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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

By Alissa Butterfass

As I write this, it is 8 p.m. on Monday, January 7. Four years ago tonight, I was in an Atlanta hotel room in anticipation of my gestational carrier’s induction the next morning at her local hospital. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that night in New York my best friend from college unexpectedly fell ill and was taken to her local hospital emergency room, where she died. My husband, parents, brother and friends lovingly kept the shocking and sad news from me—no easy task in an era of email, texts and Facebook—until after my son S.’s birth the next afternoon, January 8.

As a CHD patient, I had often joked that I was “born brokenhearted.” I certainly suffered my share of romantic heartbreaks during my dating years. And I have lost dear, much-loved grandparents whom I miss terribly. But it was when my son was one hour old, and my husband told me that my friend Lisa died (he had to… I was about to try calling her to let her know about S.’s arrival) that I think I really felt “heartbroken” for the first time.

I can’t blame it on the hormones. After all, I hadn’t been pregnant or just given birth myself. But to go from the emotional high and absolute elation of greeting my baby boy to the shocking, horrific low of losing my best friend was unbearable. It hurt. Then, as now, the only word to describe the pain was “heartbroken.”

I didn’t want my carrier to know about my friend. Two years ago she was a stranger to me and now she had performed this unbelievable act of bravery and kindness by carrying the child my cardiologist deemed too risky for me to carry. I didn’t want her to think anything was tarnishing the gift she had given. And I didn’t want to be sad around my newborn son. He—along with his older brother M.—was, and still is, the greatest joy in my life, and I didn’t want to deprive him of his loving, grateful mom during those first few days of his life.

So, I cried when he was sleeping and smiled when he was awake. Laughed when visiting with my carrier, and broke down once I left her room.

Each year, as I count how old S. is and mark his milestones, I can’t help but mark the milestones since Lisa’s passing. I try not to let my heartbreak at each anniversary of her death mar the happiness I feel at each of his birthdays. Tonight, as he falls asleep, I cry. Tomorrow when he wakes up a brand-new four year old, I will laugh.

How does a woman who was “born brokenhearted,” whose mother was told her daughter may never ride a bike, and who had two open heart surgeries by age two, get so lucky as to have two healthy, happy, adorable sons? Why was my “healthy” friend not so blessed? I’ll never know. All I can do is try to honor her memory and cherish my boys.


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