When Michelle Nagle posted this photo of her daughter, Eden, on Instagram, the only text she included was:
"Progress. Some things come easy for her. Walking does not. She's come a long way, from not being able to sit up, to slowly being able to take steps with a walker. All with a smile on her face. Strongest little human I know."
The image along with its short message resonated. Thousands of people saw it, and hundreds left comments.
"I thought, what a beautiful thing," the 31-year-old photographer said. "My little kiddo has all of these people cheering her on, and she doesn't even know it."
Here, Nagle, who is a professional photographer, talks about the star of that image – her 4-year-old daughter Eden -- and the story behind that inspiring moment.
We lost our first daughter, Lyla. When I was 20 weeks pregnant, we had an ultrasound and learned she had something called "anencephaly." Basically, it kind of all looks good, until you get right above the ears -- she was missing the majority of her brain. We decided to continue with the pregnancy because we thought, "Well, she might be born alive." She was born in 2007 and lived for 23 minutes. After that, I really wanted to have a child again.
I got pregnant pretty quickly. Eden was born [in 2008] beautiful and healthy. The moment I heard her cry was breathtaking. I never heard Lyla cry.
As she got a little older -- 4, 5, 6 months -- I started to notice things. She wasn't sitting up yet, or even trying to sit or crawl. We took her in and doctors said, "Yeah. She has really low muscle tone."
We took her to a genetic testing lab, and they noticed she has a deletion in her first chromosome. That's all they knew. They were nice, but I guess they try to prepare you for the worst. They said, "She might not walk, she might have some developmental delays." We started her with physical therapy, water therapy -- she's been going since she was 8 months old.
Now, she's starting to take steps -- she took three steps by herself in September of this year, the day after my birthday. They're super wobbly, but it's awesome. She wears braces on her feet that come up to her ankle. She's been working with that reverse walker and just started mastering that. She can move around the yard with that thing, and she just loves it.
But walking is really challenging. Eden knows she will probably fall over. My husband and I are her fan club. We cheer like she just won the lottery. And she loves it, she's like, "I'm walking! I'm waaalking!" But she is scared -- she shows it in her face. She'll say, "I need help, will you help me? I want to hold your hand."
One thing we say is, "Remember what happens when you fall?" And she says, "Try, try again."
We meet with the genetic specialists every year. She has something called Duane syndrome, where she doesn't have peripheral vision. So she goes to the pediatric ophthalmologist; she's had MRIs; we've done the ear, nose and throat doctor; she's had blood drawn a million times, but nobody really knows [what it] is. She does qualify for Medicaid, which has been good. I'm a photographer and my husband [Tim] does video production, so it's not like we're rolling in the dough.
My husband and I have been married for eight years. When you experience a death of a child together, if you make it through that ... that says something about the relationship.
With Eden, we are so happy, we look at each other and say, "We are so lucky to have her just the way she is." At first, when it was all so unknown, [Tim] was a little more discouraged. Now that she's turned into a little person, and she's so fun … well, the challenges are there, but so is the joy. We have dance parties together; we had one this morning. She grabs the toy mic and rocks out. She likes [The] Boxer Rebellion. Sometimes we put on Top 40 and she does a little Adele "Rumor Has It." Except, it's "Who-a Has it."
We have goals for her in our heart, not like, "This is your goal, and you must meet it." We hope that she can run around. That'd be a big thing for me; I long to see her run around in the yard. But as long as she's happy -- and she's so happy -- then that's it. The world is not going to come to an end if our daughter can't walk.
I always say, Eden is the strongest little person I know. She has to work so hard to walk. It's a reminder: No matter what, if you fall down, dust off your knees and keep moving.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
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