Sometimes helping families while children heal looks like a physical need, provided. Sometimes, it’s saying the right thing at the right time. For Harley’s mom, Sandi, it was both.
Harley was born prematurely, at 26 weeks. At only 1.9 lbs, even his eyes were still fused shut. He was sent straight to the NICU.
Sandi couldn’t hold him for three weeks. And for two of those, she just cried. She says, “To be quite honest, I was afraid of Harley—afraid to invest in him and have him pass away. After that first week in the NICU, I realized that if anything happened, I would feel guilt that I didn’t know him. So I wasn’t really protecting myself at all. During that first week in the NICU, I got myself together.”
Then, Sandi learned how to bond with Harley. At one point, a NICU nurse told Sandi that Harley could feel her presence and energy. She taught Sandi to read Harley’s vitals to see how her presence impacted him. “Sometimes, I took his breath away,” she recalls. Sandi also discovered he already had a personality she could get to know. “The nurses told me he was feisty. They had nicknamed him Harley Davidson Boom Boom!”
Though Sandi couldn’t hold Harley, she sat with him and read books to him every day. She was bonding in every way she could, including pumping breastmilk for Harley. At that time, it felt like something tangible she could provide. So she pumped around the clock. Especially when she found out Harley needed emergency eye surgery or he may lose his sight forever.
This was the first time she connected with Vivian’s Victory.
Vivian’s Victory was hosting a Halloween Party. So Sandi and her husband decided to check it out and take their one-year-old daughter, Phoenix. There, Sandi met Maria, Vivian’s Victory founder and CEO, and opened up to her. Maria listened and empathized, but was also able to gently remind Sandi that her own loss with Vivian wasn’t impacted at all by whether she was nourished with breastmilk or formula.
Hearing that was just what Sandi needed. She stopped pumping, which created several more hours per day she could spend with Harley or her daughter, who didn’t understand everything that was happening.
At that point, however, things were really starting to get financially tight. Sandi was a stay-at-home mom and her husband was a contractor, which meant his work and paychecks were inconsistent. “The holidays had kind of lost their magic,” Sandi says. “For Thanksgiving, we just ate frozen pizza. But we did want to purchase an art easel and a couple books for Phoenix. And a few new bottles for Harley, if possible. We heard that Vivian’s Victory may help with some bills, so we filled out an application for assistance with our cell phone bill. Something to alleviate a little of the pressure.”
Maria also let Sandi know about a Santa Shop Vivian’s Victory was hosting, and Sandi decided to stop in.
“When we walked in,” says Sandi, “We saw an art easel, but it had just been claimed by another family. Maria told us to wait for a moment. She rummaged through some items and pulled another easel out … it was the EXACT one I had been eyeing at IKEA.” Not only that, but Sandi found Phoenix’s very favorite books, which are usually sold only through one vendor, and the exact bottles Harley needed, preferred for preemies.
“When I went in and saw Vivian’s Victory had all these things, I was overcome with gratitude. I don’t think I ever could express to Maria what this meant,” Sandi recalls.
Sandi also adds that Maria helped her struggle through survivor’s guilt. She has to watch Harley closely and don’t know what his physical outcome will be, but he is a year old now, living at home, making progress and taking setbacks one step at a time. Between the breastmilk, the holidays and the survivor’s guilt, Vivian’s Victory played a pivotal role in some major moments during Harley’s first year.
Which makes it even more fitting that after a recent eye check-up in the spring—right after finding out some good news that Harley’s eyes were cleared—she ran into Maria on the way out. “It was symbolic of goodness!” Sandi exclaims.
In the hard moments and in the breakthroughs, Vivian’s Victory is honored to be there.