About Me

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I am a below knee amputee. More importantly, I am also Mommy to two boys, a very active 10 year old (Robby) and an mischievous toddler (Timmy). I have learned that being a parent with a disability can create some unusual and sometimes humorous situations. This blogger is available for hire! Let's talk and learn how a blog can expand your business.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yes, I'm Talking About Sex (Again)

This blog post has been in the works for a long time. Although I've already addressed this topic, I find that it is an issue that continues to come up when talking with my new amputee friends. That's right, I'm talking about sex (again).

I have yet to meet a new amputee who hasn't struggled with issues of body image after limb loss. Although females verbalize their concerns more, I have spoken with a number of male amputees who admit to struggling with the same issues. Unfortunately, the fears are always expressed in hushed whispers, somehow implying shame.

Perhaps bringing these issues out of the dark and into a public forum will help to alleviate the shame and isolation that is often associated with these feelings. Because my amputation was planned and I had time to prepare, I assumed that I would not encounter body image issues. I was wrong, and I felt unprepared and completely alone when the feelings arose.

Cognitively, I knew that I was not defined by my limb loss. I knew that I was the same person with the same heart, hopes and dreams. More importantly, I knew that Scott loved me as much with one foot as he did when I had two.

Logically knowing that I was the same person is not the same as believing it. After my amputation I remember looking in the mirror, staring at the new reflection, and crying. I didn't recognize the "freakish form" staring back at me. It is a horrible feeling when you are repulsed by your own reflection. Feeling sexy, or having sex for that matter, was the furthest from my mind.

My wardrobe for the first 18 months after my amputation consisted of ankle length skirts and dresses. I removed every full length mirror from our house, and I looked away when I saw my reflection in store windows. As much as I tried, I just could not help perseverating on the fact that I was missing part of my leg.

Incidentally, I was also getting married during this time period. I doubt that anybody, with the exception of Scott and perhaps my mom, knew how uncomfortable I felt with my new body shape. I did not enjoy shopping for my wedding dress, and I feel sad when I remember how ugly I felt on my wedding day. I dream of doing a "wedding do-over" someday so that I can feel like a confident and pretty bride.

I wish I could outline a "body image acceptance" path, but I know that the road to self-acceptance is different for everybody. For me, it took time. If you ask Scott, he'll tell you it took a whole lot of time.

In an odd way, I had to work through forgiving myself. Although I wasn't to blame for my amputation, I harbored a lot of self-loathing because of it. I felt that I shouldn't have problems with body image, and that something was wrong with me because I couldn't just "get over it."

Scott found me sexy regardless of my amputation. The issue wasn't him; it was me. When someone doesn't feel desirable or sexy, it is difficult to be sexual. Patience and open communication is essential during this time period.

Eventually I began to acknowledge that I was having issues dealing with my amputation. Feeling worthless and ugly, I petitioned my insurance adjuster to seek therapy. I knew that I needed help to deal my mounting body image issues. I was promptly denied with an explanation that the since the amputation was my "choice," the emotional ramifications of the surgery were also of my choosing. My self-loathing was only solidified, as was my belief that I must be the only amputee to be experiencing this turmoil.

At the urging of my mom, I spoke with my general practitioner about my feelings. He responded by handing me a depression questionnaire . After reviewing my answers, he confirmed that I was depressed, but also classified it as "situational." D'uh ! I could have saved my $15 co-pay and his quiz by coming up with that diagnosis. He prescribed "getting my nails done" and taking time to "pamper myself" in lieu of therapy or medication. Unfortunately, his "keep your chin up little buckaroo" approach only served to devalue what I was feeling.

There is truth in the saying that time heals all wounds. As I learned to live with my limb loss, I slowly became accustomed to my new body shape. I began to forgive myself for feeling ugly, and I began to verbalize the insecurities. The more I talked with Scott and my friends, the less shame I felt.

I have little doubt that, had I had other amputees to talk to, this struggle would not have been so difficult. Knowing that my reaction was normal, that I was still normal, would have validated my emotions and eliminated the sense of isolation. As amputees, we need to put a voice to these feelings. Verbalizing these emotions is the first step towards self-acceptance and a full emotional recovery.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nothing's Wrong...

Yesterday Robby and I packed a picnic basket and headed for the animal park. After greeting all of his animal friends, Robby ran to his favorite spot--the moon bounce. When he saw that the bouncer was filled with kids his age, he took off in a full sprint. I dutifully followed behind and took my assumed position on the bench next to the giant inflatable structure.

The kids, with Robby in tow, ran between the moon bounce and the playground. I followed like a well trained puppy, putting on and removing shoes, pushing and stopping the merry-go-round, and pouring cups of water for the small brood of children. Typical of these trips, I assumed the caretaker role for all of the little ones while their mothers were chatting on cell phones and typing on their laptops.

One little girl, named Ella, was cautious around me. I replied to her stares with smiles, hoping to diffuse her fears. Finally, after nearly an hour, she approached Robby and asked him what was wrong with his Mommy's leg.

Robby looked perplexed by the question. She asked him again, and he seemed to understand. This was Robby's explanation- "Oh, nothing is wrong. Mommy has her running leg on today so she can race. Her Proprio is at home because she doesn't want goat poopy on it. Let's hop."

Ella, unsatisfied with the answer, asked Robby again what was wrong with me and why I had extra legs. He explained that "Mr. Elliot makes Mommy lots of legs so she can play all kinds of games with me. Are you going to hop or not?" Either satisfied with the answer or resigned to the fact that she was not being understood, Ella abandoned her questioning and obediently began to hop.

Right now, Robby thinks that I am the prettiest girl on the playground. I am his best buddy and I tell the funniest jokes he's ever heard. He is unaware of any "imperfections" and accepts my prosthetic legs as a normal part of life. He wasn't holding back information from Ella. He was telling her the truth from his perspective. As he sees it, there isn't anything "wrong" with his Mommy.

I am fully aware that Robby will realize that my amputation is not the norm for all mothers. There will come a day when he won't want to play with me, and will no longer think I'm "pretty like a whale." Right now he thinks that I'm perfect, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Know the Risks of Photos

I have come to the conclusion that devotees are, without doubt, destructive parasites lurking around the amputee community. If you are unfamiliar with the term, devotees refer to the group of individuals who are fascinated or sexually intrigued by amputees, particularly amputee women. They stalk conferences, lurk around prosthetic offices and actively seek to find photos of amputee women with a bare residual limb.

I continue to be shocked by the number of amputee pornography websites. I will not pass judgment on the amputee "models" who willingly bear their bodies for the photographers. I assume that these women are consenting adults who are compensated and aware of the consequences of their actions.

However, I am disgusted and appalled by the photographs that are taken in secrecy. Amputee women are often stalked for the purposes of obtaining "stump shots" to facilitate Internet pornography. Unaware of what is occurring, these women are violated and many times do not know that it had occurred. I know, because this has happened to me.

Several years ago I was unknowingly photographed without my leg while on vacation. We were staying at my aunt's condo in a gated community. We had no reason to question our security. Yet, I discovered months later that my photo was taken as I was lying on a lounge chair. There was nothing that I could do because the damage was done. Once a photo is on the Internet, it is nearly impossible to completely remove.

Because of this experience I have become hyper-vigilant about keeping my limb covered in public. I never take off the liner, and I try to avoid removing my prosthetic. I won't allow my residual limb to be photographed.

Recently I have heard several horror stories about devotee photo encounters. One amputee friend was unaware when a photograph was taken of her during a physical therapy session. Another friend unknowingly posted photos of her residual limb on a social networking site. Both of these women are now unfortunate members of the Unwilling Amputee Pornography Club.

The views about bearing the residual limb in public are as varied as amputees themselves. I understand being proud of your body and not being ashamed of the residual limb. I just worry about how many of these new proud amputees realize that the same photographs that are proudly uploaded to their Facebook page may also end up on pornography themed websites. Please just know the risks because some devotees scour the Internet seeking these photos to line their coffers as well as to satisfy their perversions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Poop War-The Final Battle (hopefully)

I can typically predict when I am going to experience phantom/ nerve pain. I usually experience the pain when I have made a change to my socket or if I have been participating in a high impact activity in the incorrect prosthetic. This past weekend I made no changes to my prosthetic or my socket, so the onset of phantom pain took me by surprise. The intensity of the pain nearly took my breathe away.

I was lying in bed Sunday night, desperately trying to fall asleep. Just when I was slipping off into my dreams, I was awoken by a horrible pain. Actually, the adjective of horrible does not do the pain justice. It felt as if my little toe was being slowly pulled away from my foot while a knife was being wedged into the toe nail. The sensation was excruciating.

After what seemed like hours but was, in fact only 15 minutes, the pain began to ease. Unfortunately, it never completely went away and was, apparently, the precursor to a night of the "stinging jitterbug leg." (For those who may be unfamiliar with this phenomena, it is when my stump responds to a stinging sensation by kicking uncontrollably.) Monday morning found me physically and emotionally drained.

It has been seven years and I am frustrated that I am still experiencing phantom pain. Yes, I am grateful that the incidents are few and that it typically does not impact my day. Still, it makes me angry when it does occur. Aside from causing pain, it serves to emphasize the fact that sometimes being an amputee just stinks!

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or my grumpy demeanor, but I decided yesterday that I am done changing diapers. Robby messed his "big boy underwear" twice within 10 minutes with no remorse. I am tired of scraping fecal matter off of Thomas the Train's smiling face (the pattern of his underpants) with seemingly no potty use in sight.

I immediately turned off the television, took away all of his cars and trains, and placed him on the toilet. I told him that he was not allowed to get up until he pooped in the potty. I explained that he is now four and that we are now done with diapers.

To say that he threw a fit would be mild. I stayed firm that he was going to use the toilet. He screamed, he yelled, and he told me that we are no longer friends. I simply got my laptop computer, poured a cup of coffee, sat on my shower chair and put my feet up. I told him that I have everything I need and no place to go, so I'm willing to stay here all day.

I didn't realize that he took my statement literally as I did, in fact, periodically spend much of the day in the bathroom. My little boy is stubborn, but he underestimated the resolve of his frustrated, phantom nerve pain feeling, frustrated, sleep deprived Mommy. He didn't realize that I was happy for the time to just sit and write. I have developed an uncanny ability to tune out both my environment and his screaming.

Finally, after a battle that lasted from morning into the afternoon, I thrice emerged from the bathroom victorious. I have little doubt that I will be challenged to a rematch in the coming days by my poop-avoiding little boy. I will be armed for battle with my coffee and my laptop to pass the time. Maybe I'll bring my iPod and play "We are the Champions" because I am, without doubt, going to put an end to this poop war!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Throwdown at Chick-Fil-A

Friday afternoon I packed up Robby and we headed to his first playgroup. I didn't know what to expect, but I could not have been more thrilled with the outcome. There is a unique joy parents feels watching their child run, play and laugh with his or her peers. Robby was in his element and had the time of his life playing with the other kids. We are both excited to return this week.

Feeling celebratory after the playgroup, Robby and I decided to go to Chick-Fil-A with my friend Vicki and her son, Nick. Robby idolizes Nick, partly because Nick is several years older and also because he is just a really good kid. Both boys love the play area at the restaurant, and Vicki and I enjoy the time catching up and chatting.

The boys were happily running around inside the play enclosure. Vicki and I were sitting in the booth outside the enclosure watching them play through the window. They took occasional breaks to return for food or a drink, but their visits were brief- apparently they were busy being "dinosaur hunters." Everything was perfect until an older boy entered the play room. Within a minute, through the window we saw Nick crying .

Vicki and I immediately left our table and ran into the playground enclosure. Nick was sobbing, and Robby was on the floor in the fetal position. Apparently the older boy, unprovoked, began punching Robby in the stomach. Nick, in an attempt to protect his younger playmate, tried to intervene. He was punched in the neck.

I scooped up Robby and tried to assess the situation. We immediately spotted the bully (who, it turns out, is 10 years old) sitting at the table with his mother. Holding our children, we confronted the mother.

Honestly, I think we were more polite than the situation warranted. We calmly informed her that her son punched both Robby and Nick. She asked her son if he did it, and he said, "Yeah, they're weird." Vicki and I both stood still, waiting for an apology.

Instead of apologizing, the mother simply responded, with incorrect grammar I might add, that our boys need to "toughen up" and that kids fight. The bully's father then interjected that we were raising "little wimps" who can't defend themselves. Of course Robby can't defend himself against a towering 10 year old! He's four!

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. These parents heard their son admit that he bullied the small kids, yet instead of reprimanding him, they were condoned his actions and blamed the victims. I was flabbergasted.

I wanted to take the parents to task, but I knew that any attempt would be futile. I learned a long time ago that I can't use logic to combat ignorance. Robby was hurt and needed my attention. We informed the store manager and left for home.

Robby had to be carried into the house and fought any attempt to straighten his torso. He stayed curled up next to me, complaining that his tummy hurt. He kept retelling the story to Scott, explaining that the "big mean kid" punched him in the tummy and pushed him into a wall.

I slept in Robby's room that night, worried that perhaps the punch caused physical damage and concerned that the event might spur nightmares. I suppose I also just wanted to keep him close to me. He woke up no worse for wear with a fairly significant bruise. He is going to be okay.

He wanted to know why the "big kid" was so mean. It's hard to explain to a four year old that some kids are mean, and that some parents are just bad. Robby then told us that he "never wants to see that big mean kid again." I assured him that he wouldn't see him again, and Scott added that in a few years the little bully will probably be in jail.