The story of little Brenna is a story of overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles – but also a reminder of how important parents’ unconditional love can truly be.
Sadly, it does happen that parents find aspects of their child too difficult to deal with and just give up. As in this case, when a mother gave up on her son due to his handicap.
I think this is whay it is so important to emphasize when parents actually stand by their kids – for better or worse. These parents often show that anything is possible – as long as the family sticks together.
Here’s one family that has proved just that.
Courtney and Evan Westlake were living happily with their son Connor when they got amazing news: Courtney was pregnant again.
The couple was naturally excited when they realized that their lives would again be filled with lullabies, baby blankets, and baby bottles.
Like any other parents, they looked forward to their baby’s first ultrasound images.
They were elated every time they left the hospital after the doctors assured them that everything looked good on their routine checks.
Then, a few months into the pregnancy, Courtney and Evan got the news that they were expecting a girl: Connor would have a little sister!
The young couple were overjoyed and began to fantasize about what a little girl would mean for the family.
“I’ll have to learn to braid hair now,” laughed father Evan.
The big day came just weeks before New Year’s. Their little girl was born – but all plans to introduce their new baby into their family home were immediately crushed.
Their newborn daughter Brenna was born surrounded by a thick, yellowish-white film. She didn’t move, had extremely high body temperature, and her body was covered with sores.
Brenna needed intensive care right away – otherwise she would not survive.
Courtney and Evan could not hold their daughter until two weeks after delivery.
It turned out that Brenna was born with a severe, inherited disease called Harlequin ichthyosis. The disease causes skin to grow about 14 times faster than normal.
It creates a redness over the body, which in turn affects the eyes, mouth, nose and ears.
The disease is incurable – and usually fatal.
With all the physical challenges that come with Harlequin ichthyosis, Courtney and Evan knew that they had a tough time ahead.
And so their difficult, emotional journey began.
Courtney often came across strangers pointing, and even making loud comments or asking insolent questions when she was out with Brenna.
This naturally upset her greatly. She could however understand when children became curious about Brenna, as she looked unique.
But for Courtney, other parents’ reactions were sometimes unacceptable. She would see them pull away their own children as soon as they’d see Brenna, or ask their kids to be quiet while in Brenna’s vicinity.
“Why does the distance between us need to be so big? Why don’t they take us as a positive example instead, to teach their children that other children may look different and that doesn’t mean that something is bad?”, Courtney asks.
Courtney wished more parents would approach and speak to Brenna, rather then turn their gaze away and quickly escape from the playground.
Despite this, Brenna developed into a proud and confident little girl. Her confidence came directly from her family, who taught her to never look down on herself because she looks different.
Not to mention from big brother Connor, who absolutely adores his little sister.
“Why do parents avoid conversations about people who look different? What are they afraid of? They could just come to us and ask how old Brenna is,” Courney says, adding:
“When a child asks their parent why Brenna is red and swollen, why can’t they just be honest and answer, “I don’t know, but it’s not very important how someone looks. We’re all unique, right?”
Despite the tough daily life for the Westlake family, Evan, Courtney and Connor are extremely proud of their little fighter – and rightly so.
Every evening, Evan takes his daughter swimming, and important part of her treatment that must be managed every day.
The same man who’d joked about braiding his daughter’s hair now gently, but firmly washes her scaly skin away every day.
Due to her disease, Brenna can only grow so much hair – but dad still carefully and lovingly combs it every day.
In most other ways, Brenna is just like any other child. She loves her family, playing and reading bedtime stories together with her brother and dad.
Her parents are convinced that she will be able to do whatever she wants in life, despite that things turned out rather differently then they had expected.
Courtney writes regularly on the Westlake family life on her blog, Blessed by Brenna, and has also written a book, A Different Beatiful, published in August, 2016.
The family hopes that their story can help others understand and appreciate all people who look different.
Isn’t Brenna sweet and adorable, just the way she is?
Please share Brenna and her family’s inspiring courage further to raise awareness about her rare illness.
Together we can try to ensure that all children have a safe and happy childhood, far from prejudice.