What my Infant Son Taught me About Courage

By Becca Kalivas

Wednesday, May 9 2018


My whole life I’ve wanted to be a mother. As a child, I loved playing with my dolls and being “mommy.” As I grew older, my desire to be a mother only intensified. When I finished college and started a career as a pediatric intensive care nurse, I knew I’d found my professional calling. But still, something was missing. I knew, deep down, I was put on this earth to be a mother.

My road to becoming a mother was not an easy one. My husband and I struggled for over seven years with infertility. After years of disappointment, I think we had sort of given up on the idea. Around Thanksgiving of 2016, we discovered (to our surprise and absolute delight!), we were pregnant. We were thrilled and started dreaming all the normal parenting dreams. Girl or a boy? What should we name the baby? What will he/she be like?

In March 2017, at our routine 20-week ultrasound, doctors discovered our baby (a boy!) had a heart defect known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. We left the appointment in a fog, not knowing what was ahead for our little boy and family. After a few weeks, we reached out to Dr. Bettina Cuneo, a fetal cardiologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Just 12 minutes later, she responded to my email and provided us with so much comfort. But more importantly, she gave us hope, leading us to choose the Children’s Colorado Fetal Care Center for our son’s care.

In April 2017, at 25 weeks pregnant, we were told our baby was in heart failure and may not live. Again, our amazing care team at Children’s Colorado put their heads together and figured out how to save our little boy.

My little warrior, Oliver, made his debut on July 25, 2017. He had his first open heart surgery at just 2 days old, beginning his journey with Dr. James Jaggers and the entire team at the Children’s Colorado Heart Institute. His surgical recovery was remarkable! In the months that followed, however, he had countless complications. From problems with his intestines, to two bloodstream infections, to issues with his heart, he battled it all. At 3 1/2 months old, he had his second open heart surgery. Through all of this, he had us and his incredible care team at his side.

In those difficult moments, I put on a “brave face,” trying to show courage I most certainly didn’t feel. I tried to will myself into feeling brave, even when all I wanted to do was throw up my hands and say, “Enough!”

When I tell people about my little Oliver, the comment I hear most is, “I don’t know how you do it.” For the longest time, I didn’t either. My baby boy is now just over 9 months old and is happy and joyous and so unfathomably resilient. For someone who has been through so much in his short time on earth – and even before his birth – you would never know it.

Over time and after a lot of reflection, I’ve realized my courage, my strength, my purpose has come from Oliver. I’ve watched this baby not just meet every challenge, but overcome it with a quiet strength and a fierce determination unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched him struggle, but more importantly, I’ve watched him thrive in spite of everything he’s been handed. I’ve witnessed firsthand what it means to be truly courageous.

When I first found out I was pregnant, I never would have guessed that my infant son would be the one who taught me about courage, but that is absolutely what has happened. My little man is my hero.

In his joy, I’ve found my bliss. In his strength, I’ve found mine. In his resilience, I’ve found my resolve. In his unwavering bravery, I’ve found my courage.

As a 2018 Patient Ambassador, Oliver is helping to raise money for other patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Make a donation to his fundraising page.

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