I was born in Columbus, Ohio on a rainy summer day back in August of 1986. At 8lbs, 15oz. I was what everyone assumed, a healthy baby girl…until they noticed the lesion on my lower back. Imagine the excitement of having your first child/first grandchild…only to be told that something was wrong. My mother never had an ultrasound, she had no idea. After further tests and examinations, I was diagnosed with Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida is the incomplete formation of the spine and spinal cord.
At 23 years old, my parents were at a loss as to how to take care of a child with a disability, especially their first. Doctors made assumptions about my future, “she’ll never learn to read or write”. Then someone introduced them to Easter Seals of Central Ohio, an organization that has been providing resources to families affected by a disability for nearly 100 years. I received everything from physical therapy, occupational therapy, and hydrotherapy. They even taught me how to write my name (HA! Take THAT, Doc!). They put me on the path to reaching my full potential despite my limitations.
In addition to being a first child, I was also the first grandchild. You could say that I was a bit spoiled but I would say that I was just really loved. My maternal grandparents were devout Catholics who raised six kids. Having a grandchild with a disability did not faze them. I’ll never forget the story of my mother calling my Grandma crying shortly after my birth. She was overwhelmed with the prospect of raising a child with special needs. “So what if she can’t walk?” my Grandma said. She was right. I couldn’t walk but she still treated me just like any other granddaughter. She never hesitated to put me over her knee and give me a spanking if I misbehaved or wash my mouth out with soap if I sassed her. In the end, I think I turned out alright.
I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for how I was raised. After I was born, my parents had two more daughters. Neither one of them were born with a disability…although they are both weird in their own ways (Just kidding!). Much like my Grandma, my parents never treated me any differently because I couldn’t walk. I still got grounded and lost privileges like everyone else. Although, we laugh about it now…my mom kicked me out of the house when I was 17. Some people might say, “Oh that poor handicapped child”…and some did. Although I will be the first one to admit, I totally deserved it. I was even sassier as a teenager than I am as an adult! I packed my bags, called a friend to pick me up…and I was gone for 4 days. My mom and I eventually made amends and I came back home but I’m grateful for experiences like that because it helped shape the person I am today.
It might sound harsh, but I see so many people with disabilities these days that are babied and enabled by their families. They wait on them hand and foot. You aren’t helping them. I am so grateful to my parents for teaching me to be independent and forcing me to do things on my own. They instilled in me the value of hard work and determination. It is because of those values they taught me, that I now work 2 jobs. I am a college graduate, working on my second college degree…and I live on my own. To reiterate what my Grandma said…”So what if I can’t walk?”….LOOK AT ME NOW!