“‘Normal’ is relative.”
This is one of the many realizations Vanessa McLeod shared as she told her story. She emphasizes the importance of living a life of value regardless of appearance or abilities. This is what she hopes to pass on to her daughter, Ivy – a lesson she would not have learned had it not been for her husband’s life-changing decision.
This beautiful realization stemmed from quite a pregnancy journey.
Vanessa was only 19 weeks pregnant when she found out about her daughter Ivy’s limb differences. Everything seemed okay during the ultrasound. Vanessa recalls how simple that day was. During the ultrasound, she was told her baby’s legs were crossed so it was difficult to determine the gender, and she remembers gushing over her baby’s tiny toes with her mom and sister.
It was during the next day’s appointment when Vanessa’s world turned upside down.
The expectant mother received a call from her midwife shortly before her scheduled appointment.
“She told me there were significant findings on the ultrasound. She said I should bring my husband with me, and that I should find someone to watch my 2-year-old daughter. Immediately my heart dropped into my stomach and the tears started falling. Something was terribly, horribly wrong, I just felt it.”
Her husband Sean was out of town for work and he couldn’t make it to the appointment, so Vanessa’s mom dropped all plans to accompany her daughter.
“From the moment my midwife called me, up until we arrived at her office, I don’t think I stopped crying. I was terrified I was going to lose this baby.”
At that moment when Vanessa was at her weakest, her parents remained strong and firmly told her that they were going to get through it.
The tearful expectant mom didn’t know what else to think. All she knew was, she desperately wanted her baby alive and well.
“She was already so deeply entrenched in my heart, already a piece of me, a part of my being. I didn’t want to lose her. In that moment, I felt like I could handle anything, except losing her. I just wanted to keep her.”
As the midwife went through the scan, a few issues were raised. First, there was mention of a cleft lip which Vanessa didn’t think much of. In fact, the worried mom began feeling hopeful. But it wasn’t just the possibility of a cleft lip. Vanessa was also told her daughter Ivy’s femur was curved and shorter than the other – yet another detail she didn’t think was a big deal.
It was only until the midwife mentioned some heart concerns that the fear began to creep in again.
The third issue was that Ivy was missing both forearms and hands.
“This felt like a punch to the gut. It stole my breath. It keeled me over and the sobs tore out of me, and visions of my perfect little baby shattered. No hands? I had never heard of this. It wasn’t on my radar. It had never crossed my mind, never been a fleeting fear or worry. I had just assumed that she had all limbs, that all pieces were there.”
Vanessa was overcome with anger, sadness, and hopelessness. She couldn’t fathom how this happened. She had always assumed Ivy was developing perfectly in her womb, that all she needed to do as a mom was stay healthy and wait for her second daughter to arrive.
One of the most difficult things Vanessa had to do was phone Sean and tell him the news. He, too, was in disbelief at hearing that their daughter was missing both forearms and hands.
Struggling to understand and process the copious emotions going through her, Vanessa tried to do what she could to find hope despite the confusion. This included researching prosthetics, watching videos of children with limb differences, and even meeting with perinatologists, medical geneticists, and genetic counsellors.
And just when Vanessa thought she was finally going to get some answers, the opposite happened.
If anything, the mountain of questions in the back of her mind just kept growing.
Still, deep down, she was hoping one of the doctors would tell them things were going to be fine and that Ivy was perfect.
“Instead, we got news of doom. All hope was taken away. I felt like the doctors were telling me that it was over. That her life wasn’t viable, that we had lost all hope of bringing home a baby. I was shocked when the doctor suggested we terminate. THAT had never crossed my mind, but here they were, offering it.”
“I remember feeling so much doubt. I’ve always been pro-choice, but knew I could never personally have an abortion. But in that moment, I felt doubt. The doctors had made me feel guilty for wanting to keep my baby, had made me doubt all my abilities as a mother to care for and nurture my baby. What kind of life would I be giving her? Would she really have no quality of life?”
Sean had the answer all along.
He looked Vanessa in the eye and firmly said,
“I’ll do whatever I have to do to take care of her. I’ll build her anything. I want her. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll take care of her for the rest of her life.”
Upon hearing his words, Vanessa knew there was no doubt that he was right. Even as fears and doubts kept crossing her mind, she knew they were making the right decision.
“My perspective began to shift. Things just started to make sense, they started to fit. It felt right. I felt like the Universe chose me, out of millions of mothers, to be Ivy’s mom. I even think she picked me herself. She saw me and said, ‘Yes. I want her. I want HER to be my mommy.’ The Universe knew I would love her. That I would fight for her, advocate for her, and be everything she needed from a mother.”
From feeling incredibly helpless to seeing the light and realizing how much hope they had, Vanessa happily shares how she felt when she first saw Ivy.
Born four weeks early, Ivy was just perfect.
“I’m holding my precious little girl in my arms, and as I reminisce about the moment I found out about her arms, I look down at her perfect little arms and smile. I love them. I love her arms, and I love her. I wouldn’t trade her for any other baby in the world. She’s mine. She was meant to be with me, and I was meant to be with her. And we fit so perfectly together.”
Witnessing how wonderfully her daughter is growing has definitely changed Vanessa’s perspective.
Looking back on the difficult moments of her pregnancy sometimes makes her wish she could undo some things, especially the emotions and thoughts she entertained as she tried to process the news of her daughter’s development.
“I wish I could send the videos of her rolling to the doctor who suggested we terminate. I wish I could show her Ivy’s beautiful smile, and how it lights up not only her whole face, but the whole room. I wish that doctor could hear the magical sound of her giggles.”
Vanessa, Sean, and the rest of their family have nothing but love and hope for Ivy and the wonderful future she has ahead of her.While it’s perfectly understandable for Vanessa to still have worries, fears, and apprehensions about Ivy, she believes that with the right confidence, Ivy can take on the world no matter what anyone else thinks or says about her appearance.
“She is absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably perfect.”
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