Sainte-Justine is the backdrop of some of my earliest memories.
It’s where I was born, in the late ’80s. A minuscule 3.5-pound baby who showed up several weeks too early. It’s where I spent the first few weeks of my life, in an incubator where my parents would visit me every day, slipping their hands through the openings to carefully hold my tiny fingers. It’s where I received my diagnosis at about one year old: spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that, in my case, would affect my lower limbs.
Of course, I don’t remember any of this. Nor do I remember my first night, during which my mom was so emotional, she rocked me to sleep by singing O Holy Night despite the fact that Christmas was months away. I don’t remember the day I was finally able to go home from the hospital, after a month spent in the NICU. But these stories have been told to me time and time again. They’re part of my life story.
What I do remember is all the visits, the meetings with paediatricians and specialists, with physical and occupational therapists — and even as a child, I was never scared or nervous because they inspired confidence and radiated kindness.
At the age of five, I was hospitalized at Sainte-Justine to undergo a complex surgery called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy. The surgeon would cut certain nerve fibres in my spinal cord to reduce spasticity and improve mobility in my legs. Back in 1992, this was still a very new procedure. I later found out that my parents were worried sick at the idea of putting me through such a major intervention.
Thankfully, they received the guidance and precious advice of Dr. Pierre Marois, who had been following my case from the very beginning and has so often proven to be reassuring, wise, and caring. Throughout my childhood, he was an invaluable presence for my family and myself.
Through it all — the hardship, the appointments, the physical therapy sessions — I grew up. Time passed and, in January of this year, I found myself at Sainte-Justine once again, this time to welcome my daughter, Simone.
I was nervous, not knowing if my condition would make giving birth more complicated. In the months leading up to Simone’s birth, I learned that the surgery I had undergone at the age of five made it impossible for me to receive an epidural. I did my research, asked questions. I listened carefully to my OBGYN’s advice and met with the anaesthesiologist to discuss my options. I even contacted Dr. Marois — after all, no one knew the specifics of my case better than he did. They all eased my worries.
Despite my mother-to-be jitters, though, one thing remained clear in my mind: Sainte-Justine was undoubtedly the best place for my partner and I to welcome our daughter into our lives. There, we would be surrounded by the best. We would be safe.
On a cold winter’s day, Simone finally joined us. The birth went smoothly, free of drama or fear.
At birth, however, she was working a little too hard to breathe. The medical staff was quick to reassure us that everything was under control. They explained that they would put a mask on her to help her breathe more easily until she got used to her new environment. For a few seconds, anxiety reared its head again. Then, I saw the smiles on the doctors’ and the nurses’ faces. Everything would be okay.
And it was true: everything was okay. As we left the hospital with our tiny girl in our arms, we were unable to individually thank each of the nurses who accompanied my family during the first days of Simone’s life. Know that your presence, your advice, and your patience won’t be forgotten.
Today, when I go by the hospital where I spent so much time as a child, I no longer think of the doctor’s appointments, the physical therapy, or the long days of recovery.
I think of my daughter who, within these walls, opened her eyes for the first time.