The Awesome Girl On Parents Magazine: Scoop From Her Mom

Looking at the cover of the February 2013 issue of Parents magazine, you first notice how super-cute the little girl is, what a great smile she has, how fab her clothes are—oh, that frou-frou pink skirt! The fact that she’s holding onto a walker and has foot braces is almost irrelevant… except for the fact that history is being made. I’ve been a magazine editor for more than twenty years, and I can’t recall a cover ever featuring a child of different abilities. I’ve been a parent of a child with special needs for ten years, and I’ve longed to see kids like my son featured in major magazines. This. Is. Huge. HUGE.

The little girl is Emily Kiecher, age 3; she has spina bifida, a condition that affects 1 in 2500 children caused when the spinal column and surrounding tissue and skin fail to close up in utero. Emily, her mom Liz, 36, and dad Christopher, 35, live in Buffalo, New York. Liz is an at-home mom who runs a handmade hair accessories business, The Sassy Damsel (guess who her favorite model is?) and Christopher’s a high school teacher. The couple are active fundraisers for the Spina Bifida Association, and have helped raise more than $20,000.

I recently got the chance to get Liz on the phone—right before she was whisking Emily off to Disney World for a surprise vacay—to talk about her daughter, how she became a cover star and her hopes for Emily’s future. This is what she had to say:

I have to ask, what kind of walker is that? My son, Max, has cerebral palsy, and he had a rather blah silver one.

It’s a Nimbo walker. I actually wanted silver—you can match more stuff to it than gold! But it’s great for a cover!

What was shooting the cover like? What did you tell Emily?

We told Emily we were going to a photo shoot. I take a lot of pictures of her at home although we’ve never even had a portrait of her done at J.C. Penney, so I think the meaning was a bit beyond her. She had a great time–Emily rolls in every situation, she rarely cries or throws a fit in public. At one point on the set, they asked if she liked music. She loves music. She knows the songs on the radio before I do! They asked what she wanted to listen to, and she said “Lady Gaga,” so that’s what they played. She was dancing around, and pointing to anyone who wasn’t dancing! When we left, she gave hugs and kisses.

What do you think her reaction is going to be when she sees herself on a magazine cover?

We’ve made Shuttefly photo books for her. I think she’s going to think, I’m the star of everything!

That’s not a bad way to go through life, right?! OK, can you share a bit about Emily’s history.

Four years ago, when I was pregnant and went for an 18-week exam, the technician stopped and told us we needed to speak to the OB. She said the pictures showed a hole in the baby’s spine, and that it could be spina bifida. I had no idea what that even meant. I was on prenatal vitamins for a year before I conceived, I was physically fit, I led a healthy lifetyle. The doctor sent us to a perinatologist that day, who did a sonogram. She confirmed it was spina bifida. I was hysterical. She told us our baby would have paralysis, would need a head shunt, and could have various degrees of learning disabilities. She wrapped up our visit by asking if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy. We said, “No.”

How has spina bifida affected Emily?

Her hips are dislocated, but it doesn’t affect her gait, which is pretty good. She has a shunt in her head, to help drain fluid from her brain, and luckily she’s never had any problems with it. She has no surface feeling from her waist down, so I can’t put her on a slide in the middle of summer because she wouldn’t be able to feel it’s burning hot. She has low muscle tone on her left side. Every week she get physical and speech therapy, and also gets occupational therapy, aqua therapy, and hippotherapy.

I’ll bet she gets around pretty well in that walker; my son used to zoom up and down the street in his.

Oh, yes, she can walk, turn, run. For a while I had a horn and a bell on it! Long-term, we expect her to be able to walk with forearm crutches. In October, she took her first unassisted steps. The physical therapist was having her go from a table to the floor to do a puzzle. Emily said, ‘Don’t hold me, I’ll do it by myself!’ And she walked from the table to put the puzzle piece in. I get teary thinking about it.

I’m tearing up too! I know exactly what it feels like to see a child you were told might never walk take those first steps. Tell me, what do you think is the biggest misconception about spina bifida?

When I go to, say, a grocery store with Emily and her walker, the amount of people who stare is insane! I realize people have never seen a walker and they are processing and trying to get an understanding, but I think people make judgments and see her as a disabled child–not a kid who happens to be in a walker. This is an issue for any child with disability. Instead of looking at a child, people see the disability. Those kids who say “awwww” in a pitiful way about her–I’m like, “Have you looked at her? She’s happy!” Emily doesn’t realize she has a disability. When people stare I’ll tell her, “Why wouldn’t people stare at you? You’re gorgeous!”

What are your hopes for the Parents cover?

I’m not delusional–I don’t think people will see her on it and think, I’ll never again stare at a kid in a walker! But I hope some people will see that she’s just another kid. I hope it starts a discourse for people, and makes them open to seeing images of kids from all walks of life. And I hope that in the future, when I go to the magazine section, I’ll see three or four more magazines featuring kids from all walks of life!

How are you going to celebrate Emily’s newfound fame?

I’m going to spend the month going to different bookstores and groceries in the area, and taking pictures of the magazine on newsstands. And I’m mailing a copy to every doctor we’ve ever been to!

Love it! Liz, when you emailed me, you mentioned that January can be a hard time for you because it’s the month when you first learned you’d have a child with spina bifida. But this January, it seems like you’ll have much to celebrate, right?

Yes. It’s always been a tough couple of weeks, because I think back to those dark days of my pregnancy when so much was unknown. That was the hardest part. I wish I could have looked down the line and seen just a fraction of what life would be like. This is our normal. And Emily’s on the cover of a magazine showing the world that she defines spina bifida, not the other way around.

A-men.

From my other blog:

An interview with the editor of Parents about kids with disabilities in national magazines

Learn More: What Is Spina Bifida?

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  1. by maryellen

    On January 4, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    This really encouraged me today. I am the mother of a 5year old with cerebral palsy and even though the diagnosis is different, the feeling she shared in the interview and video were just like how I feel. I am so proud of Parents mag for this huge step in acceptance.

  2. by Kristen Slone

    On January 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    As a mother to an 11-month-old born with SB, this cover made smile and cry simultaneously! This is such a huge step towards learning to accept children with ALL types of abilities. I am hopeful we will continue to see more covers of magazines featuring photos like Emily’s!

  3. by chayala glenner

    On January 7, 2013 at 11:33 am

    wow… i am speechless as a mother who has a 4.5 yr old boy with sb (also a twin)this is beyond monumental!! i am so happy that i subscribe to a magazine that chooses to mainstream these children into their covers. it means so much to the parents who get it in the mail to the kids they can proudly show to saying “look you really are JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!” which is what i tell my son every day. and he gets so excited when he sees someone in crutches or a walker in a movie or magazine or even on the street. wow, i cannot wait to get this in the mail and show it to him and we will most def not throw this one away when we are done, this is getting saved for sure! thank you so much for doing this Parents!!

  4. by ilaria rawlins

    On January 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    As a parent to a four year old daughter with CP who shares the same golden walker as the cover model, you are right this is HUGE. Kuddos to Parents Magazine for stepping outside of the box. As I mentioned their FB page, I have bought the magazine and will be sure to support their advertisers with my money!

  5. by Jennifer Wilson

    On January 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I have my own 3 year old girl with spina bifida. We have a gold walker as well as a wheelchair. Maddie will be so excited to see a girl “just like her” on the cover.

  6. by Shannon Ferguson

    On January 7, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Best cover EVER!!!!!

  7. by Christy

    On January 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    This is very touching. My daughter has the bold legged disease. She can turn her feet in further than normal. The doctors didn’t catch in time.
    If you need any more fundraiser ideas, Tupperware gives 40% to any cause.

    We need more information out there in the world about all different problems out there. Thank you again.

    Thank you,
    Christy

  8. by Katrina

    On January 8, 2013 at 10:57 am

    My 3 year old son, Bryce, also has this same golden Nimbo walker and though he doesn’t share a SB diagnosis (he has CP) he too has a shunt and one sided weakness. Seeing another little one with special needs on the cover of Parents made my day, filled my heart with hope and ensured a life long subscriber in me! Way to go Parents!!!

  9. by Pat Fox

    On January 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Thank You Parents magazine! Thank you for being one of the first to highlight how beautiful our children with “different needs” are!

  10. by Kristi

    On January 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I have a 5 year old with CP too, and he had that exact walker!! I LOVE that she’s on the cover!! As cute as any cover model I’ve ever seen :)

  11. [...] old. This month, Emily’s beautiful face was featured on the cover of Parents Magazine, and an interview with Elizabeth was promoted on their digital [...]

  12. by Lisa Bonnema

    On January 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I am beyond thrilled to see this. Bravo, Parents magazine! My daughter has Spina Bifida, and I am so encouraged to see society embracing differences and encouraging acceptance. We are all beautiful in our own way and that should be celebrated!

  13. by Vicki

    On January 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    I am the mom of a 13 year old with CP and while I no longer read Parents magazine I am thrilled to see this beautiful little girl on the cover! Way to go Parents magazine!

  14. by Carolyn

    On January 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Love. Love. Love. I’m saving this cover for the future, when my daughter (now 19 mo with special needs) can recognize this for what it is – an affirmation that our little ones with special needs are just as beautiful, just as important, just as worthy of admiration as a “normal” kid. Thank you!

  15. by Doreen VanderVort

    On January 8, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    You Go Girl! Emily you are beautiful. Parents magazine Thank you Thank you for featuring a role model for my daughter who is 22mo with SB. I will keep this magazine for her I even went out an bought a second copy for a friend. This article spoke straight to my heart. I am crying as I write this as a mom who is constantly looking for those connections other kids get in the media all of the time. Thank you for being ahead of the game! you have made a reader for life out of me! :)
    Doreen VanderVort
    Tacoma, WA

  16. by Lacy Coburn

    On January 8, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Thank You Parents Magazine for highlighting Emily and her remarkable Mom, Elizabeth. I am a Mom of a little girl who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. I know those unsettling stares. I vote for a whole magazine dedicated to those beautiful children out there that shine their inner beauty on the outside !

    Truly Touched,
    ~Lacy K. Coburn, Indiana

  17. by Tynesha W

    On January 9, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I just wanted to say when I say the cover picture of Emily, all I saw was a beautiful little girl who is so full of life. I couldn’t wait to read her story. My son was born with Spinal bifida and he will be two in April and everyday all I see is a happy kid so full of life and I just can’t stop thanking God for him. Your daughter is beautiful and God Bless you and your family. Thank you Parents magazine for sharing her story.

  18. by Ailemarg

    On January 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    I almost cried through this, I have a 4 month old little boy with spina bifida, his hips are dislocated, he was born with club feet, & has a shunt. he has change my life completely, I had to drop out high school, ill be 18 jan.14, & all people do is stare & ask me whats wrong with him, i try to take each day one day at a time, its so hard for me, but i kno he’s happy. Thats all that matters to me.

  19. by Tina Williams

    On January 10, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Parents magazine for the wonderful cover photo and story of Emily. As the mom of a 4 year old daughter with SB, I was truly thrilled to see your magazine spotlight a child with a disability on your cover. I’ve never written to a magazine or newspaper in my life, but I was so moved by this, I had to let my feelings be known. Thank you for showing how beautiful and amazing our kids are.

    Tina Williams

  20. by Allyson Weinstein-Rosen

    On January 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for this amazing cover picture! I have a pediatric private speech therapy practice and we keep Parents magazine in our waiting room. I was so thrilled to see Emily on the cover- especially because it wasn’t a special needs magazine issue. Thanks for picking such a beautiful cover model and treating children with disabilities just like all the other kids!

  21. by Ceri

    On January 10, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    My 3 year old with CP saw this and said, ” that little girl has a walker just like me!! Can I have a play date with her?” “Does she have a seast on her walker? Cause I have a seat. She should too.” :) It is so nice to see differently abled kiddos front and center. I also love the fact that it is “just because”, not as an addendum to an article about special needs. She is beautiful. If you are ever looking for another cutie with a walker feel free to contact me… I just happen to know one. :)

  22. by Donna Martinez

    On January 11, 2013 at 9:55 am

    ¡¡FINALLY!! How nice it would be to just simply have cute kids as a cover girls/boys. Once we recognize kids simply as kids and not have to put in the obligated story explaining who or why they are then we have obtained inclusion. I would hope and now expect that Parents and all other magazines continue with beautiful kids of all kinds!

  23. by Katheryn Griffith

    On January 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Thank you for publishing this article and giving it front page. These are beautiful children and there are so many children in the world who are living with disabilities. This will give them a chance to see that they are not the only ones and that they are just as special as any other child. My granddaughter is one of them although her’s is not as visible. She has suffered brain damage from a car accident. Thank you again. Please feature more with different kinds of disabilities.

  24. by Ellen Seidman

    On January 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I love every single one of these comments. Still on such a high from this, and I will be for quite some time!

  25. by Crazymomvivi

    On January 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Emily is totally gorgeous! So sweet and cute!

  26. by Megan Chrostowski

    On January 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    THANK YOU so very, very much for this cover and this article!! My daughter is 4 and has cerebral palsy. She looks a bit like Emily – a happy little blonde girl in a tutu – and a walker and leg braces. I am THRILLED that a mainstream magazine like Parents has this cover. I feel like doing the happy dance and gifting a copy to all the people I know! GOOD JOB PARENTS MAGAZINE!!!!

  27. by Tracie Ringler

    On January 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    When I look at this cover, I see the beautiful little girl and not her disability. Wow, what a gorgeous child she is and as a mother of 3 year old twins (one with a disability of Autism), I know that she is just like every other child. I am SO HAPPY that she is on the cover!!!!!!!!! Way to go Emily!!!! By the way, I want that outfit. ;)

  28. by Jessica Anderson

    On January 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    THANK YOU for this cover! What an inspiration to other children with disabilities. My child has a rare condition called Hereditary Spastic Paraplgia and also Dystonia. He too is in the same walker and has DAFO’s to walk. He has never taken unassisted steps in his life and he is 3 as well. This story and picture are an inspiration to me and my son! THANK YOU

  29. by Elaine

    On January 16, 2013 at 7:42 am

    This wonderful article is a celebration of the abilities of all children with disabilities and there loving, caring parents and caretakers. As are mother of an 11 girls with SB, thank you for a beautiful cover that focus on how we are more alike than different.

  30. [...] and friendly-looking little girl has spina bifida, and she uses a walker. Parents‘ blog writer, Ellen Seidman, writes: [S]he has spina bifida, a condition that affects 1 in 2500 children caused when the spinal [...]

  31. by Hannah

    On January 18, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Wow she is so cute and her mom is so awesome! I hope this article will go a long way to helping people accept these special kids, even before they are born! Imagine if Liz had said “yes” to terminating “the pregnancy”. *shudder* Emily wasn’t a pregnancy, she was Emily! She’s so precious! What a sweet mommy-daughter moment I just got to see on video!!!

  32. by Betty

    On January 21, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for the cover of Emily. I also have a granddaughter with SB, she is 4 years old and also has a shunt. She is one of the most beautiful, precious little girls in the world. She if always happy. Thank you for making people aware of children with disabilities. Emily you are a beautiful little girl and I wish you the best life has to offer.

  33. by Amanda Bakker

    On January 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you, Parents magazine for taking such a bold step, and being an example of inclusion. I too have a 2-yr old daughter with spina bifida, and I pray she receives the same kind of love and acceptance you have shown Emily. These are beautiful, happy, strong kids who have the same core needs as the rest of us…to be loved for who they are and all they CAN do. Thank you for this gift!

  34. [...] Emily Kiecher, a bubbly three-year-old with spina bifida, was featured on the February 2013 cover of Parents Magazine. [...]

  35. [...] Kiecher is an adorable three year old. She has been selected as the cover model for Parent Magazine’s February 2013 edition. Emily has blond hair, a happy smile, and a pink, [...]

  36. [...] see children with autism on the cover of a national magazine (though Parents, to their credit, had a cover last February featuring a girl with spina bifida). I let out a little “Yeah!” The stranger sitting [...]