On the day she was born, Olivia’s 1.5-ounce body weighed less than a small guinea pig. Her skin was translucent, her fingers like matchsticks; she was about as long as a dollar bill. In the hours after she arrived (naturally, as doctors prepared for a C-section), a well-meaning priest offered last rites, which Olivia’s mother declined. And so her life began, 15 weeks earlier than expected.
By the time she was a few minutes old she had been hooked up to tubes and machines in the NICU, while her shell-shocked family tried to take it all in. She would spend the next stage of her tiny life in the company of nurses, monitors, and other infants with varying challenges. Each day brought new hope, and many brought new fears.
After 100 of those days – which included multiple surgeries and a premature trip home – Olivia left Englewood Hospital weighing 6 pounds and was welcomed into her family to live a miraculous life.
Reality set in quickly. Olivia was going to need a lot of help to do what most babies do naturally. When I took on the role of caregiver, she was about 10 months and hadn’t hit any of the normal milestones. And so, a team of therapists came in and taught her to sit up, accept food. There were days I couldn’t stay in the room, listening to her scream in protest as the PT specialist worked her legs back and forth. Slowly, she began to move and grow.
It was a bout with pneumonia when I first recognized the quality that I would come to identify with this little girl. After a few days in the hospital, it became clear she was recovering when she took to throwing things at the nurses. A small act of defiance that declared, “you haven’t got the best of me.”
I couldn’t figure out where it came from, but it was breathtaking. As she’s continued to grow, beat odds, face down challenges, Olivia’s spirit of survival, of thriving despite an impossible beginning, still moves me to tears. Changes never came easy to her; talking, learning – even eating was an ordeal – but she trucked on. It was as though everything I’d hoped the human spirit and body was capable of was manifested in this little girl.
And that’s what makes her story so visceral to me, and why I chose Olivia as my first Inspirer. It’s not always about choosing how to be, or making a grand statement about what we’re capable of. Sometimes, pure will and innate strength can be called upon to power through the challenges.
As a ruminator, I tend to think about what’s possible in every situation – I can often wonder my way right out of taking the next step, no matter how positive. Olivia reminds me that at our core, we have the instincts and abilities needed to overcome just about any obstacle.
I used to wish that Olivia could walk around with a picture over her head of when she was in the NICU, so everyone would understand how amazing her journey has been. But it’s become clear to me that a big part of the miracle is how her tough start on life didn’t keep her from where she is now, a regular pre-teen with all the anxiety and fun that entails. That normality may just be the ultimate proof of her victory.
As to my goal with this blog series – how to bring these inspiring qualities into my every day life? I’ve come up with three reminders:
- Drop the doubt, along with the aversion to change that too often stops progress.
- Accept that I am here for a purpose, and that fighting to fulfill it is a noble task.
- Stop underestimating myself, saying “I can’t” to so many things. Take my cue from the Olivia of today who, despite her shaky beginnings, is pretty darned confident of her place in the world.
If each day, I confront one thing my mind tells me I can’t do – whether it’s vacuuming or working on my novel – I can honestly say that I’m moving forward. “Pulling an Olivia,” if you will.
To end, a quote from an expert on survival: