This is an essay I wrote for school. The assignment was to write about how our ethnic or cultural heritage had influenced our experience as Americans, but I had a different idea. I asked my teacher if I could write about how having a disability has influenced my life as an American. Hope you enjoy it!
My family has a very diverse ethnic heritage. I have roots extending from settlers that came to this country on the Mayflower, to Native American tribes in Montana, Idaho, and North and South Dakota, to family from China. It would be a lie to say that my family’s ethnic and cultural heritage have not affected my life in this country in any way. However, I believe there is another aspect of my life that has affected me much more so.
This part of my life began to affect my placement in the world before I was even born into it. Two weeks before I was born, my parents found out I would be born with a birth defect called Myelomeningocele, the most serious form of spina bifida. I could go into the specifics of the condition, but that would get very complicated and boring. Suffice it to say that the bones of my spine didn’t form properly, making it so that I am unable to walk.
As soon as the doctors found out, they began preparing my mother for all the hardship she would face raising me. They regaled her with all the horrifying details of what she would have to put up with. They made sure she knew that it was likely I would have brain malformation and possible retardation, as well as a serious gag reflex, and no use of my legs whatsoever. One specialist was even bold enough to tell her bluntly, “It’s too bad you didn’t find out about this sooner, when you could’ve had an abortion. To be frank, you’re going to give birth to a monster.”
I didn’t turn out quite as bad as they said I would. I do have a brain malformation, but I am not, by any means, retarded. I did have a serious gag reflex for the first few years of my life, but it has all but diminished completely. I cannot use my legs, but I use a wheelchair and get around just fine.
For the first five years of my life, being a monster didn’t affect me much. My parents, my siblings, and everyone who knew me treated me like the normal, awesome person I thought of myself as. But then I started kindergarten. I never even thought to be nervous about it. It never occurred to me that there would be kids there who had never seen a child in a wheelchair, because wheelchairs were for people like their grandma. Thankfully, I had a great teacher who wouldn’t tolerate any disrespectful comments.
I really didn’t have any problems with kids at school until two years later. Then, one day while I was out on the playground, a boy came up to me and tried to sit on me, because I was in a chair. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that event marked the end of an era for me. From then on, very few people who did not know me would see me as I saw myself.
But they never let it show as obviously as that boy in second grade. They show it in there pitying glances, their condescending words, and their motivational speeches in the aisles of Safeway.
My heritage is one of a girl who, from before birth, was told she wouldn’t be able to live well, because she would be too broken. It’s the heritage of glances and words that say “I pity you because you are less than I am.” But, more than any of that, it’s the heritage of a girl who has chosen to believe that she can live well, because her soul is whole. It’s the heritage of a girl who says “Do not pity me. I am more than I seem.” It is the heritage of an overcomer.