Real Mom Story: My Surgery Scare

Helping hand to little baby

The following is written in a real mom’s own words. This is an outlet for parents who would like to share their stories, in the hope that others will connect and find support. If you have a story you’d like to share, please message us on Facebook or email us at

My scariest mom moment (ok, week) came when my son was 15 months old, although it had been in the works for a while. I just didn’t know it.

He was always a happy baby, full of energy and smiles. When he was small, he was such a chunk! Chubby, loving, meeting his milestones—I was thrilled. When it came time to start him on solids, he wasn’t really interested. That’s ok! Food before one is just for fun! We did baby-led weaning, and I kept reminding myself that babies don’t starve themselves. As he grew, he thinned out and still didn’t eat much. He’s such a milk-baby. He’ll grow out of it. But he didn’t. I kept nursing frequently to keep his nutritional intake up, and I savored every bite of solid food that he agreed to eat.

When he was 15 months old, he had a rough Wednesday. Lots of dirty diapers, a bit fussy, and he exorcist-vomited right before bed. I thought it was a tummy bug. He had eaten a bit, though, which was exciting. The next day he was fussy, but no more vomiting. Same with Friday and Saturday. Just fussy, clingy, mopey. I figured he was under the weather. It happens—he is in daycare, he’s still teething, he’s a toddler.

Saturday night, however, something changed. He started to scream, crying uncontrollably. He didn’t want to nurse, which was shocking for him—my milk-baby, who would never come up for air if I let him, didn’t want to nurse. We thought he was not feeling well and overtired, so the three of us cuddled in bed and my husband unleashed the secret weapon (Teletubbies, please don’t judge us) on his phone, which calmed bub down enough to get him nursing. He fell asleep on my breast and we thought we were in the clear. Hubby and I whispered in the dark about how my arm was falling asleep and I was going to shift the baby off as soon as he was deep enough asleep, but it never happened. He was up again, screaming.

Again, he wouldn’t nurse. Again, we couldn’t comfort him. Again, Teletubbies distracted him enough to nurse and fall asleep. And again, a few minutes later, he was up again screaming.

Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.

At this point, we knew something was really wrong. My husband started packing for the ER (no one packs like my husband packs, by the way. We were so ready for the ER!) and I called our pediatrician’s night-nurse. She agreed that we needed to go, and I asked her why. Now, I knew we were going—we were going with or without her input. But I wanted to be armed with knowledge. I am a nursing student, so I know firsthand how important empowered patients are in their own care. I wanted to know what the nurse was afraid of. Armed with that information, we bundled up baby. Who promptly vomited all over the floor. A shocking amount of baby vomit, I might add.

Once we cleaned up and got our baby to the small, community-hospital ER, I described his symptoms and informed them of what the night-nurse was worried about. I could tell that they thought it was probably nothing, but they promised to run tests to rule out our concern. He vomited again. They drew blood. They took a urine sample. They took an x-ray. He vomited again. Throughout the whole ordeal, the crying would stop and start, stop and start. My husband and I took turns holding the phone, which was playing a steady stream of Teletubbies. We ate bagels (again, my husband thinks of everything) and wondered how many hours it would be until they sent us home. We had arrived at around 11 pm, and it was already 2 in the morning.

And then the x-ray came back abnormal.

The nurse came to tell us that we were being transferred to the big city hospital, because they had a pediatric radiology team and we were going to need more than just an x-ray.

We knew we were in for a long night, so once baby and I were settled in the ambulance, my husband went home to sleep. He would come early the next morning to relieve me. We had no idea how long this would last, and there was no sense in both of us staying up. Bub was still crying, off and on. When he was crying, though, it was with every fiber of his being. It was awful.

(Side note: I remembered at this point that I was supposed to host a bridal shower for a dear family friend the next day. I left a frantic message for my mother that she needed to take over the hosting duties, and explained a) what was happening and b) the theme of the shower.)

At the bigger hospital, the nurses greeted us with bubbles and an IV. (Thank goodness for the nurses, they were so great through all of this!) We went for an ultrasound. It was inconclusive. We went back to the room. Munchkin threw up again. They gave him something for pain and something for nausea, and told me that he shouldn’t be getting any more food or liquid until we knew what was going on. We watched more television. We blew more bubbles. We read some books. We went for another ultrasound, this time with a whole radiology team watching. Still inconclusive.

We dozed. The nurses distracted him while I scarfed down another bagel and some orange juice so I didn’t pass out, and then we went for another ultrasound. It was 6:30 am, and they had woken up the chief of pediatric radiology.

By this point, our little man had stopped crying. In some ways, it was worse. It was like he had resigned himself to the procedures, the pain, and the exhaustion. All he wanted was to lay on my chest and doze.

The ultrasound was still inconclusive. We think we know what it is, the doctor told me. It is almost certainly one of three things. I want a CT scan to verify.

My husband came, and took the baby to the CT scan. I slept. We were still in the ER. When I woke up, it was around 11. The CT scan was done and the bubbles were out again. I filled hubby in on what we knew, even though the nurses had already been through it with him.

They still didn’t know what it was, even after the CT scan. It was one of three things, though, all related to his intestine, and all of them requiring surgery. We were just waiting for them to fit us in on the schedule.

I called my mom again, to make sure things were good for the bridal shower, just because I didn’t have enough on my plate. (About halfway through the shower, my mom left to come be with us, and my grandmother took over hosting duties. Thank goodness for small towns, family friends, and flexible brides! Also, apparently it was still a really fun shower, which I was so glad about.)

They called the baby in for surgery. They didn’t know how long it would take—it depended on what they found. Hopefully it would be simple, just remove whatever needed to be removed. Worst-case scenario would be if the intestine was affected. Then they would need to remove part of it, and who knows what the recovery from that would be. Would he need an ostomy? How long would he be in the hospital?

We brought him in ourselves. This was the worst part—my husband and I went into the operating room with him, and held him down while they gave him the anesthesia. He cried and fought, his little face turning red and his eyes all panicky, until they kicked in and he fell asleep. It only took a minute, but it felt like an eternity. I cried the whole time—big, heaving, ugly sobs. We were given directions to the room that he would be sent to once he was out of surgery, and I started to unwind enough to doze.

And then the phone rang. It was a surgical nurse, telling us that they had started to operate and it was a simple surgery. They had to remove a congenital diverticulum that no one had known he had, which had gotten infected. (Incidentally, this is what the radiologist had suspected.) They were removing his appendix too, just to be safe. He would be out within the hour.

When we saw him, he was puffy from IV fluids. He was groggy from the medication, and hoarse from being intubated. But he was healthy. The surgeon came to see us, and told us that it was an incredibly inflamed diverticulum, and we were lucky that the infection hadn’t spread to the intestines. We were even luckier that the diverticulum hadn’t ruptured. You came just in time, he said. You were very close to having a very sick baby.

And then he asked us if our baby ate a lot. Or anything, really. Because his congenital diverticulum was lined with stomach lining, which meant that it was releasing stomach acid into his intestine when he digested. No wonder he didn’t eat!

The next few days were filled with medicine, catheters, and IV fluids. Small Sir started playing in the (fantastic) hospital playroom, and getting back to himself.

Now, the only souvenirs he has of that week are a teddy bear, a nice pink scar, and a nice new appetite.

(Also a slightly traumatized mommy)

I feel so lucky. I know that so many moms have to deal with much more than this, and I admire your strength so much.

I just want to offer my thanks to all of the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who take such good care of our babies, and to offer my prayers to all of the parents and babies who are dealing with scary stuff right now.

You are in our hearts, always.

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