Let me tell you a story...

It's my very favorite story to tell. I've told it before. I'm sure I'll tell it again.

When I recently was given the opportunity to contribute to a book in-the-works, this is the story I chose. The below is a bit longer than a normal post, but hang in there dear reader; it has a good ending.

The worn, white sheets stretch across the hospital bed beneath me. The floor is clean and cold, the window too small and doesn’t open. My limp, battered arm is attached to an IV; a taped needle in my overworked, over-prodded vein keeps me tethered to the coat rack on wheels at my side as I lay quietly in the sea of white… white walls, white bedding, white floors. 
I have been here before - so very many times in the last year and half.
I have been sicker than I previously understood existed, diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, undergone chemotherapy, tests, blood draw after blood draw, ER trips, blood transfusions, surgeries…
Yes, I have been here before. Not this very room, but this sea of white.
This time, though, is so very different. Today, it is not trauma or brokenness that brings me here. It is light, joy, life. Today I have just given birth.
My daughter, my second child, is a tiny eight pounds of perfection sprawled across my scarred chest.
I have been to the depths of darkness and hurt on the path to bringing her to life. I was told a second child would be near bouts impossible for me. When I did shockingly conceive, it was a troublesome nine days into my radiation treatment and I was told I would likely miscarry. Or, perhaps I would birth a deformed child. Perhaps I should consider abortion.
My husband and I did not accede those perhaps’.
I carried my baby for nine shaky months, and then some. I added Obstetricians and Perinatologists to the hoard of medical practitioners whom I carried business cards for in my already-too-full wallet.
As the months of her gestation crept forward, the appointments turned to increasingly good news. I had a growing baby. And I had hope.
Then though, there were some steps backward.
I was sick and unable to take medication. I was reeling from the many dark months just over my shoulder. Nightmares of leaving my toddler son motherless were interrupting my sleep, and my thoughts. And then there was the bloody night in the ER, when I thought I was losing my baby in the miscarriage that I had been warned was so likely.
But here I am. Here we are.
They wipe her off and place her naked onto my chest for skin-to-skin contact. Between my marred and scarred breasts lays a tiny bundle of perfection. She is real and she is here.
Every other thing in the world drifts away as I feel the weight of that warm, breathing baby pressing onto my broken chest. I stare into her little, dark eyes, that are staring right back at me. I run my hands over the long, dark hair covering her flawlessly round head. I feel the length of her back.
The tears are streaming down my cheeks in one of the happiest moments I have experienced. My overjoyed husband lovingly strokes our daughter’s fingers, and then mine. We are so grateful. So happy.
*          *          *
It's a hazy, cool morning, the day after she is born. I stand in front of the shuttered windows of our momentarily quiet recovery room, holding her in my arms and looking out to the view. There's a large medical building across the street from the hospital, not your typical inspiring view, but one that I am appreciating.

The building houses my OB-GYN's office, in particular, the office location I saw the doctor during the early months of my pregnancy. I showed up there as a cancer patient with a pregnancy that wasn't likely to succeed. And here I stand, as a happy new mother in the maternity ward. It is so good to be across the street.

And, it's good to be upstairs. The precarious night where I was bleeding and fearing the baby's loss was just a few floors down in the ER. That could have so easily gone the other way and I wouldn't be standing here today. I clutch my baby closer. It didn't. She is here.

I settle back into the semi-soft bed of white for some more quality time staring at my precious girl. Nurses come and go. Doctors stop by to check on us. A breakfast tray arrives. The business of the hospital carries on around us, but I mostly just see her, taking in her every feature and movement, her smell and the feel of her soft skin.
A woman on the housekeeping staff pushes her cart and mop into the room. She has a long braid down her back and a thick Hispanic accent; she clearly loves to chat and finds me a willing listener. My trash cans get emptied, counters wiped and floors moped and, meanwhile, I learn about her life: how she loves to stay busy to pass the workday, how she has two children at home, and how she recently lost her husband to cancer.
Oh that evil cancer! I relate and tell her briefly how I am familiar with the cancer battle. She looks at me, halfway squinting in surprise. Maybe then she sees my ultra-short hair, newly grown-in since the last round of chemo. Maybe she sees my bruised, weak arms. Maybe she sees my uneven, implant breasts beneath the thin hospital gown. …Or maybe she just sees a young mom, holding her new baby.
Whatever she sees, she is full of empathy and even more advice. Her eyes dart around the room, searching out more things to clean to prolong her visit with me.
Later, when I'm wheeled out the door to the discharge area, I'll look down the hall and see her and her coworkers having a chat as they lean on their carts and mops. I'll raise my arm up over a sleeping baby and give a wave goodbye. A small flood of cheers of congratulations and encouragement will follow me down the hallway in a quite perfect send-off from my new friends: the hospital cleaning staff.

Home we will go, my daughter and I. …Home to a precious big brother and loving daddy awaiting us. Home to a life set back on the track of normal. I step outside the maternity wing with her in my arms and I have just stepped out of the wilderness and back onto a path of life that is comprehensible, pleasant, beautiful.

I am beaming with a gratitude that is so deep, it will never leave me.
*          *          *
My struggles with treatment and medication side effects, body image, and life expectancy will continue to parade their ugly selves across my every day for the rest of my life, but will grow weaker in intensity. I will have to fight to work through the pervasive trauma of the last two years of horrible, but the dark memories will eventually dim into a life rebalanced with light.
My daughter is a gift from God that will help me move forward, not begrudging the cancer that stole so much from me, but being grateful that I have been so blessed as to forge back into a life that knows joy.
Joy… my daughter’s middle name.

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