Today, Mother's Day, we share two inspiring accounts of motherhood -- Maya Troy, a Jamaican whose professional footprints include over 11 years of service in the local banking, investments services, retail and hospitality industries who recently made the move to South Carolina, USA after her marriage to US Air Force fighter pilot Taj Troy, and Carolyn Yapp, Miss Jamaica Universe 2009, interior designer and cosmetologist resident in Montego Bay, Jamaica.There are many lessons to be learned from these two beautiful, extraordinarily talented first-time mums.
"Before I became a mother, I never knew what it felt like to have my heart outside my body."
I remember there was a time in my life when I wasn't sure I wanted kids. Life was good, I was young with lofty goals and I just hadn't made that decision yet. As I grew older and managed to accomplish more of my life's objectives, the yearning for marriage and children eventually crept into my subconscious.
When I met my husband Taj, a US Air Force fighter pilot, I was so grateful to have finally met the man of my dreams, with whom I could start a family. I discovered I was pregnant in December 2012, three days before Christmas, and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I thought...YES! God has answered all my prayers!
At 16 weeks I found out it was a girl and was even happier; we named her Mila. I had a mini-me in the making. I could see frills and bows and my future suddenly looked pink! At my 24th week checkup, however, I remember the sonographer looking for something and muttering under her breath that she couldn't see it. She called the doctor into the examination room for a second opinion and he confirmed something was 'unusual' with the foetus' heart chamber. I was bustled off to a specialist to confirm his findings. After more ultrasounds the diagnosis was certain: my baby's heart had a single ventricle and not two, like that of a normal, healthy heart. I still recall the doctor's words vividly: "Mrs Troy, we believe your daughter has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS)."
I was DEVASTATED at the diagnosis, confused, angry. How could this be? I thought. I'm healthy and so is my husband. We have no heart issues in our families. I've been praying for a healthy baby, eating right, and working out. Did I do something wrong to cause this?
I immediately started researching the condition. I wanted answers to the "whys", but there were none. The doctors had no reasons for the cause; it was a rare condition that could happen randomly to anyone, and it affects 40,000 births per year in the USA alone. Mila would need open heart surgery throughout her early childhood for her survival, short of a miracle. With that startling revelation I suddenly realised that I was being confronted with life unscripted, unrehearsed and I was being thrown into a scene that called for hope, faith and courage. Sometimes our prayers don't always come in the packages we expect them to, but I knew God had crafted Mila in my womb, for His divine purpose and so I decided to change my perspective.
The day I gave birth to my daughter -- August 22, 2013 -- was truly a surreal one; the instant she entered this Earth, I looked at her and saw God's most perfect creation. I immediately burst into tears of joy and blurted out "She looks like me!" Ironically, I had to forego those precious moments a mom gets, to hold her baby skin to skin immediately after birth, to look lovingly into their eyes and instantly bond. Mila was immediately whisked away to the adjoining room, where a paediatric cardiac team had patiently awaited her arrival. There were tests to be done, medication to administer and a host of life-stabilising activities awaiting my baby.
At only eight days old, Mila had her first open heart surgery. I lived at the hospital by her bedside for the following two months. There were days she was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) when I couldn't hold her, all I could do was touch her, speak to her, and pray over her, so she could hear my voice. I often left her bedside feeling as if my heart had been ripped from my chest. Yet I refused to cry when I was by her side. There were days I felt as if I couldn't go on and in those moments I would reach out to a few core people who would fill me up with the Word, pray over me, pray for me and encourage me; then I would wake up the next day and do it all over again. I slowly began to realise that it was okay not be okay in those moments, that I didn't need to be strong for everyone else, but that I simply needed to honour and embrace my own feelings of fear, sadness, hope and faith without being limited by them. This was the sort of 'mindful' thinking that slowly made me give myself permission to live a little, to take deep breaths and appreciate each moment.
For each day Mila was hospitalised, I would place a pink bow in her hair. Amidst the dreary hospital rooms, this was our shared beacon of hope. A silent promise between us that everything was going to be all right, that we were both going to make it out of that place. I would look into her eyes and see a silent strength, wisdom so palpable you almost wanted to shy away from it, and those ever-so-slight smiles of reassurance for her mommy. I was, and continue to be, inspired by her every day. No matter what the news, the setbacks, the obstacles, Mila had a pink bow in her hair throughout it all. She was born with her heart just the way God designed and intended for it to be. I couldn't and didn't question it anymore. We had prevailed and triumphed by God's grace, one day and one pink bow at a time. I then realised I needed to change my perception of what a miracle was...is. He had given me one - 'Miracle Mila', to hold and to love for as long as He deems fit. God does his perfect work in our lives after we've done our own.
This sojourn has taught me my biggest life lessons to date. I am harnessing the ability to be more present, centred and to hold each moment sacred. Allow me to share a few:
I am learning to love and be patient with myself throughout the trials and the triumphs. It's easy to become too hard on oneself and not recognise the small daily victories we achieve.
I have become the curator of who I surround myself with. I rely on people I can trust to be there through the sunshine and the rain. People who can 'show up' and just say, "I can't fix the problem or the pain, but know that I'm here with you and we're going to conquer this together, by God's grace."
I've always viewed vulnerability as being weak, needy and dependent; and if you ask me today what vulnerability is, I would say, "dealing with Mila's HLHS". It is an experience that leaves me both terrified and liberated I now know that it's okay to open up and be vulnerable with those I trust. Baring my feelings is therapy.
PRACTISING JOY AND GRATITUDE
I am learning to cultivate joy every day of my life by simply being grateful. It would be so easy to complain and be bitter about my circumstance but I won't; instead I'll have an attitude of gratitude. I want to show Mila that truly thankful people do not complain, because they are too busy being grateful for all the good in their lives. I want her to grow up knowing her mom is thankful for her and that she's one of the biggest joys in my life. True story: while Mila was still confined to the ICU after her first open heart surgery, my husband decided to buy her a toy wrestling championship belt. I thought he was crazy. He took that belt and placed it atop her hospital bed, and would say to her, "Mila, you're a champ, you beat open heart surgery!" I eventually had to lighten up and laugh at his gimmick. Even if I didn't plant my own seed of joy, I could certainly cultivate the one my husband had planted and reap happiness in those simple moments.
I truly believe that God does not intend to harm us, but to enlarge and prosper us. I believe He has a divine plan that will always have our best interest at heart. I find solace in that belief. My mantra is "God's will be done!" This is my approach to all things in life and now, to all things 'Mila'. With this outlook, nothing is really a setback or a disappointment, because I know God is having His way in the circumstance and I can stand firmly in that conviction. As a result, prayer is no longer those isolated moments when I go down on my knees; it has become a persistent state of mind.
"The rain falls equally on everything." This is a saying that best captures my application of these life lessons. It means that I need to hold all my life's experiences sacred, both the good and the bad, as they are moulding me and accelerating me to higher levels of faith and self-actualisation. So as I revel in my new-found awareness and strength, I celebrate each day of my baby's life. It's been an absolute joy to witness all her 'firsts', her first smile, sit up, to hear her first words, and I thank God for that! I vow to raise her to know Christ and to lead by example so she may grow up to be a confident, purposeful woman capable of achieving all her dreams. I am a mother, Mila's mother, and I cherish all our experiences. It may just be our walks on the beach, watching the sunset, seeing the ghastly looks on her face when I introduce her to new baby foods; or simply cuddling in bed and waking up to each other's face in the mornings. It's the little things like these, the simply ordinary moments that I cherish with her. I have made the decision to not glorify her illness, but instead, to glorify the miracle and gift that she is to me from God. In those simple moments when I'm cooking breakfast and hear her babbling and laughing in the background, I say, "Thank you, Lord." Some people think I'm strong and brave, but I'm no superhero. The true heroine is Mila, because sometimes the real superheroes live in the hearts of small children like her, fighting big battles.
I truly believe that my journey in motherhood, has been the singlehandedly most humbling, spiritually fulfilling and purpose driven experience of my life. I thoroughly enjoy it and am choosing to be happy in my circumstance.
As part of my process, I launched my blog www.pinkbowdiaries.wordpress.com, which chronicles my journey with Mila. This has become my 'breathing space' where I can write and hopefully encourage and inspire someone facing their own life challenge. I have also felt compelled to advocate for heart health and will be putting on the inaugural Pink Bow Benefit 2014 in Columbia, SC with the support of the American Heart Association. The main objective of the event will be to raise awareness about congenital heart defects in infants and adults and to highlight the importance of newborn screenings in this regard. Part proceeds from the event will be donated to the American Heart Association. As a Jamaican I feel strongly about giving back to my homeland, and as such part proceeds will also be donated to the cardiac unit at the Children's Bustamante Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. The event will feature a Pink Bow fashion show for which specially created designs will be donated by local and international designers who have kindly agreed to participate in this worthy cause. Contributing designers thus far include Jamaican-based drennaLUNA, Julan, Ashley Martin, Cinderella Hats, TNT, Keneea Linton-George, Barry Moncrieffe, as well as Gavin Douglas (UK) and Sheshe New York (USA).
Every experience in my life has prepared me for this very moment. I am now respectfully aware of that and embrace it. I am Maya, a wife, a daughter, a friend and a mother. Today, I am owning my story and loving myself through the process and that's the bravest thing I'll ever do! Be encouraged! #pinkbowdiaries
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