“I don’t do Valentine’s Day.”
Other than hello, this was one of the first things I heard my husband say in conversation. At the time I had no romantic interest in him—I’d known him for all of two weeks, after we’d started teaching at the same school—and we were enjoying after work drinks with colleagues on a warm February Friday.
After we did get together, we never did celebrate the so-called day of love. It never really bothered me; you could say I knew what I was signing up for!
To be honest, even though I’m a sucker for a good rom-com, and would happily receive a bunch of flowers for any or no reason, I’ve always been ambivalent about it anyway.
Australian spend about $790 million each Valentine’s Day, including gifts, romantic dinners and getaways. This seems a long way from the original Valentine’s Day, which began as a day to honour at least one Christian martyr named Valentine, said to be executed on 14 February in ancient Roman times.
These days, however, I have a completely different reason for acknowledging 14 February every year; it is also Sweetheart Day, which seeks to raise awareness about congenital and childhood-acquired heart disease, and sits in the middle of International Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “spread love not chocolate” (thus the subtitle of this blog post).
Until our daughter was diagnosed with a complex heart condition while still in my womb, I had no idea that about 1 in 100 babies are born with congenital heart disease (CHD). In Australia 8 babies are born with it every day, and 4 lives are lost each week; it is currently one of the leading causes of infant deaths in Australia.
Of course, behind those statistics are families like ours, whose lives have been impacted by such a diagnosis. Expectant parents whose lives have been upended by the news that their baby would be born with a broken heart; children growing up knowing first-hand what it’s like to live with a life-threatening illness; siblings who’ve witnessed a brother or sister who has needed extra care or spent extended time in hospital.
I’ve experienced all of this firsthand, and it’s this very personal story that is the focus of my current work-in-progress (and PhD study). I’ve recently had two short pieces published, one about the day of my daughter’s birth in the journal Seagift, and a piece of flash non-fiction (i.e. very, very short) about sitting with her in ICU post-surgery in the anthology Three Can Keep a Secret.
I hope I can share more of my story with you soon.
Right now, though, in the lead up to Sweetheart Day, I’d love to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work of HeartKids. This is an organisation that has been incredibly valuable to me and my family, especially the emotional support during hospital stays, and the friendships we’ve made with other HeartKid families we’ve met at morning teas and camps. Although my daughter is now a young adult, being connected to HeartKids remains important to me. I hope that along the way I can help pay-it-forward in regards to that support.
HeartKids began informally in 1979 when a group of parents in Perth began meeting to support one another. It’s now a national organisation that not only provides emotional and practical support to heart kids and their families, but also engages in advocacy and awareness work, and raising money for vital research.
You can find out more about them on their website.
As part of their awareness raising, HeartKids have created a list of photographic prompts for social media, which I think also make a great list of creative prompts, regardless of whether you have a work-in-progress or need inspiration to start something new. You can check them out on their Instagram and Facebook pages.
You might also like to check out the heart-related creative prompts on my blog, including this one:
But I’ll finish with this video, which kind of sums up how I feel about Valentine’s day/Sweetheart Day:
And on 14 February, spread love not chocolate!