Oliver's birth is not one that I like to think about yet the guilt I carry still to this day means I think about it a lot. The guilt I had following his birth was so strong that I deleted every single picture and video of us. I was so mad I didn’t know he was sick and I was so angry at myself that I didn’t know my own son needed immediate medical attention.
I had a home birth that would have been picture perfect if Oliver came out breathing, but he didn't. He took so long to breathe after a crazy fast, tough birth that we called 911 and that "please take a breath" thought turned into a frantic panic when he started turning blue and still not a single breath.
The first cry of his is a sound I will never forget, so precious and so perfect. By the time the ambulance came Oliver was pink, showed great scores on his Apgar and was given the all clear by the paramedics. By the time they packed up their equipment and left we took our first breath of relief and let out a sigh of gratefulness that our son was okay.
About an hour later he again started to get really lethargic, still hadn’t latched and nursed well, and his cry was so weak that he sounded like he was drowning. We again called 911 and this time went to the hospital.
When we arrived Oliver was almost limp and we knew something wasn’t right. All I could think about was how did I not know? He was struggling and I had him in my arms and had no idea. How would I ever protect my son if he was sick in my own arms and I didn’t know?
Only one parent could ride in the ambulance and as much as my heart broke I knew he needed Tony’s hands on him, pumping life into his brain and nervous system was needed, even more than he needed me. So strange to now think back to that and I actually have no idea how I got to the hospital. I’m assuming my doula but I remember nothing of the ride, only my arrival into the hospital.
Upon arrival the doctor met me and told me Oliver was doing great, that he just needed some oxygen and was really cold. This is great news I thought! In the back of my mind I knew we were keeping him warm and that the midwife was giving him oxygen the whole time, as was the ambulance, so how could it be such an easy fix?
Turns out it wasn’t.
Oliver again crashed and our next update was that he was going to be life-flighted to a Level 3 NICU. Only Tony was able to say good-bye to him as I was sleeping on the couch after a long night of labor. I found out years later that Tony saw him blue with blood coming out of his nose as they went past in the hallway, an image he'll never forget. I’m grateful to have never seen that.
Watching the helicopter leave the roof of the hospital with the last words from the doctor being “your son is very sick” is such a surreal moment and not in a good way. It was impossible to look in the sky and watch him leaving without promising everything to God in return for your son. I would have given Him anything to save my son. Our God doesn’t work that way and He chooses where He spreads His mercy but that doesn’t stop us from trying in times of need.
By the time we arrived to Rockford the medical team had already put Oliver into a state called Whole Body Cooling. The doctor thought his crashes were related to a brain injury he possibly sustained during birth so they were trying to protect his brain.
The truth is they had no idea what was the matter but knew his body was unable to get enough oxygen into his blood, and he'd eventually get diagnosed with what is called PPHN - Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension. His heart and his lungs were working so incredibly hard yet he still needed 100% on the machines to help him breathe.
Of course there needed to be concern over his brain function, but the next round of doctors said the whole body cooling was limiting his lungs from dilating and healing the way they needed to first.
Watching him unconscious and freezing cold went against every single instinct in my body that was urging me to warm him. The doctors said he should be baptized if we wanted that and in that moment I realized how sick he was. If the doctors wanted us to baptize him right away it also meant that him dying was actually a possibility. Our amazing pastor (we love you Pastor Tieman!) made the trip to the hospital right away and we held a little baptism in the hospital with many tears and many prayers.
We barely slept that first 48-72 hours, as while we couldn’t hold him and warm him, we did know that our touch and Tony’s adjustments would be the #1 absolute most critical thing to let him know we were there for him, and to also keep his brain calmed and connected from the “storm” it had been through, and was still going through.
Tony knew just where to contact and just what sort of adjustments he needed to stimulate the healing and calming side of his nervous system, to do all he could to counter the stress side of it that had been triggered at birth and was constantly being stimulated by all the ongoing stress, machines, medications, and so on.
After two days of Oliver’s lungs only getting weaker at the first hospital, the doctors informed us they were recommending a procedure called ECMO, essentially a heart lung bypass system for babies. In order to do this procedure he again needed to be transferred to a hospital that staffed an ECMO team and equipment and they also needed to slowly start to warm his body to be ready for surgery upon arrival.
When Oliver arrived at Lutheran General he was so stable just from FINALLY being warmed up they almost considered not doing the surgery. My maternal instinct had been right - he needed to be warm to reduce the constriction of his blood vessels!
But they still decided the surgery would have higher success while he was stable instead of the risk of doing it if he crashed again. Turns out this hospital was totally against the Whole Body Cooling because his main issue was getting oxygen to his body and constricting his blood vessels with the cooling temperature only made that process harder for his little body. That was my first moment as a mom where I realized no matter how good, doctors make choices based on their own opinions and can be wrong just as often as they are right.
To put Oliver on ECMO some insanely talented surgeons actually go in and connect the carotid artery and jugular vein to a machine that does all the work for him, so his lungs could rest. His blood leaves his body, gets the right amount of oxygen added to it and then reenters his body so his heart and lungs can fully rest. ECMO is saved for very sick babies and adults alike when nothing else is working. The odds of making a recovery range from 20%-60% and that amount drops each day the body needs to be on ECMO. Oliver made his full recovery in 5 days and was slowly weaned off the machine as his lungs started working again! Those same amazing surgeons then returned to tie off his carotid and jugular forever. The human body is so amazing that other veins and arteries took over and replaced those main transports of blood forever, so crazy!
Amidst all these challenges with his heart and lungs, we were not done with our fear and anxiety, even as he responded well to ECMO, because he had suffered serious brain damage to the point where his EEGs were showing “burst suppression” findings. That is not something you ever want to Google in terms of your own child.
Most babies have suffered so much damage to the brain, the most critical organ of the body, that they don’t make it. Those that do are almost “guaranteed” to have a life full of neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, etc. We were told Oliver had a “99% chance” of that fate. So while we were beyond happy to have him alive of course, we were terrified of what sort of life he’d have to live. Tony worked heavily with the special needs population in his practice, so we knew the stress and challenges that brings to the whole family.
Again, God had already stepped in it turns out years ago and made his Daddy a strong, courageous chiropractor who knew that through his hands he could calm and balance Oliver’s brain, ridding it of that built up stress and damage. Along with the surgeons and medical team, I also watched my husband work on him every single day, multiple times per day. Tony’s confidence and certainty that Oliver would be not just living, but ALIVE was something that I would have never truly believed if it wasn’t for seeing with my own eyes.
As he still does today, Tony would explain all the science and neurology of everything he was doing to anyone that would listen. He’d tell me about it, the nurses, the doctors, everyone. What we know now is that the only two people who really had to listen to all that and certainly did, were Oliver and his Daddy.
To the amazement and honestly full disbelief of all the doctors and nurses, Oliver’s EEGs were clear by the time we left the hospital. He not only wasn’t having seizures as were “99% certain” of, but he was off all his meds, had his head shape perfectly returned to normal (had gone so flat from laying flat for weeks at a time, we had lovingly nicknamed him “balloon head” and “pancake head”), and was fully restored and reconnected to LIFE again!
It was a chiropractic miracle stacked on top of a medical miracle. Both amazed us, both still do today, and provide us with an energy to forever push forward tone day provide sick babies and kids with a team of BOTH chiropractors and medical doctors working side by side in the NICU. That's the ultimate dream, not separate, but together.
The first few days Oliver was doing great, we finally got to see our baby move, open his eyes, and be awake! The first time I got to hold him after all those surgeries I couldn’t believe this was my son, I was holding my son and he was alive! From that time on he needed one more surgery to close his Patent Ductus Arterious and after that it was smooth sailing for him. Six weeks in the NICU, many prayers and a very long journey but Oliver was not only alive but thriving!
There’s SO much more to the story but my thoughts always return to being his mom and wondering if I’ve held up my promises I made to my son and to God. Our journey in the NICU had our paths cross with parents losing their babies, parents waiting for news from the surgeon just like we were, and a lot of heartbreak.
There was a POD that all the parents knew was not the good one to be in. Some babies lost their lives in that POD and it was reserved for the sickest babies and the babies that needed a 24/7 nurse in the room with them. Oliver spent three weeks in there. When he got transferred to the regular PODs we were so happy that he was joining gen pop!
I often think back to some of those parents that had to say good-bye to their babies in that room and I wonder if they’ve had more babies and pray they’ve been able to find peace and some joy along with the sadness they feel. I pray God is is holding those babies tight and that His purpose was so great for those babies, that He needed to call them home so soon.
For my little miracle man, I hope I’ve filled his heart with so much love and been a good example to him of the person I want him to be. I hope I’ve showed him he’s worthy of love, happiness, and that life is something to be treasured. I hope he feels like he is always safe with me and that in my arms he will always be fiercely protected. I hope he knows I’m not perfect and neither is he but that together we will always lift each other up and push for the best in each other. I hope he knows being his Mommy is my greatest accomplishment in life and that I work hard every day to live up to the promises I made now eight years ago.
Oliver, thank you for choosing me to be your mommy.