Vanessa McLeod felt devastated when she learned that her unborn baby had no hands or forearms.
The medical specialists only added to her fears when they suggested she have an abortion. She said they made her “feel guilty” for wanting her baby, and she began to doubt her ability to care for a child with special needs.
Writing at Cafe Mom, the Canadian writer said she knew she could not abort her daughter, Ivy, and her husband’s and parents’ encouragement helped more than anything else.
“I was still paralyzed with fear and worry for the remainder of my pregnancy, but my perspective began to shift,” she said. “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.”
She said she was 19 weeks pregnant when she found out that there was something wrong with her daughter. She said her husband was away on a work trip, so her mother went along to her ultrasound appointment. Though it took longer than usual, she said they did not think anything was wrong.
The next day, however, her midwife called with the bad news. Her mother and father went with her to meet the midwife to learn more.
“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. As my mom and I sat in the parking lot of my midwife’s office, preparing to go in, my mom looked at me and said, ‘Vaness, whatever it is, we’ll get through it,’” she said.
The first thing the midwife mentioned was the possibility of a cleft lip, McLeod remembered.
“I began to feel hope. Was that all? Just something small, something cosmetic? … But there was more,” she wrote.
The midwife told her that the baby showed signs of heart problems and a femur that was curved and shorter than the other. Last, she told McLeod that her unborn baby did not have hands or forearms.
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“This felt like a punch to the gut,” she recalled. “It stole my breath. It keeled me over and the sobs tore out of me, and visions of my perfect little baby shattered.”
However, her father left the office with words of encouragement: “’She’s going to be a blessing to our family. I think our family needs someone like her. She is going to teach us so much.’”
A short time later, she and her husband went to Vancouver Children’s Hospital to meet with specialists about their daughter’s condition. What happened was not what the McLeods expected.
I thought that meant we were getting answers that day — that the doctors could tell me why this happened, what caused it, and what the next step was. But the appointments were severely disappointing in that regard, and if anything, the doctors created more questions for us than answers, and tainted that whole experience with so much negativity.
I wish with all my heart that appointment had gone differently. That someone had told us it would be okay.
That someone had told us how beautiful and perfect our little girl would be, that she would smile and giggle and live a life filled with so much love. I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I could take away all the worry, pain, fear, and heartbreak I felt.
Instead, we got news of doom. All hope was taken away.
She said she felt shocked when the doctors suggested that they abort their baby girl. Though McLeod said she is pro-choice, she never considered having an abortion herself.
“When my husband and I started to express that we wanted to keep her, the medical geneticist said, briskly and brutally, ‘But think about her quality of life. She’s going to have no hands,’” she remembered.
But her husband reassured her that they would make it work.
“’I’ll do whatever I have to do to take care of her,’” he told 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.’”
His words gave her hope.
A few months later, Ivy arrived, premature but beautiful – and absolutely valuable.
“The moment I birthed her and held her in my arms, I felt so much peace,” her mother said. “And when she opened her eyes and looked at me for the very first time, I knew she was exactly where she was meant to be.”
McLeod said she wants to the world to know that her daughter is valuable, no matter what she looks like or what she is able to do.
“Some people have blue eyes, some have green. Some have blonde hair, some have brown. Some are born with hands, some without,” she said. “And I hope I can always impart to her that her life has meaning, has value, and will always be filled with so much love, regardless of her appearance or abilities.”