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The Beautiful Way One Mom is Encouraging Her Daughter to Embrace Her Scar From Open Heart Surgery
My little girl, Bella, was barely three years old when she first went into surgery. When she was two, we found out that she has Mitral Valve Stenosis, a congenital heart condition where the mitral valve—the "valve that permits blood to flow from the left atrium into the left ventricle," according to Medicine Net—has narrowed and formed incorrectly. For a while, doctors couldn't figure out why she was such a sick toddler, but when we saw a cardiologist, he diagnosed her within a mere 10 minutes. I was relieved to finally have an answer for all of her respiratory issues, but the bad news was that he told us she needed open heart surgery in less than three months.
Few moms can understand what it feels like to have your child rolled away on a bed to get prepped for a procedure, especially one like open heart surgery. I'll never forget the nurse saying to me, "We'll take good care of her." Sure, those are the words you want to hear before your little girl goes into surgery, but I also hated the sound of them. I'm her mother, that's my job—no one else's. It's my job to take care of her, but there wasn't a thing I could do in this situation for her. I felt hopeless.
But one thing I could influence in my daughter's life was to not be ashamed of the scar left behind from her surgeries, which went down the middle of her chest. I've always told her to be proud of this "bravery" scar, as I call it. She should never, ever be embarrassed by it, which is exactly why she chooses to wear two-piece swimsuits, little tank tops and halter tops—whatever she feels most comfortable in, my ex-husband and I fully support.
I truly believe Bella, now 12, has come to embrace her scar. The problem is, some people don't feel the same way. When she was about 3 years old, she had professional photos taken for the ballet class she was in. What I had hoped were going to be adorable pictures of my daughter doing a plié or flashing that precious smile of hers in front of the camera turned out to be something so much worse.
What set me over the edge was that the photographer had decided it was best to touch up her photos and erase the scar that I had tried so desperately to get my daughter to accept. I wasn't wise or strong enough to say anything to this photographer or ask for the unretouched photos, but it still made me feel so awful inside. From that day onward I realized other people would see my little Bella differently. They'd see her as flawed in some way.
So, going forward, I gave my all to instill confidence in her. To know that her scar is actually quite beautiful in a sense—it's something that will always be a part of her and that makes her undeniably unique. I hope that one day she learns to appreciate this, but we all know how cruel kids can be when encountering somebody perceived as different.
Since I'll never know what it's like to have a scar like that, I've sought to connect her with other kids she can relate to. Every year since she was 7 years old, she's been attending a sleep-away summer camp that is just for kids with heart disease. I'm thankful because she's made lifelong friends, and most importantly, she can finally feel normal around kids her age.
What astounds me the most about Bella though, is how comfortable she is about sharing her story with others who aren't familiar with congenital heart diseases. For example, we were recently touring her new middle school and the guides walked us into the gym and they showed us around the locker room. I then started to think how locker rooms can be a source of anxiety for ANY young girl, let alone someone who has a visible scar running down her chest.
Much to my surprise though, it didn't faze Bella at all. The second we got into the car after the tour she told me, "Mom, I think I'm going to give everyone ONE chance to see my scar and let them ask all the questions they may have. Just one time and then we have to move on."
I smiled at this typical Bella reaction, proud of how resilient my little girl was. Sometimes I think she feels like a freak, but it's how she handles it that makes everyone accept her—no matter what. And THAT is a beautiful thing.
Side note: Parents like me are turning to the Unbrace Teen Confidence Campaign to open up about difficult topics concerning their teens and how to keep them confident throughout the awkward years most of us remember all too well. Whether parents talk about a child's scar, an embarrassing post on social media, or going through braces—moms and dads can find ways to cope through these challenging times.
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