In the summer of 2012, I had a lot for which to be grateful. My husband and I were expecting our first child in early September. As an anxious mother-to-be I spent those early summer months devouring books, movies, articles and just about anything I could find about babies and those first crucial weeks. I was thrilled and terrified imagining what it would be like in a few short months. Never once did I think that I might not be there to experience it myself.
After my son was born, I had one magical day where we just took each other in, but by the second day, I knew something was wrong. I found it difficult to get myself out of bed. I was exhausted, weak and my joints began to ache profoundly. At home things were worse. I couldn’t eat, I needed help getting around and I barely had the energy to hold the baby. I couldn’t have gotten through that week of doctor visits and a stint at the Emergency Room without my partner and his parents. My doctors were baffled, my symptoms grew worse and my family became increasingly worried. By the seventh day, I was undergoing multiple emergency surgeries to save my life.
I had contracted a strep infection that invaded my bloodstream and damaged my joints. By the time the doctors diagnosed the infection, my organs began to shut down. I had surgery on my ankles, knees, wrists and elbows. I almost lost my right arm. By all accounts, I am very lucky to be alive.
When I regained full-consciousness a week later, I could not move my arms or legs. I could not speak because of a breathing tube and I was in acute pain. I woke to my parents’ and sisters’ worried faces and pictures of my son hung large on the wall. My husband was shuttling between the hospital and home, where his mother was watching the baby. In two weeks I had become as helpless and dependent upon others as my infant son, whom I was not yet permitted to see. It took another full week in the ICU, two weeks in intensive rehab, and months of work at home to learn how to walk and use my arms again. It wasn’t exactly how I expected the first weeks of motherhood to turn out.
When I think of it now, I know there were many moments of pain and anguish, but what I remember most are my father’s comforting smile, my mother’s soothing touch, my sisters’ reassuring chatter, my in-laws’ compassion and the unwavering dedication of my husband. I remember the joy of holding my son again and the exhilaration of taking a step without help. I am grateful for the things in life I used to take for granted, but more importantly I am in awe of my family and friends who gave so much of themselves for me.
This is why I believe in gratitude. I am not just thankful to have survived, though I am, I also try to begin each day recognizing that relationships like these are rare and wonderful gifts.
Johanna Wagner lives in State College.