In late 2011, then 20-year-old Malinda Shultice of Altoona, Iowa, unexpectedly became pregnant while at Iowa State University majoring in journalism and political science. Her boyfriend, Kyle, took a long month before warming to the idea of being a father.
"We were hoping for a girl," said Shultice, "and planning how we could finish school and care for our baby. On March 9, 2012, I found out I would be having a girl, but could tell by the reaction of the ultrasound nurse that something wasn't right."
Shultice learned her baby had the most severe form of spina bifida, myelomeningocele, in which her baby's spinal cord and protective covering were outside an open spine. Her baby wasn't kicking even though she was 20 weeks old.
Shultice said, "The doctor recommended a specialist, who said the baby had severe spina bifida and wouldn't live. I absolutely was in disbelief. It was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. The doctor said we had to make a decision about whether to go into labor soon or stick it out and have a stillborn child before the 39 weeks was up. There were no words for how heartbroken we were."
Malinda and Kyle consulted with "four or five" specialists in the hope their child could somehow survive. Soon, Malinda was in labor and giving birth to a nine-ounce stillborn daughter. Kyle and Malinda spent 30 minutes holding her.
Said Shultice, "It took me a year to be (emotionally) okay. I decided two months ago to create 'Letters of Hope.' I didn't make (the website) just for parents losing a child with spina bifida, but more for younger parents losing a child of any age."
From her website, she asks affected parents to send her a letter or email about their story of losing a child, and she responds confidentially. If the parent grants permission, Shultice posts the letter on "Letters of Hope" to share with readers.
She said, "For a while, I was closed off to the world over what happened. Now I don't want other parents feeling that way and feel driven by the feedback I'm getting. (People writing) feel comfortable knowing someone their own age has gone through this."
Shultice works as a television studio technician for Channel 13 in Des Moines, and has become an active member of the Spina Bifida Association of Iowa.
For more stories of courage in disability, visit www.danieljvance.com or find them on Facebook at "Disabilities By Daniel J. Vance." LittleGiantFudge.com and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.