ll have a range of emotions far wider than you ever thought possible. You’ll watch friends have to pick out pint-sized caskets for their angels who left this earth too soon and you’ll beg with every fiber of your being to God that you never have to make that choice. But you know, in some dark hidden place that you rarely go to in your soul, that you might. And you know no matter what, you will be all right. You’ll watch those same friends handle the loss of their baby with such grace and strength and see them rise from the ashes of broken dreams and broken hearts. You’ll find within yourself the strength to keep going. Somehow, some way. Because if they can do it, you can do it.

You will change in many small ways and in a few big ways, too. The changes will be imperceptible at first. Then they’ll sneak up on you like the dark of night slowly creeps into a long summer evening. You’ll wake up one day as the mother of a baby with “medical complexities” and realize that you can do this. You can do this no matter what. You will feel pain you have never thought possible and feel joy that seems unreal. You will question every day if you can keep doing this.

But then you will see your beautiful baby. You won’t see the tubes and wires coming out of nearly every possible place on their little bodies. You’ll see their daddy’s eyes, your nose and your mom’s hands. You’ll see them for their beauty, their strength and their amazingness. You’ll know that every minute is precious, even those minutes in the middle of the night when you are troubleshooting an IV pump that has a mind of it’s own. Hold on to them. Don’t regret them. Never regret the choices you make or the chance you took to give your child the best shot at life they could have.

You will be OK. In the end, everything’s gonna be all right.

Terra Atkinson the-mighty-07092015-002

Follow this journey on Terra Talking.

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Originally published: July 10, 2015
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