I will never forget the moment that I saw my daughter's heart beating inside her chest.
Two years ago, an equality of estrogen and testosterone returned to our expanding household with the birth of our beautiful daughter. Several months prior to her birth, during a prenatal visit to the doctor's office, our nurse furrowed her brow as she studied pictures of the sonogram. She hurriedly departed to get the doctor. As he studied the sonogram his brow furrowed, too. Something was wrong. We were referred immediately to a pediatric cardiologist.
The cardiologist provided us with a name for our daughter's condition: hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Our daughter's heart had not fully developed all of its chambers. To correct it, she would need three life-saving open heart surgeries- two within her first six months, one within the first week.
So there we stood, my wife and I, four days after our daughter's birth, surrounded by surgeons and nurses, many whose brows were furrowed, others who could not look at us in our eyes, at least two who quickly ducked out the room to avoid our noticing tears in theirs, looking down upon our daughter as she lie motionless, her mouth ajar, her chest cavity opened, her beating heart visible through a protective film stitched into her skin. They did not expect her to survive the night. But she did! That night, and the next, and seven hundred and twenty four nights since and counting!
As we looked over her, I vividly remember the first words that came forth from my mouth; "Hey, pretty girl!" Only recently has my use of this salutation arisen with greater meaning within my consciousness. "Hey, pretty girl!" It has been my morning greeting to her for nearly her entire life. I have discovered myself repeatedly speaking these words to her throughout the day, "Hey, pretty girl!"
A few months ago, our daughter "discovered" her reflection in our full-length hallway mirror. Every day since, she will pause to look at herself and study her reflection. She does so, not with vanity, but with a pure curiosity that ultimately turns to play. And as she engages in this daily ritual, I walk up beside her and say, "Hey, pretty girl!" Then she giggles and smiles. Then my heart melts. Two weeks ago, a stunning new development occurred. When I walked up to her and said, "Hey, pretty girl," she look up towards me, then back towards the mirror, and spoke with a deep conviction and knowledge of her own essence, "Pretty girl."
Our daughter has grown to become a determined, strong-minded, opinionated, confident, ultra-cute little girl. She is a fighter, and undoubtedly, she has needed every ounce of fight within her to make it this far. Through no shortage of miracles, she survived her first and second surgeries despite major complications with both. You would not know the gravity of her experience by looking at her.
Not unless you see her scars.
Although I have changed her diapers, and bathed, lotioned, and dressed her, the scars still give me pause. They cause me to remember the beating heart behind them all over, again. As she grows towards greater self-awareness, as evidenced by the increasing frequency of visits to the hallway mirror, I have begun to anticipate the day when she inquires, "What do these scars mean? Where did they come from?"
My preparation for that day has made me even more consciously aware of how miserably oppressive and objectifying our culture is when it comes to women's bodies. Our daughters walk through a daily maze of profit-driven images bombarding them with superficial and factiously achieved standards of beauty. The result has been both tragic and deadly. Millions of women have succumbed to plastic surgery, bulimia, and anorexia seeking to actualize the standards of beauty peering back at them from everything from magazine covers to music videos.
I recognize that as her father, I am my daughter's first line of defense against such bombardment. And I must defend her, both now, and in the future, against anything and anybody that would seek to degrade her scar-laden body as though her imperfections are undesirable. I am to affirm her inner and outer beauty, her strength, her gifts, and the promise of her future. I must let her know that her scars are beautiful! And they tell a powerful story. Her scars are reminders of the care rendered by skilled and able hands. Without those scars, there would be no life to celebrate. And life, even life best exemplified through scar tissue, is beautiful! She is made pretty, not in the absence of scars, but because of them.
One day, I will have to let her go; to college, to adulthood, and to life. But even then, she will be my pretty girl. And with strength and determination as solid as a rock, I have no doubt that she will face any future challenges or obstacles that may stand in her way with the same determination with which she has faced these early ones, scars and all.
For now, I will enjoy our daily ritual play mirrorside. Every time we meet at her reflective image, I will declare, "Hey, pretty girl!"
And I will listen to her respond in kind.
Pretty girl, rock on!