The moment my beautiful bundle was delivered, she had people fretting over her.
‘Her eyes are very cloudy,’ someone was saying the minute she opened them. ‘She needs to see the ophthalmology team.’
My husband, Alex, 41, and I were grateful for such a quick response.
But it meant nothing was ever ‘normal’ for her.
Annabelle’s life was a flurry of appointments and fears from day one.
Tests that week showed our baby girl had glaucoma, an eye condition where the build up of pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve and even blindness if not treated.
‘She’s going to need multiple surgeries,’ Alex and I were warned, as I tried to hold back the tears that were flowing all too regularly.
With no family history, there was no obvious reason why this had happened but we were soon to become experts in this rare childhood condition.
As her eyes, were sensitive to light, we could hardly leave the house. We needed to stay in semi-darkness and even then our poor girl cried constantly.
Her older brother, Sebastian, three, was so patient with her but it was hard for him too.
‘I hate it that she’s suffering,’ I said to Alex, heartbroken that we had to add to it with the constant eye drops she needed.
One was so strong, I had to hold her to prevent it from entering her tear duct and causing more pain.
Even as a baby, she associated the dropper with pain and thrashed and screamed the minute we went near her with it.
‘They do sting,’ the doctors told us as I pleaded for another way.
But there wasn’t one.
Annabelle also needed surgery after surgery to try and reduce the pressure on her optic nerve to prevent blindness.
She had around 12 operations before she was one, and it was only when a tube was inserted to drain her more problematic left eye,
in January 2018, that she got some relief.
At last, things began to settle down.
‘She let me put sunglasses on her,’ I told Alex, smiling.
She even let us put the drops in without fussing… sometimes!
But the worst was still to come.
In October 2018, when Annabelle was two, she woke us, screaming.
‘It’s her eye,’ I called to Alex.
She had a fever and pus was seeping out of her left eye, which she refused to open. Taking her straight to hospital, the doctor managed to open it, but under her eyelid it was completely white.
‘It’s very badly damaged,’ the specialist said.
The tube that had been inserted had penetrated the white part of her eye, allowing infection in.
Now, we were told, it would most likely cause blindness in her left eye.
Taking Annabelle home, I’ll never forget the cry of pain she made as she clung to me.
‘The medicine will make you feel better soon,’ I soothed.
Over the following weeks, we watched Annabelle’s eye, hopeful.
But it was shrinking and discolouring, until she had it closed most of the time.
After everything, her eye had lost all sight.
At the park, the questions started immediately.
‘Why do you only have one eye?’ kids would ask.
Annabelle wouldn’t know what to say. I caught the stares and nudges and it broke my heart. But we had to stay positive and keep moving forward.
I gave her a soft bunny, which became her everything. She named it Teddy and it came to every appointment and helped her be brave through it all.
But as Annabelle carried on growing, her non-functioning eye didn’t, so it needed to come out.
Aged three, she was old enough, and Annabelle had her left eye removed.
The acrylic implant that was put in its place became infected soon after, so she was left with an empty
It meant that in September 2019, she needed a big surgery where her skin and fat would be used to make a ball to be implanted in the eye socket.
While this wasn’t the best looking option, it was what had to be done to keep the socket stretched, ready for a prosthetic in the future.
‘You have two eyes, why do I just have one?’ Annabelle asked.
‘You’ll be getting a new eye soon,’ I promised.
But then, with COVID-19, everything was put on hold.
Finally, she was fitted with a prosthetic in September this year.
It’s a plastic shell which slots into her eye socket and looks like a real eye.
‘What colour is it?’ Annabelle, now four, asked when she woke up after the surgery.
Showing her in the mirror back home, her reaction was priceless.
‘Wow!’ she gasped, staring at her reflection. ‘I don’t ever want to get it off.’
Of course, it doesn’t work like a real eye but she still has vision in her right eye and that’s kept under control with drops.
We don’t know what the future holds for Annabelle’s sight, but getting this new eye has given her a whole new lease of life.
She’s at kindy now and loves singing, swimming and building things.
After all our brave girl has been through, that’s what we want for her – a ‘normal’ life without constant operations, and the opportunity to use her remaining sight to see the world as a happy and beautiful place.