This is part ten of my mini-series “Welcome to Motherhood.” Miss the beginning? Start here.

Elli made it to the day of surgery. She was the second case of the day, so they told us to expect them to take her to the O.R. sometime after noon. Our family and friends all gathered at the hospital, popping in to kiss her forehead (the only part of her face we could reach) and give us hugs. They formed a huge circle with the chairs in a windowed corner of the surgical waiting room and saved us seats.

We signed the consent forms with shaking hands, and then sat on either side of Elli’s bassinet, hold her hands and stroking her head.

Her nurse came in mid-morning, paused, and then asked quietly, “Would you like to hold her?”

Elli before 1st surgery

The tears that hovered just behind my eyelids broke through and I nodded, unable to speak. Oh how I had ached to hold her, cradle her in my arms, these past three weeks. But I knew this incredible gesture meant that everyone knew, not just us, that we might be saying goodbye to her forever that afternoon.

They pulled up a rocking chair, gathered pillows, and helped me adjust my arms just right to support Elli’s breathing tube, central lines, and catheters. Then two of them lifted her and all the connecting apparatus carefully, slowly, and laid her gently in my arms. I wished for Scott to have this moment too, but we both knew that it would be too much to try to move her again. He crouched in front of me and we smelled her head and murmured to her as she fussed silent because of the tubes in her mouth and nose. She found the crook of my arm and nuzzled her head in. I felt her body relax and she slept.

I tried to burn the sensation of her body next to mine into my memory. I thought of the passage in the Bible that says that Mary (the mother of Jesus) stored up all these things and pondered them in her heart and thought maybe I knew what that meant for the first time ever.

Joy and Elli before her first surgery

It’s hard to look at my face in this photo.

All too soon, the moment was over. Her nurses came back to move her back into her bed, and we resumed our posts on either side of it, waiting for the call to go down to the O.R.

Sometime after 1pm, a crowd of people wearing masks and hats streamed into Elli’s room. They hooked up portable monitors and set the ventilator to mobile. They invited us to follow them into the cavernous elevator and down to the surgical floor. Slowly, carefully, they rolled Elli to the door of the cardiac operating room.

“You can give her a kiss goodbye,” one of the nurses said. I tried to wear my brave face for her, wiping my eyes so they wouldn’t drip tears on her as I bent down.

“I love you, Elli. Be good.”

They wheeled her through the doors, which closed behind them with a whoosh. Scott and I had to hold each other up, and I lost it into his shoulder. Again.

After a polite pause, a blue-capped nurse came up to us. “Let me show you the way to the surgical waiting room. I’m Betsy and I’ll be giving you updates through the afternoon. You’ll want to sign in at the desk. They will give you a pager so you can get dinner at the cafeteria. I’ll page you if I need to give you an update and you aren’t in the waiting area. Do you have anyone waiting with you?”

A laugh bubbled up through my tears as I thought of the crowd waiting for us. It felt good. “Yes, just a few.”

We followed her out through a frosted-glass door and pointed out the huge encampment in the corner.

“I’d say you do,” she smiled.

As we walked through the crowded waiting room, I noticed people glance up at our tear-stained faces and then look away quickly.

Our pastor was there, and he gathered us all together to pray for the surgeons, for their team, for Elli to be strong, and for us as we waited. We settled in with magazines, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and salty crunchy snacks of all sorts. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, so I listened to some of the conversations around me and people-watched. Some had barely sat down before they were called back again. Others looked like us, moved into the space for the duration. Some were stoic, some sobbed just like we had.

About an hour later, Betsy emerged with the first report. “We’ve got her asleep and all prepped. Dr. Pearl is about to make the first incision. I will report back when we’ve got her on bypass.”

Read the final installment of this series here.