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How having a daughter with a disability changed one woman's relationship with her body


Now for the story of a woman's journey to finding and celebrating herself. Adiba Nelson had always been critical of her appearance.

ADIBA NELSON: Not skinny enough, too dark. My hair is too nappy.

RASCOE: And then Ms. Nelson became a mother to a daughter with a disability. Here's reporter Laurel Morales.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: In May of 2009, Adiba Nelson gave birth to a daughter, Emory. When she was 9 months old, the doctor diagnosed her with cerebral palsy and an extremely rare disease called bilateral schizencephaly. The doctors told Adiba her daughter would likely never walk or talk.

NELSON: They did an MRI of her brain, and she had two holes in her brain.

MORALES: As a single mother on a social worker salary in Tucson, Ariz., she couldn't afford the best services or equipment.

NELSON: I was failing as a parent. I was failing so hard.

MORALES: One night, Adiba was staring at a pile of bills and thought Emory deserved better. She even contemplated giving up her baby for adoption, but she couldn't go through with it.

NELSON: There is this song that had been going through my head for a really long time - I just can't give up now. I've come too far from where I've started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy, but don't believe you brought me this far just to leave me.

MORALES: It was at that moment that Adiba decided to make some changes. She found a restaurant that let her work the hours Emory was in childcare, rented a more affordable home and found an online parent group that shared equipment for kids with disabilities.

NELSON: And it just - everything fell into place.

MORALES: She was able to show up for her daughter but not yet for herself. Then a few years later, a friend who was a plus-size designer asked Adiba to run social media for a fashion show.

NELSON: They just oozed confidence.

MORALES: Adiba watched the stage in awe.

NELSON: I had never seen girls that looked like me, who were two and three times my size, burning this place to the ground with how confident they were. And then it hit me - like, if I can look at these women and think that they're just gorgeous and strong, why can't I think that about myself?

MORALES: Adiba also realized she now had an audience of her own.

NELSON: It was really my daughter who lives in this body that the world is constantly telling her is not OK. And I felt like as her mom, it's my responsibility to combat that and show her that her body is fine just the way it is.

MORALES: To do that, Adiba made up her mind to love her own body, to love herself. Adiba's best friend for more than 30 years, Faith Clinkenbeard, has witnessed the way Emory, now 13, looks at her mom.

FAITH CLINKENBEARD: I've seen her sign the word beautiful when she's talking about her mom or looking at her mom. And I've also seen how hard Adiba has worked to build up Emory's self-image of herself. She's learned from her mom that she is beautiful, and she's not limited.

MORALES: Even though the doctors told Adiba her daughter would never speak, Adiba worked with Emory every day until Emory surprised her mother. Now she has a whole vocabulary.

NELSON: Say hi.


NELSON: Say thank you.

EMORY: Thank you.

NELSON: And can you say I love you?


NELSON: Well, say it.

EMORY: I love you.

NELSON: I love you, too.

MORALES: Adiba says Emory continues to make her a better version of herself. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales.


RASCOE: This story comes to us from the podcast "2 Lives." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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