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My mom often told me about her struggles to keep my shirts straight. As a baby and a young child, my shirts would go off-center because I didn’t have arms to hold the sleeves in place.  But when I was small, she rarely told me what it was like the moment I was born. She brushed over the topic. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I began to understand my parents’ emotions the moment of my birth–shock, fear, helplessness.

My dad recalled how the entire room fell silent when I made my grand appearance. How my mother immediately sensed that something wasn’t right. The doctor wasn’t sure how to break the news. After much hesitation, he managed to say, “Your daughter has no arms.”

My parents had no idea I was going to be born without arms. They were expecting a healthy baby with nothing extraordinary about her other than the fact that she would be their perfect, precious daughter. They felt powerless in the moment of my birth and for many years after.

Most parents that have a child with a disability can’t foresee all the changes they’ll make in their day-to-day lives. Today, there are parent support groups and many other resources for raising a child with a disability or special needs. I wish there had been something like that, or someone who could have given my parents advice when they needed it. Someone to reassure them that their daughter would be ok. Someone to paint a picture of their daughter’s bright future. 

Earlier this month, I celebrated my birthday over breakfast and a movie with my husband, Patrick. The next day, I celebrated someone else’s birthday. 

Remember Andrea, from one of my last blogs? She was expecting a baby like me–without arms. The day after my birthday, I traveled to meet Andrea, her husband, Kyle, and their beautiful baby girl, Brinley. In the seconds when Brinley’s eyes peeked up at me, I gave her a big smile.

I watched the five-day-old baby with a sense of wonder. I looked at her through the lenses my parents looked through on that day in February some years ago. I imagined their thoughts and fears. The experience was incredibly touching.

I couldn’t help but notice that Brinley’s newborn onesie did the same thing that mine used to.

My husband, Patrick, is often amused at how I can switch my shirt the right way around without taking it off. Being able to turn a shirt around is just another one of the many advantages to being armless. Someday, Brinley will learn how to do that, too.

It was incredible for me to see how she moved her toes and her feet every time her facial expression changed. Even in the womb, she already knew how to self-soothe by bringing her toes to her mouth, like how a baby with arms would suck on their fingers. I think she might be right-footed like me, judging from how she moved her right foot the most.

As Brinley laid on my lap, I could sense her parents watching me with her, and I felt that this experience gave them reassurance that Brinley, their first-born child, was going to be all right. 

I have many hopes and dreams for Brinley. I want her to realize her fullest potential and do whatever it takes to make it happen. Like any other parents, Andrea and Kyle have many challenges ahead of them. A baby is a baby, and it’s a challenge to raise a child–arms or no arms. 

Andrea and Kyle could find a support group. I think that’s a great idea. But unlike my parents, they have someone to reassure them that their daughter will be okay. They just need to look at me to see the painted picture of their daughter’s bright future. Because she is going to have the brightest future. 

And thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act, Brinley will not be held back. She will be given the same opportunities as every other child in America. The world is at her tip toes. So watch out world, Brinley is here!

Many thanks to everyone involved in making the connection with Brinley’s family possible. I am so grateful and thankful to Andrea’s doctor, Dr. Wise, who went above and beyond her professional duty to connect the two of us. I also want to thank Brinley’s grandparents, Conrad and Rhona, for allowing me to have some of their family time and the Toastmasters’ local chapter for hosting an event allowing me to speak and share with Brinley’s family, friends, and community. And a special thanks to Andrea and Kyle for allowing me to have such a special moment with their sweet baby girl, Brinley. 

Jessica Cox

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