Nine days after my son Ethan Wesley Oland was born, Taylor Winnik, the talented wife of Capitals forward Daniel Winnik, drove up to Frederick, Maryland, to graciously shoot our newborn photos.
As many of you know, Taylor is an accomplished photographer, dedicated mom of three bulldogs, and a mental health advocate. She’s also one of the most caring and kind people I’ve met in hockey since starting RMNB with Peter Hassett in 2009. Last season, Taylor took the shots that made up the sold-out Capitals’ Canine Calendar, which helped raise over $62,000 for Homeward Trails Animal Rescue.
On this day, March 29, 2017, Ethan was about the smallest he’d ever be in his entire life: six pounds, four ounces. He could barely open his eyes and could not stop wiggling. The fussy baby was essentially a moving target.
During a window of about two hours, we put Ethan in five costumes: a hockey player (with yellow laces in his felt skates), a frog, a lion, a bear, and Harry Potter.
This was the result.
Ethan unleashing the fury. This photo was done in honor of Ethan Wesley’s namesake, Capitals PA Announcer Wes Johnson.
We purchased this lion costume from Shopify.
We got the baby bear set on Etsy.
And here’s where I tell you more context about that time, because I think it’s important for everyone to know that things aren’t always rainbows and butterflies.
The week leading up to this day was a very difficult period for me and my wife Ashley. As we neared Ethan’s arrival date, I wasn’t quite ready for how challenging things would become mentally and emotionally, despite multiple hospital courses. Having a baby and finding a rhythm is very hard, but especially when there are unknown complications.
On that day of the shoot, Ethan was a full pound lighter than his original birth weight of seven pounds, four ounces. Ethan struggled to breast feed initially because he had a lip tie, which I only had an education of previously because of Karl Alzner. During the Wish Upon a Par charity golf event that we covered, Alzner told me that one of his two children had to have a small surgery done so that they could open their lips up more and make a proper latch during breast feeding.
Months later, my son would have to have that same lip tie surgery done. That was scary, but once Ethan did, he instantly started feeding better and growing rapidly. Seeing my wife’s defeat as Ethan failed to latch and feed initially though was difficult. It’s hard to put into words because as the dad, you’re helpless. There’s not much you can do except be supportive and encouraging.
Also, the day before the photoshoot, Ashley and myself were forced to drive down to Children’s Hospital in Washington DC. During Ethan’s second blood test when he was one-day old, he tested positive for GA Type 1, an inherited, rare disorder in which the body is unable to process certain proteins properly. For example, at the age of six months, many children who have this disease (and are undiagnosed) will have strokes and be disabled for the rest of their lives.
We had to take Ethan, only a week old, down to Children’s to do further tests to see if he actually had the disease. He was poked and prodded by doctors. He also had to give multiple vials of blood, while screaming and yelling as I held him. The fear of the unknown in that situation was difficult to bare. The only thing that made it better was the love and support of our friends. For example, Alan May had flowers waiting for us at our door stoop when we arrived home that night.
Thankfully, we would find out months later that Ethan did not end up having the disease and was completely healthy.
But that’s where we were mentally the day of the photoshoot and Taylor being there made everything better for a few hours. She was a breath of fresh air just because of who she is: fun, encouraging, and enthusiastic. The fact that she’d even consider doing such a kind thing for my family meant the world to me.
Fast forward to today, Ethan is officially four-months-old, has chubby cheeks, and remains very healthy.
To thank Taylor, I attempted to get her the best possible gift I could imagine. When I hung out with Taylor that day, she talked about how badly her husband Dan wanted to set his career high in goals. He had scored 11 goals twice in his career already and, at the time, was stuck on number 11 once again. Dan had superstitiously shaved his beard before the team’s latest road trip, looking for some good mojo.
Two days later after Taylor did our infant shots, Dan scored that career-high tally against the Arizona Coyotes, potting a Tom Wilson rebound. After reaching out to several friends over a span of several months, I ended up securing the goal puck. Now the Winniks can keep that milestone in their family forever.
Thanks again, Taylor.
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