I have a long history of dissonance with the term “Disability”. I spent many years after my accident trying to deny I had a disability and was offended if anyone called me disabled. I always felt like I was at a disadvantage to healthy two-legged people; “disabled” suggested that I wasn’t able to be physical. So I focused on my abilities and desperately tried to find out what they were. Being called “disabled” only reminded me of that which I was avoiding. So I set out to proved to myself that I was able.
In my early twenties (about 5 years after my accident) I learned to downhill ski with other amputees. I had a blast, not only because of the thrill of the sport, but because I was around other people who were like me. For the first time. We didn’t spend time comparing stories of our amputations or talking about how we dealt with it, we simply had a great time together. My second year of skiing I was on the disabled ski team and met some amazing folks with physical disabilities of all kinds: CP, quadriplegics, paraplegics, and hearing and sight impaired folks. Each person was a role model for me in how to buck up and be in charge of my life. I haven’t laughed as much in my life as I did tipping back a pint (or two) in the ski lodge at the Regional Ski races. It was like we were all wrapped in joy because we were pushing our boundaries. I never felt disabled with these folks.
It wasn’t until eight years after I lost my leg that I finally relented and got a disabled placard for my car. I finally tired of parking too far away from my destination and rationalized that there had to be a few perks to my situation. Parking close is one of them.
I spent over five years as a sea kayaker. Sue, my beloved kayak buddy, and I did many day trips throughout the year and each summer found a new 2 – 5 day salt water excursion. We loaded up our kayaks with everything but the kitchen sink (including the boxed wine), put on our headsets and paddled into the sunset. Literally. I loved being able to carry myself through the world on my own accord, without the aid of anything but a paddle. No car, no bike (well, I don’t ride bikes, but you get what I mean). Just me and the water. Easier than backpacking and yet much the same (except a box of wine doesn’t fit in a pack very well). I never felt disabled with Sue or my kayak.
Pregnancy is what got me. I began my slow descent into disability when I got pregnant. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d cut off my right arm if I had to in order to have my two children. There is nothing I wouldn’t give to be their mother. But pregnancy took it’s toll, what with the weight gain and the shift in hip bones. I had to redefine myself. I had to admit my disability in a way I never did before. I lost a lot of physical function and descended into the world of disability. The term finally fit.
I’ve waxed and waned in my abilities since I’ve had my two children. I never would have thought that I would label myself a “disabled mom”, but I do. I have to say that these days, I’m feeling a lot less disabled. That I am able to partake in one of life’s most basic functions again, walking, has elevated my confidence and my self-image. I don’t have to say, “no, kids, I can’t walk there.” Instead I’m getting to the point where I don’t have an internal moment of panic when I see how far away I have to park or how far I have to walk for a function with my kids. I’m just like all the other moms walking casually to a game or an event.
And I love it.