As a new mom, I’m always being questioned about my baby and how she’s doing by family, friends, and even strangers who often see me in passing. Everyone loves babies and is genuinely interested in their progress and overall welfare. When you have one who has health issues such as my daughter Mila however, it’s a little tedious responding sometimes, because I feel I have to give the whole spiel about her heart condition. As such, I usually let the nature of the conversation dictate whether I disclose it, or simply say “she’s doing fine, thank you.” You see, my heart is no longer my own, instead it has now become irreparably entwined with that of Mila’s; our beating hearts are now one and the same. I therefore have to treat it kindly and curate the people who can handle its serious nature from those who cannot.
It’s sadly comical at times when some people enquire about her and I relay her challenges, their jaws drop in horror, their eyes tear up, the “I’m sorry” comes quickly off their tongues; after which they hastily excuse themselves from the conversation. It’s as if the topic suddenly became a little uncomfortable for them. I get it, ILLNESS IS AWKWARD! No-one really likes to confront or talk about it. I often wonder if it’s because people think it’ll make me feel worse, or if the truth is, it makes them feel worse. I remember leaving Mila’s bedside in the hospital once and seeing a fellow heart mom I didn’t know in the elevator. I had overheard in the ICU that her baby had just been born and was yet to undergo open heart surgery. She looked so dejected and tired, and my heart reached out to her as I knew the feeling all too well. I felt compelled in that moment to reach out to her, so I introduced myself and the first thing I said was “congratulations on the birth of your beautiful miracle.” She looked so stunned by my words and I could tell that like me, very few people if any, had taken the time to recognize that congratulations were in order, before allowing themselves to be consumed by the dark tide of our babies’ heart conditions. She smiled and looked at me with relief and told me thank you. It wasn’t awkward and it didn’t need to be. There was no need for apologies, only the need for a kind word, a smile of encouragement and a look that said I understood. Sometimes that’s all you need.
There’s an African proverb that says “never travel with someone who deserts you at the notice of danger.” ’My Awkward Heart’ has led me to truly realize who’s in my inner circle. These are the people who don’t make illness awkward and aren’t afraid to confront the challenges of life with you. They are the ones who are willing to call, write and check in to see how you’re holding up. They listen and when you falter, they just say “believe, because I believe!” With people you share a genuine bond, nothing should be too awkward or uncomfortable to handle together. One thing I’ve come to realize is that sometimes the people you expect to be there for you the most, are the ones who can’t handle the storm. Ironically, it may be a complete stranger who offers you that ray of hope and gives you an encouraging word. This is one of my greatest life lessons; to understand that no-one is obligated to share my storm and I should not have any expectations of how people should react to my life’s path. These are the rigorous teachings of life, for which they are no reference books and no study guides. So I will travel on, being grateful for the people who support my journey and being kind to those who don’t.
I’ll share with you a profound statement that has always resonated with me: “It’s not what ‘opens’ us that is important, but what it ‘opens’ inside us. As I reflect on that I realize that I am being metaphorically ‘opened’ to my core by what ails my daughter; yet I am also very focused on what this experience is ‘opening’ or revealing inside me. I have become empowered to not let her heart condition be ‘awkward’ to deal with or talk about. As a result of it, I am being exposed to a part of me I was unfamiliar with. The part that is bold, courageous and which recognizes that I can allow others to support me along my journey. So now when I am tapped out of inner strength, I tap into my inner circle that inspires and encourages me even in my darkest hour. That genuine core group who accepts and supports my clear blue skies as well as my dark clouds. May you all find the inner strength and your inner circle, which make your ‘Awkward’ … Awesome!