My family recently welcomed my newborn niece–the most perfect little bundle of joy. As I was celebrating becoming an aunt, an Ob-Gyn reached out to me about one of her patients. In her email, she told me about a woman who was six-months pregnant with her first child (a girl!). Only, the baby would arrive in this world just like me: without arms. After receiving the news about her baby’s arms not developing in utero, her patient, Andrea, needed advice, only the doctor wasn’t sure what advice to give, so she went online and came across my story on Upworthy. She immediately connected me to Andrea.
Andrea and I spoke for a while over the phone, and while she told me she was glad to meet me, I could sense her anxiety. Then, she asked me a question I had never been asked before: “How do I share the news with my family and friends?” She worried about her family not accepting her child with a disability. She wondered how her daughter would go through life without arms–she had a million thoughts racing through her mind.
My parents did not have forewarning that I was going to be born without arms. I asked her if she thought it was somehow easier receiving the news beforehand. She said that finding out early on in her pregnancy gave her and her fiancé time to process the news, go through denial, mourning, and finally, acceptance.
Parents of special needs children have to grapple with the challenging reality of raising a child with a disability–a baby that does not have the ten-fingers, ten-toes perfection they envisioned–and for some, the grief and disbelief can completely overshadow the joy of having a new baby. I know for my own mother, the news that her baby girl was different was devastating. When I was born, she isolated herself and asked God what she could have done that caused my condition. My dad, on the other hand, never once shed a tear for my being different.
After some thought, I told Andrea that she should deliver the news in a matter-of-fact way and share the same joy whether her daughter was born with or without arms. I told her that I hoped her family could see past the baby’s condition and embrace the miracle of a new life being born into the world. I even offered to help her share the news with her family. Instead of a “gender reveal” it would be more like a “disability reveal.” Her family could meet me and be rest assured that their granddaughter, niece, cousin, and so on, would someday be a beautiful independent woman, just like I am today. Not to mention the fact that we may possibly share the same birthday as she’s expected to arrive the first week of February!
Andrea’s daughter might just surprise her: “Just wait and see,” I said. I’m sure her daughter will shock her and her fiancé by doing things that two-handed people cannot do. I could tell Andrea was now smiling when she recalled a sonogram showing her baby with her feet up to her face, similar to how other babies have their hands close to their face in utero. Her daughter already knows how to self-soothe! She is demonstrating her ability to adapt even while still in the womb.
There will be plenty of challenges for Andrea and her baby girl, but it will get easier with time. By simply reaching out to me, Andrea is already making huge strides for her daughter–a very fortunate little girl.
I was also a fortunate little girl. My mom raised me the same way she raised my siblings–with loving guidance, constant support, and the unwavering belief in our capabilities. When I was born, my mom envisioned that she would have to care for me for the remainder of her life. Instead, the roles were reversed, and I ended up being her caregiver, the way any other daughter would have cared for their mother. After ten years of fighting, my mom lost her battle to cancer in July.
My mother did such an amazing job raising me, and although I wish she were still alive to give Andrea advice on raising a child with a disability, I’m pretty sure she would tell her to love, support, and encourage her daughter just like she did with me.
I am thankful that I met Andrea and hope that aside from stories like mine, more support will be made available to parents like her. I praise all parents who are fighting the battle every day, proudly watching their children conquer the challenges of disability, and rejoice simply in the pleasure of parenthood.
Just as I know that wherever she is, my own mom continues to be my biggest cheerleader. Thank you, mom—this one is for you.
P.S. Check out my website at www.rightfooted.com for more of my thoughts on parenting a child with disability.