Surgery & The Dam


{Finley after his most recent surgery in December 2014}

“Your child needs to have surgery.”

Say those words to yourself and get a feel for how heavy they are. If you have kids, you have no doubt felt the immediate panic when faced with a simple illness that led you to believe your kid is headed straight to the operating table. It seems to never pan out like that. But, for some families, it does. For some families, the unimaginable becomes material. It could be for absolutely anything from tonsil removal to heart surgery. When you know your child will be put under general anesthesia, have breathing assistance and be cut open, you find yourself in a suffocating, narrow tunnel with only one way out—right through the shit. Right through that huge ass pile of shit. (There will be cursing, sorry.)

In a few weeks my Godson will go in for surgery and it got me thinking about how to help prepare my dearest of dear friends for what that feels like. I am not an emotive person. I do not put my tears out there. But recalling the feeling of surgeries gone by makes my throat flare up and my eyes full. You can imagine it, I know you can.

So how does a parent deal? Balancing the emotions and practicalities of surgery feels much like being the sole person supporting a huge dam. You know you’re in charge. You feel the responsibility and know that if you move ever so slightly in the wrong direction it will all come down and you will drown under the power of the flood. And it isn’t just you who will drown. Everyone around you will too. You will submerge a village. So you keep holding it up, knowing that your shoulders are gonna look hella good when this shit’s done because that’s resistance training right there.


{Finley after his first rodding surgery at 13 months old}

I can’t. I just can’t express the feeling adequately. It feels like a bad dream you are just hoping to wake up from. In the spirit of full disclosure, that is real. I won’t act like this is going to be good. It is not. And you never want to deal with it and I hope you don’t. But if you do, I’ve compiled some advice for you from a band of major bad ass Moms who have all been there. I love these women and I feel so very connected to them because we are bonded by this pain.

Be Honest.

Amber, who is kind of like my twin, but in Texas, likes to be open, honest, frank with her daughter, Romey. “I find that my kids are less anxious and more prepared if they know what’s going to happen,” she says. I totally agree with her. Telling Finley exactly what was coming made him deal with the fear up front a bit and got us on the same page. Those were hard conversations, but I have always felt good about the honesty behind them. We share this emotional point as well, Amber and I—we don’t cry in front of our kids. “I’m bossy, demanding and direct with health care professionals, but also kind and try to be funny. I think it helps my kids to see that I’m in charge of their care even in a hospital.”

Be Confident.

Stephanie is smart, capable, and doesn’t settle for less than whatever she knows is right. She reminded me that you have to have faith in the process to some extent. You’ve made the choice, you did your research, now get behind the team and let them do their job. “You have to have faith in the doctors and nurses,” she says. “It is amazing that your child has parents who are willing to do whatever it takes for the hope that their child will have the best life possible. That is pure, wholehearted rock solid love.” I echo this sentiment. If you’ve done your job well as a parent, asked every question, done all of your research, you should feel so proud of yourself and ready for that next step. Be confident in your abilities to make these decisions.

Be Curious.

Kristine and I have been through this rodeo together a few times. You wouldn’t know she is ever anything but strong and fabulous—does she feel surgery fear? Of course she does. But she just IS comforting and wise. She knows how important it is to feel informed. “Don’t be afraid of asking questions. No question is stupid,” she says. “Example: What is their protocol during surgery? Will they come out and update you regularly? What happens after the procedure, do we go back and visit our child?” These questions are so huge. You will cling to these tidbits of information during a surgery and you will want to know about everything from what your child can take back with them for comfort and when you can see him or her. Bring a notebook and write it all down. You need to know these things and you will no doubt, forget them while you’re waiting.

Be Strong.

Brooke is my quiet friend. She is smart and capable and loveable. “Take time to let it all sink in and then prepare to be the parent you were always meant to be. You are not expected to handle it like anyone else, but please be strong for your child. They need to find strength in you.”

{Finley after his first major surgery in Omaha, Nebraska}

My last piece of advice is this—let yourself deal however you deal once your child is in surgery. Do you want to cry? Great. Would you rather not? Also good. There is no one right way to feel here. I have gone from sobbing with my husband in pre-op after they wheeled my boy back to stone cold sober face from start to finish. I find that my heart is ever changing and I need different things at different times. Don’t analyze what you want and need. Just be it there in that moment. And know that you only have as much control as you have. You’re holding up that dam and its a huge ass bitch of a job. But you can do it. Because you are amazing.

There is no tougher girl than a Mom with a kid in surgery.



Hi, I'm Shannon. I like to write about tough girls and tough things because I find strength to be an interesting and inspirational topic. My husband, Vic is my favorite person and my children, Emerson and Finley are right up there too. I am a disability mother and advocate. A woman-loving, lean-in type. And a fitness coach and cheerleader.

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