Between the living room and kitchen of her parents’ new home here, 10-year-old Jordan Reeves twirled about like a ballerina. Then, with her right hand she pulled her right leg behind her and high above her head.
With her left arm stretched out for balance, Jordan looked graceful, like the geese she’d been watching land on the frozen pond just yards from her back deck.
Jordan’s pretty normal for a girl her age: She loves basketball, dancing, sparkles, Girl Scouts and dolls. Her mother, Jen Reeves, likes to say “Jordan is just right.”
The statement has a double meaning for them. Yes, Reeves believes her daughter is pretty special. But also, Jordan has only a right hand and what she’d really like is to have an American Girl doll that’s made just like her.
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Jordan was born with no left hand. Her arm ends just below where an elbow would be. But Jordan doesn’t have a left elbow either and this fourth-grader is pretty well-adjusted about it all. She even jokes.
“I have a numb,” she says, then flashes a toothy smile and points to her left arm, which she sometimes calls her little arm.
Jordan’s limb difference has drawn hundreds of comments on a blog her mother has been keeping since the day Jordan was born at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Reeves didn’t know before Jordan’s birth that her child would have only one hand.
“It was definitely a big surprise,” Reeves said. “I didn’t know I had to ask about having all the fingers and toes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1,500 babies in the United States are born each year with upper-limb difference, also called limb reduction. And about 750 are born with lower-limb difference. Some babies are born with some portion of both legs and arms reduced or missing. Doctors have not determined conclusively why that happens.
When Jordan was born, her mother immediately started reading everything she could find about limb differences and raising a child with one. And she used social media to connect across continents with other parents like her. “I needed community,” Reeves said.
In a recent blog, Reeves wrote about Jordan’s ongoing campaign to get the American Girl Doll company to make dolls with limb differences so that children like her could have a doll that truly looks like them.
“Children with and without limb difference deserve to see mass-produced dolls with differences,” mother and daughter wrote in a letter to American Girl. “This option would take limb differences into the mainstream. It would confirm what we already know: A limb difference is worth celebrating!” they wrote.
They weren’t the first to make such a request of the doll company, which in every previous case had answered no.
“This time they said maybe,” Jordan blurted out between munches on her after-school popcorn snack.
American Girl has a history of creating dolls and accessories that address diversity and inclusion. The company declined an interview request but sent this statement:
“Each day, American Girl receives hundreds of passionate requests for specific products to be created. While we know each request is important, at this time (as in years past) we are unable to accept product ideas or guarantee when, or if, a particular product will be developed. That said, our design team is constantly exploring new ways to enhance our doll lines with items that resonate with girls on a variety of levels.”
“I stay calm and know that the day will come when we will get a limb difference American Girl doll,” Jordan said.
Jordan doesn’t remember whether she was 4 or 5 when she first looked at one of her American Girl dolls and asked her mom, “how come my baby has two hands?”
“I’ll be honest,” Reeves said, “I hadn’t even thought of it.”
Reeves said the question has been brewing since then. She and her husband, Randy Reeves, even thought briefly about cutting off a doll’s arm and jury- rigging a limb difference.
“Yeah, but my mom is not very artsy-crafty,” Jordan said. And, “I didn’t want to ruin the doll,” Reeves said.
Besides, American Girl dolls can be pricey. And, Jordan said, getting American Girl to make a doll with a limb difference isn’t just for her. It’s not common to see a doll made without a limb. Jordan thinks if more children saw such dolls, then children with limb differences would be more easily accepted by their peers.
She said children sometimes see her arm, gasp and call her a monster. Others move away when she walks toward them and some have even asked her how she broke her arm. “I explain that my arm is not broken, I was born this way,” Jordan said.
And then there’s this: Amy Jandrisevits, a trained social worker who worked in pediatric oncology before she founded the A Doll Like Me doll company, said “the therapeutic power of dolls is grossly underestimated and the play that takes place with dolls is beneficial.”
As a result, Jandrisevits said, “it is incredibly difficult for a child to accept who they are when they’ve never seen a likeness of themselves.”
American Girl has a variety of dolls and accessories used to customize dolls, including a hearing aid, a service dog, glasses, braces, a wheelchair and arm crutches. They recently added a doll with a diabetic kit.
That they haven’t agreed to a doll with a limb difference, Jordan said, “makes me feel like other people are a lot more important.”
Jordan has five American Girl dolls and she quickly admits that every child isn’t so lucky. One of them is the company’s “Truly Me,” model. In Jordan’s case, that means her doll is Caucasian with long brown hair and brown eyes.
“But she really isn’t like me at all,” Jordan said. “Because she has two hands and I only have one.”
Actually, Jordan has a bunch of hands. Prosthetic hands. She has a blue plastic cyborg-looking hand that her 13-year-old brother made with a 3D printer, several professionally crafted arms, and a few she’s made herself. One such contraption is basically a stick attached to a band that fits around her arm. Jordan uses that one to strum the ukulele, which she’s learning to play.
She also plays a little piano and does a pretty decent “Hot Cross Buns,” the nursery rhyme, on a recorder.
At a recent camp in San Francisco for children with limb difference, Jordan made what she calls her superhero arm. It shoots sparkles. Other than that one, the prostheses are not her favorite. “They’re not comfortable,” Jordan said.
But she’s had to wear one at least an hour a day since she was 9 months old. Otherwise she constantly uses her left shoulder like an elbow and wears it out. Plus, her body doesn’t move correctly without two full arms. Where most people swing both arms when walking for a long time Jordan would hold her left arm steady by her side. It was throwing off her whole body, legs, hips, and gait.
Wearing a prosthetic, Reeves said, “helps her to get stronger.”