My world changed as I witnessed my son, Kieran, wrenched from my wife’s stomach. He was immediately handed to a nurse who transferred him to a team of five led by a neonatologist. A team committed to saving his life. Kieran could not take a breath on his own. His intestines, stomach and liver had floated up into his chest impeding his lungs from functioning correctly. He was born with a birth defect known as Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH). The nurse placed him in a portable incubator while another one inserted a cannula into his mouth. A respiratory nurse then rhythmically squeezed an air bag to breath for Kieran. He was alive, for now.
I learned more in the first minute of Kieran’s life than I learned the rest of my life combined. To get what we want, we must step into what we fear most. Expose ourselves to the world so that we can connect as humans to align and support each other to achieve what we say we want most, whatever that is for each of us. It begins with each of us. How far from my comfort zone am I willing to go? Will I allow my comfort zone to help me rationalize my way to mediocrity? Or, will I tap my inner capabilities, expose myself to the world, commit to what is most important to me, and go get it? Kieran reminded me to go get it.
Clarity. I had believed that creating security and protecting my child was my most important responsibility as a parent before that first minute. That belief changed. Before the birth, We had signed a document transferring our decision rights to the team of doctors who would be making instantaneous decisions to save Kieran’s life. Sitting next to my wife while Kieran was birthed by a cesarean, I realized I had no control; no control of what would become of our son, no control to help him survive, no control of his future or ours. It became apparent that Kieran also had no control; no control of his own breathing, no control of whether he lived or died. For the first time in in my life I became aware that the only thing I had control over is how I responded to what was happening around me.
That moment became the biggest gift of my life. Not only did I become a parent, but my son became my teacher. He forever changed me. He was a vehicle that transformed my beliefs. I would now support him, my wife, myself and the people I cared about differently. In that first minute, I no longer believed that my most important responsibility as a parent was to create security for my son, but rather teach him skills to thrive in an insecure world.
That minute continued to teach me. It created context for what came before and what followed. This is a story of what I learned from my son and the hospital that saved him. My son has taken me on a journey, showing me what is possible for my own life, and others, through his own fight for survival.
He has taught me to define the life I want to live. To be intentional with the choices I make, and own them. I learned the power to commit to what I say is important, and collaborate with people to impact a world greater than myself. Every step of the way I have been confronted with fear. This journey has taught me how to act with in that fear. To step into it, face it, name it for what it is, and experience the exhilaration on the other side.
The journey itself revealed I was my own biggest obstacle in that pathway. It taught me the difference between clarity and certainty. A distinction that helped me navigate between what I perceived as risk and revealed the real risk I needed to pay attention to. It all started with my own awareness and my willingness to question what I told myself to be true, allowing me to choose to act and open the possibility to collaborate with people whose commitment was the same as mine. Ultimately, allowing me to take actions to achieve what I learned I wanted most.
This story reveals the brilliance of each of us when we choose to step into our fears, reveal who we are, and act. It exposes the power of a collection of people committed to a shared purpose. Beginning with each one of us making choices, owning them, and being accountable for them. We can live with intention to influence the world around us, rather than let the world decide our fates. And there are no guarantees. As my friend, mentor and business partner, Larry Burback, says, “We are the sum of our choices.” Each of us has the capabilities to thrive within chaos, uncertainty, fear, heartbreak and the unknown. We just need to unleash them. And we are more powerful together than alone.
Later, after Kieran’s birth, members of the hospital team we chose explained they were on a learning path of their own. We are fortunate that our paths intersected. The hospital we chose made some difficult decisions to improve outcomes for babies such as our son. Their commitment to fight for each individual life guided our choice in choosing them. As they have fought for each individual child in their care, they now have one of the best, if not the best, survival rates in the world for children with severe congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). The hospital’s new protocols coincided with the timing of our son’s birth. Little did we know that their decisions would have such an impact on our son’s survival.