This is a topic I’ve been reflecting on for a long time. I’ve read many articles and posts on both sides of the argument. I’ve read posts from adults with spina bifida, and parents of children with spina bifida, who say that spina bifida doesn’t define them.
I’ve also seen the other side of the coin, from parents who say that, indeed, spina bifida defines their children.
One of the most interesting arguments I’ve heard for the latter point of view is from my friend, Mary Evelyn. Even when I don’t agree with her perspective 100 percent, she always manages to make a very sound, introspective, and rational case. I can’t help but agree with her on parts of her post to a certain degree.
To be sure, even now, in writing this, I am on the fence on this topic.
Mary Evelyn, and all of those who agree with her, is right. To a certain extent, spina bifida will always define me and my life. It’s an integral part of who and what I am. I will never be able to shrug off the years, nay, decades, of how spina bifida has molded me into the person I am. The adult I am.
But there is another side of this coin, I ardently believe, that deserves equal inspection. There are moments, even days, when I don’t feel like I have spina bifida.
Do you know what I’m talking about? Whether you have spina bifida or a different diagnosis, perhaps you can relate.
I’m talking about those moments when I’m getting ready to go out, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my outfit -- my earrings, my eyeliner, etc. I glance at myself in the full-length mirror, and I see… a beautiful woman. Not “a woman with spina bifida.” Not “a woman who has had several brain surgeries.” Not “a woman who is now struggling with lower back pain on a daily basis.” Not “a woman who has to self-cath every three hours in order to live.”
Just… a beautiful woman.
When I’m out with my closest girlfriends, and having a glass of sangria or a cup of coffee, it’s not the woman with spina bifida they are out with. It’s the blogger, the social media consultant, the coffeeholic (more often than not), the grammar fanatic who is constantly editing other people’s words as well as her own. (I seriously can’t help it!)
Other times, it’s the flirt (sometimes) who wants to get that cute server’s attention, or the wise counselor, when a girlfriend is struggling with a problem (I’m really obsessed with analyzing everyone’s problems, including my own!), or the goofball.
In fact, when I’m among my closest friends, spina bifida is a topic that is introduced very rarely. I think, by this point, most of them acknowledge it in passing, the way you would acknowledge a person’s eye or hair color or stature.
I’m also just as protective of my friends as they are of me… sometimes I’m the “older sister,” and sometimes they are. It just depends on the situation.
That isn’t to say that I feel ashamed of having spina bifida, but it does make me uncomfortable to be around people who barely know me and already feel the need to pepper me with a dozen questions I might not feel like answering at a networking event. Sometimes, I’ve made an unconscious decision to remove that particular hat for the evening… and that’s okay. I feel entitled to that.
I’ll always be an advocate for the spina bifida cause. That won’t change anytime soon, I’m pretty sure. I’m committed to it, because I understand it.
But if I paused to dwell on spina bifida every day, every moment, every second when I’m getting dressed or putting on makeup, or picking out my earrings, I’d never make it out the door on time.
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