I’m proud to say I’ve recently celebrated my 50th birthday. A major milestone in any life, for sure, but for someone who has been repeatedly told they wouldn’t last long…at birth I wouldn’t last the week, then I wouldn’t make 5, I’d be lucky to see my 12th birthday etc., it is an extra achievement.
Of course, I didn’t know that until I was much older.
Growing up I didn’t know any better. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to be here. At least, not according to the great and knowledgeable doctors at Toronto Sick Kids. (and no, that is not sarcasm)
I was born in 1968, 6 weeks premature and only 3 pounds, 3 ounces. That in of itself put my odds of survival on shaky ground. Add to that a hole in my heart and a mild case of the birth defect Spina Bifeda and it really was stacked against me.
Much of my young life was spent in hospitals. I spent weeks in an incubator and I have a whole plethora of stories about that time, told to me by family and friends. Stories of how my mother would not leave my side, going home to sleep and to shower only when she was forced to by a caring nursing staff. Stories about being a non-stop little peanut, constantly wriggling myself out of the preemie diapers that were too big for me. Stories of love and affection and care and concern.
Of course I don’t remember this time in my life, but the love that was so generously offered stayed with me.
My parents never treated me as a fragile little doll who could break at any time. I wonder if that’s why I not only survived, but in my opinion, thrived. Even when I’d go back to Toronto Sick Kids a few times a year, for weeks at a time, it was never a big deal. It was life as I knew it. There were never heartfelt, tearful goodbyes, just my Mom saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow!”
I often looked forward to those visits to Toronto. There were always a ton of kids to play with, entertainers were brought in…everything from clowns to singers and even big, fluffy characters that would dance around with us. There was story time and pizza parties and even, once in a while, ice cream treats. The doctors and nurses, to a person, were kind, compassionate and made “life on the inside” as normal as possible.
To be honest, I don’t really feel like I have a disability. The hole in my heart finally closed in my twenties to the point where the murmur can only be detected in the faintest degree by an echocardiogram. The Spina Bifeda, well, that’s a bit different. It is still with me of course. I’ve lost one kidney to repeated infections, I am incontinent and I have problems with my hips. But, that is my life. I don’t let it hinder me, I do what I want, go where I want and I’ve been incredibly lucky in love, having married my high school sweetheart and last year we celebrated 31 years of marriage.
I’ve thought long and hard as to why this is. My answer? Incredible parents and a family that never treated me with kid gloves and let me be who I was meant to be. They also had this amazing, unwavering faith that the doctors were wrong and that I would survive.
With love and faith it is possible.