WE’RE KICKING OFF 2019 WITH ANOTHER MUSE SERIES STORY. THIS IS MAGGIE. THIS RESILIENT WOMAN TALKS ABOUT HER SELF LOVE JOURNEY AND THE STRENGTH IN VULNERABILITY.
If your best friend were to tell us about you, how would they describe in a few sentences?
I actually asked one of my best friends and she said something that stuck out to me. It was “You have one of the biggest hearts I know and you're always extending yourself to help others. You're powerful and courageous, you don't only have confidence in yourself but you ignite the confidence in those around you” I think she oversold me.
You’ve shared about your scar before on social – but, for those who aren’t familiar, what is the story?
When I was two, I was diagnosed with partial atrioventricular septal defect. This essentially is the underdevelopment of your heart in the chambers that separates oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. Basically your body circulates blood all around and brings oxygen to all your squishy bits, and my body couldn't do that properly because I had a literal hole in my heart. Some of the symptoms that I experienced the most, pre-operation, was that sometimes I would turn blue (I wish I was joking), or not be able to breathe properly and feel fatigued. I was too small for the procedure at diagnosis, but I went to SickKids for open heart surgery when I was four. SickKids became my home for a while and it still feels like home, at times. On the day of the operation, I remember holding a nurse’s hand while we walked down a cold dark corridor. I remember the smell of the operating room and waking up to searing pain while screaming and crying. I faded in and out of consciousness for a while, but little by little I got stronger. My whole body was essentially restarted so I had to learn how to walk again, and eventually I was running around the hospital.
I'm sure the choice to open up to strangers about your health online wasn't an easy one. Why did you decide to share about it? Were you always accepting of it?
Honestly, I think I was ashamed and in denial about my condition. For the longest time, it was just something that was there, that I almost packed up in a box and just put on a shelf. I didn't find out about what really occurred and the details about my condition until I was about 16. I figured that if I ignored it enough, then people would stop asking me about it and I could just keep it packed up in a box. But, a life changing surgery, especially to that caliber is not something that should be made invisible. What happened to me was daunting but it was also incredible I found so much strength in being vulnerable and realizing that what occurred to me should not be ignored. The decision to open up about my condition online was because I wanted to finally open up that box. I wanted to finally recognize that yes, I did scare the living shit out of my parents every time I ran down a hill and turned into the colour of a blueberry, and yes, I woke up in agonizing pain after the operation and I had to learn how to walk again and yes, I was born imperfect. Yet, there’s so much beauty and strength in being imperfect. I think it’s rare to see vulnerability online especially when it comes to someone’s imperfections. If being transparent online, urges someone to unpack their own box of imperfections, than its worth all the nitty gritty details. In sharing the post, I received an overwhelming amount of support from my close circle, and also just people who have also been through hell and back, whether from operations or not. I’m still on my journey on loving this vertical line down my chest and I have my days when I just want to face tune it out of my photos, but that post also serves as a reminder to refrain from that. I hope it serves as a reminder to others too, to put down that turtleneck and exit outta face tune, and to just look at yourself and say, damn I went through that. Because the truth is, I’ve learnt so much strength and love when I remember what occurred.
What was it like growing up with partial atrioventricular septal defect?
Growing up, my parents enforced an extremely careful lifestyle, which is undoubtedly hard especially because I was a chaotic active toddler. One of my most vivid memories, pre-operation, was my birthday party with my brother. It involved a park, a multitude of toddlers, which equaled to just crazy energy every where. I remember running around in a park with my friends, and the next thing I know, I was in the kitchen, with my mum distracting me with crafts. I was a brat about it, but truthfully I couldn’t breathe and was close to passing out in the park. My parents had to be the “bad guy” but it was really because I was going to die from lack of oxygen if I wasn't stopped. I’ve realized that it engrained a mindset of gratitude; gratitude for my parents, for my surgeon and the team at Sick Kids. During my pre-teen years my mum would skip meals so she could save money and buy ridiculously expensive scar healing patches, because she was afraid I would be made fun of in school. I wanted to reproduce that kind of selfless love to everyone around me. I also wanted to bring that to myself. Now, as a tradition, I return to SickKids on the day I got discharged from the hospital and bring books and toys for the other kids. I’m so lucky and so grateful to be able to be who I am, with what I have, and yes self-love is important, but it’s important to spread gratitude, love and light to the ones who may need it.
Having a support system and self-care moments is so important – especially during times of struggle. What did that look like for you growing up and through all the hospital visits? How has it changed over the years?
My parents encouraged the growth of my support system and engrained a grateful mentality in my mind, and as I grew, I felt more inclined to reproduce that environment for my loved ones as well. I always was excited about going and truthfully SickKids feels as comfortable as a second home to me and still does. In high school, I was always hesitant about low cut clothing and if someone would just see a glimpse of my scar. I would love to tell you that a combination of bath bombs and cute lingerie is a solution to everything (although boy it helps a lot), but truthfully I realized that self-care and self-love stem from the core. Truthfully, sometimes my self-care days are just staring at my scar while I dance in a mirror, as odd as it sounds. But I strongly believe that the greatest strength comes from vulnerability, and where you go from acknowledging your imperfections.
You mentioned that you had your last visit at SickKids for ASD – congratulations! How did it feel to reach that milestone?
Graduations were never significant to me, but leaving SickKids was the most important graduation. I was honoured because it meant that I was stable for 15 years and that I would be okay for a little bit longer. It was the last time I would walk the halls with small colourful footprints, and the last time I would get to see the animal decals on the window. But, it also meant that I survived. I felt like I was finally acknowledging the little Maggie that felt so much pain and grew to love the vertical line down her chest. That feeling will always be unmatched; the overflowing happiness, the undeniable fact that I had survived and will be able to go beyond the confines of a building.
When do you feel most empowered?
I feel the most empowered in allowing myself to be vulnerable, to feel everything and face everything as a whole. When I am gentle in listening to what I need the most to feel secure. For there is so much strength in recognizing your weaknesses. After all, my mum always told me to pick myself up when I fall.
Which of your physical attributes do you love the most?
I love my 16cm vertical scar that runs down my chest and the heart tattoo beside it that hovers over a spot where I can feel my heartbeat.
Thank you to our friends at The Good Space for sharing their space with us.