Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. That’s nearly 120,000 babies born with birth defects each year. In my estimation, the prevalence of birth defects in the late 1960’s when I was born was perhaps more, because maternal care was not as sophisticated as today. Though I don’t have the stats on it, the advancement of medical care through the years has also likely resulted in a decrease in the long-term effects of some birth defects.
When I was born, the doctors knew I had a birth defect in my foot that would likely result in amputation. Too much blood in my foot, that’s how I always described it. By the time I was 4 ½ I was in the hospital undergoing the predicted amputation. After 3 months at Shriner in San Francisco, I returned home to Yosemite to adjust and carry on with the business of being a little girl.
Around the time I was 8, my folks divorced and I moved with my mother a few hours away to start the 3rd grade. We moved a year later and life at home was somewhat chaotic the next six years. In high school, I returned to Yosemite to live with my Dad until college.
Purposefully I tell that portion of my story at a high level. The early years, the time I was in the hospital was extremely impactful, it created my lifelong love of medicine and the comfort I experience when I visit the doctor, have medical procedures, spend time in the hospital. I look back on that time with warm fuzzies.
What I’ve noticed about the middle part is that I have little to say about it and at the same time, volumes. But telling your story to another person is an act of vulnerability. It’s opening up, exposing yourself. Your version might be whimsical, magical, mundane, average, or it might be raw.
Here’s the thing, your story is no one else’s. But what happens sometimes is that people will layer their own judgement, or experience over yours and try to mirror back what they presume you must have felt, when in fact, it’s not accurate.
And when you’re first exploring your feelings around childhood or significant life events, you might listen. You could be tempted to add a layer of experience that wasn’t there. “It must have been so hard for you. You must have missed… You must have felt…” If you’re sharing your story, in that raw space of vulnerability, still figuring it out, you might question your recollection.
I could easily look back on being in the hospital and think about the lack, my parents weren’t there the majority of the time. There was no Ronald McDonald house, it was the norm for parents to visit only on the weekend. But that would overshadow the overwhelmingly positive impact that experience had on my life. My messy middle? I could call that the crazy, and there may be days where I do. But I’ve gone back and explored my feelings about that time, and still, I would describe it as generally fine.
Your story is yours alone. Other people’s insertions, interpretations, the overwhelming inclination of some people to analyze your “family of origin,” has its place. But it’s a small space. Continuing to rehash over and over? Exhausting. I’ve learned that when you’re first exploring your story you might be like a sponge and listen to what others insert. But as you rumble with your story, you will determine what it truly is for you. Other’s opinions can fall by the wayside, they can, frankly, back off.
Brené Brown writes that owning your story is the bravest thing you’ll ever do. I wholeheartedly agree. Whatever it is for you, let it be your own. No one can take that away from you. You are brave, strong and worthy of your own experience. Be authentically you. I’m on the journey with you.