So it was about 2 years ago this week, that I sat down on a bus across from a woman I had never met. As the bus wove its way around the streets of Israel, I overheard her talking to the woman in the seat in front of her: “Two of my kids had open heart surgery when they were babies.” “And all of your kids were adopted? Is that right?” the woman she was talking to inquired. My heart kinda stopped. Only days before joining these women on a trip to the Holy Land, I had learned about a baby girl with a heart defect — who needed to be adopted. And now here was this woman sitting across from me — who had done this very thing. By the time our bus pulled up to our destination, God had already begun to weave my heart to Heather’s. We stepped off the bus arm in arm, tears in our eyes, in awe and wonder at a God who crossed our paths at the exact time we would need each other’s journey’s and bravery to continue this way God was calling us to. It’s an absolute joy to welcome Heather to the farm’s front porch today…
One month and three days after Macyn came home—one month and three days of being a mom, one month and three days of oxygen and medication—I found myself in the car on my way to the hospital for Macyn’s open-heart surgery.
We knew about this surgery when we adopted Macyn.
It was, in fact, one piece of medical information we received about her condition that didn’t fill me with anxiety.
I knew people whose children had successfully be through open-heart surgery.
I felt as though I had a grasp on what open-heart surgery is, and being able to grasp anything in this season of life was a comfort.
The night before the surgery, we had prepared what we could.
We set the timer on our coffee maker, packed a little bag with clean clothes, snacks, books, Macyn’s favorite blankets, and toys.
We received comforting e-mails and phone calls offering prayers of peace, of guidance for the doctors, of miracles and healing. We huddled together as a family of three to sing songs and say prayers and kiss cheeks and stroke hair.
On the morning of December 1, 2008, we woke up while the stars were still dancing brightly in the sky, and we rubbed the sleep from our eyes under the light of the moon.
The only thing we had left to do was wake our sleeping baby, bundle her up, gently strap her into her car seat, and head to the hospital.
Macyn was scheduled for the first surgery of the day.
When we arrived, everything was quiet and still. As we made our way to the elevator and up to the second-floor pre-op room, I felt my grip on my baby tighten just a little, just enough to feel her sick little heart beating up against mine. We rode the elevator in silence, maybe because it was so early in the morning, or maybe because we didn’t want to miss the sound of her every breath.
The elevator doors opened and we stepped off. The hallways were silent and dimly lit.
This was where we had our unexpected first meeting with Macyn just a few months earlier. Our familiarity with this place offered us a strange, unexpected peace.
While we waited for the nurse to come get us, we took turns snuggling our baby girl, humming familiar songs, and silently praying our guts out.
“Mr. and Mrs. Avis?” the nurse inquired with a kind smile.
“Yes, that’s us.” My heart began to beat faster.
“Follow me right this way.”
We went through a single door off the waiting area to the pre-op room. Hospital beds lined the walls, each one waiting for a sick child to occupy its stiff white sheets. Between the beds was an intermingling of bright, colorful murals of butterflies and smiling animals, and flashing or beeping medical equipment. The nurse led us to one of the beds.
“Here, put this on Macyn.” She handed us the smallest hospital gown I had ever seen.
As I laid Macyn down and took off her cozy pajamas I softly kissed her whole and scar-free chest.
I tried to capture a memory of her just as she was in this moment.
In less than an hour they would take her from me, poke her with needles, attach her to machines, and cut open her chest.
I wanted to remember her before all that happened to her tiny body. I gently touched her skin and could feel the bone that would soon be split open, and my eyes welled with tears—tears of the love for this perfect human, and tears of fear for the unknown.
It’s only the lucky few that recognize that the most beautiful things in this life are often found in the differences, in the difficulties, in the days that ask us to live a bit dangerously.
“Here, let me help.” Josh came alongside me and slipped one of Macyn’s arms through the hole in the gown. I pulled the other through.
“This just got real,” I said. I leaned on Josh and wrapped Macyn’s fingers around one of mine. “You realize this surgery, the very thing she needs to save her life, could take her life?”
“She’s not going to die, Heather.” Josh leaned down and kissed her checks. Macyn looked up at us and gave a sweet grin. “See, even she knows she’ll be fine.”
I laughed and wiped the tears from my eyes just as Macyn’s surgeon approached wearing blue scrubs and a colorful cap on his head.
“How is everyone today?” Dr. Razzouk asked as he placed his stethoscope over her heart.
“As good as can be expected, I guess.” Josh gave my shoulder a squeeze.
“Do you have any last-minute questions for me?”
I wanted to shout Yes, of course, one million questions but instead said, “I know you’ve already explained the surgery to us, but could you give us a brief description of what is going to take place next?”
“Of course.” He was calm and confident.
“We will be patching a hole found between the chambers of her heart. She’ll be placed on a heart-and-lung machine and will receive blood transfusions. Once the hole is patched, we’ll stitch her up and send her to the fifth floor for a few days to recover.”
“Are you ready for this surgery?” I asked. “Are you feeling confident?”
Dr. Razzouk, this surgeon sent by God, looked me in the eyes and said, “I am ready. I will be doing the best I can, but I am God’s instrument being used to help your daughter. It is all in His hands.”
The words I needed to hear allowed me to exhale.
Our thank-you was interrupted by a nurse. “Dr. Razzouk, the room is ready for you.”
He gave us a nod. “The surgery will take about five hours. I’ll meet with you as soon as it’s over.” And he walked away, disappearing through the heavy double doors at the far end of the room.
Only seconds after he was gone, an anesthesiologist approached Macyn’s bedside and introduced himself with a smile. “I’ll be your daughter’s anesthesiologist for the duration of the surgery. I will not leave her side. Has she been sick in the past forty-eight hours?”
“Nope. Super healthy, except for the hole in her heart. And her pulmonary hypertension.” I gave the doctor a wink.
“Okay then, Mom and Dad. It’s time.”
Josh and I looked at each other, then at our happy little girl.
My heart dropped. I was holding my daughter in a pre-op room. This could be the last time I would hold my new baby girl.
The last time I would kiss her soft cheeks and smell the sweetness of her skin. When you cut open the chest of a nine-pound, frail, three-month-old baby, things can go wrong, and I knew that. This real-life moment staring me in the face, this anesthesiologist waiting for me to hand him my daughter, made me want to run out the door and hide.
But rather than run, I handed my baby over to the anesthesiologist and fell into my husband’s arms and we cried.
The anesthesiologist held our baby over his shoulder and we watched her sweet little crazy-haired head bounce gently up and down as he walked, and she looked back at us, a picture forever etched into my memory.
Then God’s still, small voice reminded me to look at how far He had brought us.
He reminded me to let Him be God and do His thing.
He reminded me that no matter the outcome of this surgery —
I am forever Macyn’s mom — and He is still God, He is still good.
He is always good.
Then the doors closed — and it’s a strange and beautiful thing — how our hearts can forever open up.
Heather Avis is the founder of the hit Instagram account @macymakesmyday. After working as an education specialist teaching high school students, she became a full-time mom when she and her husband adopted their first child who has Down syndrome. Heather and her husband went on to adopt two more children, including another baby with Down syndrome.
In her book, The Lucky Few, she shares about their journey through infertility, down the road of adoption and into the world of Down syndrome. It’s only the lucky few that recognize that the most beautiful things in this life are often found in the differences. Even though at times His plan seemed terrifying and even downright foolish, little could they have known how much goodness, blessing, and joy would flow out of loving these three little people He’s put into their lives. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK!.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]