I had envisioned our first holiday as a family – my husband and I and our new baby, now a family of three – to be spent sitting around a table overflowing with food, surrounded by our family, baby in my arms.
Instead, we spent our first holiday as a family of three in the hospital.
Our son Tyson was born on Thursday September 11th, 2008 at 5:20pm with a condition called “TEF” or Tracheoesophageal Fistula and Esophageal Atresia, but not diagnosed until the following morning after having a barium swallow test done. (TEF is best explained as “an abnormal connection in one or more places between the esophagus and the trachea.” In most babies, the esophagus and the trachea are separate tubes which are not connected, but this isn’t the case for TEF babies.)
So instead of being home following delivery, Tyson was transferred to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto before he was even a full two days old. His health condition was critical, but we knew SickKids were leaders in this area. By day three, he was having surgery and he would spend the next six weeks in the hospital, going from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to General Surgery until he was well enough to come home, deep into October.
This was not how I imagined the beginning of my journey into motherhood.
In the weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving, I had convinced myself that we would be home to celebrate. If I’m being honest, every single day we spent in the NICU at SickKids started with me telling myself that today was the day we would go home.
But as Thanksgiving Day approached, it became obvious that we weren’t going anywhere.
I was angry.
I was bitter.
I felt cheated.
The thought of my family and friends gathering around a dinner table to give thanks left me with nothing but resentment and emptiness.
Some tried to convince me that leaving the hospital and visiting family would help. “You need a break,” they said.
I even followed their advice and took a short visit to see family celebrating Thanksgiving in their homes. But as soon as I walked into a house where people were celebrating, it felt like I was in the deepest black hole I had found myself in during the whole hospitalization ordeal. In fact, being away from my son “celebrating” with family left me angrier than ever. How dare I celebrate and give thanks while my baby lay in hospital?
When Thanksgiving Day finally arrived, I woke up feeling as though I had totally given up. And then my parents arrived at the hospital, full dinner in hand. They brought turkey, they brought potatoes, they brought stuffing and cranberry sauce - the whole kit and caboodle. The nurses even let us to take Tyson into the cafeteria with us.
It was almost how I had envisioned it. Here I was, sitting around a table overflowing with food, surrounded by those I love, with baby in arms.
For just a moment, I forgot that we were in a hospital.
Holidays can be the toughest time to have a child in hospital.
This is why, every holiday season, I choose to give SickKids Get Better Gifts as holiday gifts.
Even though our holiday spent at SickKids was Thanksgiving, I think every year of the babies, children, and families who are forced to spend their Christmas holidays there.
The Get Better Gifts website has so many options, big and small. You can choose from gifts such as a Baby-Sized Blood Pressure Cuff for $32, Crib Mobile for $65 or a Holiday Meal for a Family for $45, which is one of my favourites. Last year, over 1,000 holiday meals were served to patient families in December.
Every holiday, I give my kids’ teachers the gift of Get Better Gifts Arts & Craft Supplies, which benefits kids at the hospital by helping them take their minds off treatments, surgeries and tests. And, each gift comes with a free greeting card I give the teacher. They are perfect gifts, and leave people filled with warmth knowing that they are a supporting another family.
No matter which Get Better Gift you choose, you can rest knowing that you are helping to give a family a little piece of hope and some semblance of normalcy in a time where life is anything but normal. Every year, nearly 300 children spend their holidays in treatment at SickKids, and a Get Better Gift helps bring holiday traditions to the hospital.
Having my family bring Thanksgiving dinner to the hospital made me feel normal. It wasn’t exactly as I had envisioned our first holiday as a family but when I look back at it now, one of my darkest moments is actually one of my fondest memories.
It was my first sign that parenthood doesn’t always work out exactly as we imagined it but with the right people in our corner we can face anything. When I give a SickKids Get Better Gift, my hope is that there is a family out there that knows that someone they’ve never even met before is thinking of them; that they’re bringing some sense of normalcy back to the tumultuous experience of having a sick child in hospital during the holidays. Knowing someone – even a stranger – is thinking of your family while you’re in the hospital can be such a morale booster in a dark time.
If you’re looking for a wonderful, charitable gift to give someone on your list this year, I can tell you from the experience of being at SickKids over a holiday exactly how much it will mean to someone who may otherwise feel very isolated and alone on a holiday meant to be celebratory.