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Mother counts blessings one miracle at a time

When the nurses took my first-born away, he was as gray as the sky on that rainy day in May. It was during his first few moments that I learned that motherhood is full of the unexpected. Yet, at the same time, I learned that it is more beautiful than any words can describe, and that a certain super strength accompanies parenthood.

My son Andrew was born with an unexpected congenital heart defect known as transposition of the great arteries. The main arteries of his heart were reversed, and his body was not getting the oxygen it needed, which was life-threatening.

As he was rushed from Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital to Women and Children's Hospital, the doctors told my husband, Ken, and me that we had a very sick baby and asked if we wanted him baptized. I could only react by burying my face in my hands. It was the most heart-wrenching moment of my life, and a horrible initiation into motherhood.

After Andrew was taken away for treatment, I broke down and sobbed. I only found strength when my own mother gently told me, "You are a mother now and your baby needs you to be strong." Helplessly, we then said litanies to the Virgin Mary and asked her to be with Andrew when I couldn't be.

Our prayers were answered.

The amazing doctors from Buffalo Pediatric Cardiology, Dr. Glenn Leonard and Dr. Joseph Orie, performed an emergency procedure to stabilize our son -- but he still would need open-heart surgery. My husband and I spent every waking moment holding our son and enjoying his sounds and smells from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the hospital. We tried to drown out the beeps and hums by talking and singing to him.

When Andrew was 4 days old, he was taken by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. At only 6 days old, his chest was opened up and surely with God guiding his hands, Dr. George Alfieris switched the minuscule arteries of Andrew's strawberry-sized heart.

After tense hours of waiting with our family, we were told that Andrew's heart defect was successfully corrected. The thought of open-heart surgery on a newborn is enough to thoroughly scare any seasoned parent, but we got through it, because we had to.

When our son came out of surgery, he was sprawled out on the warming table with tubes and leads and monitors surrounding him. He was puffy and motionless. There was a bustle of activity around him, and I had to stand back and allow the doctors and nurses to do their job.

It hurt to be a mother that day. I wished I could have taken his scar and made it my own.

So I did all I could do as a mother: read to him; pump him breast milk; and rub his head when he cried. But we had one tough baby; each day he improved. The nurses called him a "superstar!" Only two and half weeks after he was born, we took our superbaby home.

Andrew was now a "normal" baby. Today he is a rambunctious, happy, brilliant, nearly 3-year-old boy. The only evidence of his heart defect is the scar down his chest. (We are also blessed to now have a beautiful baby girl, named Julia, who was born perfectly healthy.)

Though I have been a mother for only a short time, I have learned that each day brings little surprises. Before being a mother, I never would have understood how my heart could melt when I feel little arms wrapped around my legs, or when my baby gives me sloppy, wet kisses.

I never expected to be the mother of a baby with a heart defect, but I also never expected to experience so much love. I see now that each day is a miracle.

Both my children have been the biggest gift of my life -- my beautiful miracles. Each day brings tiny bits of love, little unexpected wonders. Through my experiences, I have developed a deep appreciation for the mothers who came before me. And to be part of that club I am truly blessed.

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