Sonia Morales’s dream came true when she found out she was pregnant with her second child. But only four months later, when she went in for an ultrasound and was told she was having a girl, that dream turned into every expectant parent’s worst nightmare – doctors said her baby would probably die in her womb or just moments after she gave birth.
Her daughter Angela was diagnosed with anencephaly, a serious birth defect characterized by the absence of parts of the brain and skull.
“It was the saddest and scariest moment of our lives,” Sonia, 27, tells PEOPLE. “But I looked at my husband and we decided that we were going to keep her no matter what.”
The CDC estimates that each year, about 1 in 4,859 babies will be born with anencephaly. They also say that almost all babies diagnosed with the condition will die shortly after birth.
Miraculously, Angela didn’t just make it to childbirth. On March 23, 2015, she celebrated her first birthday.
Hope for a Second Child
Sonia and her husband, Rony, who live in Providence, Rhode Island, had long wanted to give their then-4-year-old daughter Elizabeth a sibling.
“When we found out I was pregnant, we were over the moon,” Sonia, a breastfeeding peer counselor, says. “I felt amazing and was just so happy.”
But for a while, that joy disappeared after Angela’s diagnosis.
“The doctor told me that the only reason Angela was living in my womb was because she was attached to me,” she said. “But I felt her moving and kicking, and I just couldn’t understand.”
Instead of letting the devastating news defeat them, Sonia and Rony decided to embrace every moment they had, even if that meant being with their daughter for just a minute after she was born.
“The doctors told me that most women choose abortion, but I wanted to give Angela a shot at life,” she says.
And that’s exactly what the Moraleses did. During Sonia’s pregnancy, they went to the park and the beach, making sure that Angela remained involved in every single experience they had as a family.
“I told Elizabeth that her baby sister had a boo-boo and was going to go to heaven when she was born,” Sonia says.
An Emotional Pregnancy
Whenever she was overcome with grief, Sonia says she looked to her unborn baby for hope and solace: “I would feel Angela kick and I would think to myself that she was telling me not to cry but to smile.”
At 40 weeks, Sonia went into labor on March 23, and at 6:35 p.m., Angela was born at 6 lbs., 3 oz.
“When we went to the hospital, I thought I was going to be saying hello and goodbye on the same day,” says Sonia. “We sang her a song that we made for her.”
A priest sat by her side, along with dozens of family members.
A Fight to Live
Angela was born pale, extremely puffy and missing most of her brain. Doctors told Sonia and Rony that with the limited time they had, they just needed to make sure their baby was comfortable.
But the next day, at 6:35 p.m., she was still alive.
“We were all shocked that she made it a day. They covered her head with a bandage,” she says. “She was so precious.”
A week later, the Moraleses brought their daughter home, and they’ve since celebrated Angela’s miraculous survival with a daily ritual: They end each day with a birthday song, a birthday cake and a prayer.
“Every day is truly a gift. She knows how much she is loved,” Sonia says.
Angela, who weighs only 16 lbs., has been making steady progress. She can lift her head and recognizes the voices of her mother, father, sister and grandparents. When Sonia says Angela’s name, she kicks and smiles. The Morales have created a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses, as well as a Facebook page to document their journey as a family.
Older sister Elizabeth, now 6, says she knows Angela is different from other babies, but she loves her just the same. She frequently changes her diapers and says, “Angela, I know you might never walk, but I’m going to help you try.”
Looking to the Future
Although the Moraleses don’t know if Angela will ever talk or even make it to her second birthday, they strive to make sure she lives every day to the fullest.
The family still goes on those trips – to the park, to the beach – but now they take Angela with them. They’ve even gone hiking in New Hampshire.
“Disabilities don’t stop people from living,” Sonia says. “We took her out in the snow, and when it’s nice out I describe to her how beautiful the trees and flowers are because she can’t see.”
As Angela continues to grow, so does her family.
“Angela has made us better people. She might never be able to contribute to society, but she is teaching us how to become more compassionate and loving,” she says. “I see life differently now. I only see love. I am a lucky mom.”