Calgary Health Foundation

Running for Oliver

On February 7, 2011 Alyson Yablonski and her husband received the worst news a parent can hear while pregnant. Their son Oliver's heart had stopped beating. As devastating as that was, Alyson, pregnant with twins, had to wait four months until she gave birth to a healthy daughter and her stillborn son Oliver. The family only had one day together to say goodbye to their son and brother.

"On the day Emma and Oliver were born, we were able to stay in the Scott Smed Room, which was designed by a family who had lost a son to stillbirth," said Alyson, "It was a very peaceful room, and we were able to stay there for several hours following delivery, with an incredible nurse. She spent a long time ensuring she could get Oliver's tiny handprints and footprints for us."

 "We had one day with our tiny baby son, one day as a family of five, one day to get it all right and do everything we could think of," said Alyson.

Through a difficult and emotional year, Alyson learned to live with her loss while still celebrating her children's milestones. One of the ways she did this was by running her first half marathon in loving memory of Oliver.

"I'd had a particularly difficult Christmas. There were so many reminders of what should have been and so much guilt. Once the craziness of the holidays was over I just felt sad," said Alyson, "I needed to do something huge, something that I'd never done before, something that was almost impossible for me to accomplish. I decided I should run a half marathon."

She chose the Calgary Marathon, only five months away. Pulling out her iPod she started running. "The whole time I was running I knew this was going to be exactly what I needed to feel better and refocus," said Alyson, "It was my time with my son and with my own thoughts and feelings about losing him."

Initially she had wanted the race to be a very private affair. But she changed her mind thinking that it would be nice to give back.

"I looked through the whole list of charities for the Calgary Marathon and I just couldn't find one that suited me. So I figured out another way to raise funds in Oliver's memory in the hopes that the money would go towards helping other moms like me."

Alyson was able to use the Calgary Health Trust personal pages in her efforts to fundraise for the marathon. Finding it easy to use, she liked that the pages made it simple for people to make donations and that she could personalize them adding pictures and her own story.

She was also able to specify exactly where the funds would go. She chose the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Program so special attention could be paid to mothers who'd lost a twin or multiple and the Obstetrical Education Program as a thank you for the incredible care she received.

On race day Alyson's was nervous, but she found strength as the race started by looking at Oliver's carefully placed footprints on her shoulder. She also took comfort in those around her.

"Being in such a huge group of people, some running for causes, some running for their health, just made me feel so empowered," she said, "I felt like Oliver was with me. I felt proud that I'd made it this far and so grateful to all those who had supported me over the last year and four months."

During the race many things crossed her mind. "I thought about everything, my pregnancy, hearing the words 'we can't find a heartbeat'; the four terrifying and isolating months that followed; the birth of my twins, holding them in my arms, saying goodbye to Oliver as I left the hospital, his funeral. This day was for him and me. It was our day. No one could take it away."

As the race started to get hard around the 15 kilometre mark an earlier injury made each step painful and the Advil was wearing off. Pushing through the pain she kept going, finally turning a corner to find the finish line.

"I almost started crying," she said about seeing her family, "My husband and two children were wearing t-shirts that he'd made. I just wanted to run to them as soon as I crossed the finish line and hold my kids but I could barely lift my arms."