To Tanzania with Love | The Laurita Spina Bifida Project wants to donate wheelchairs

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.” — Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”)

I don’t really remember what it’s like not being able to walk. As parental anecdotes recall, I was about two years old when I took my first steps. My parents were overjoyed, of course, but probably more than most parents, because I have spina bifida. According to my doctors at the time, I wasn’t supposed to be able to walk.

I may not remember what it was like crawling around the house or not being able to stand up, but, at age 30 now, I am beginning to grasp what it means to have limited mobility. My knees and back hurt constantly, and my wheelchair is getting much more mileage than it used to.

As I recently learned through a good friend I’ve never met, there are people in Tanzania, and in many other countries, who do not know the privilege of owning a wheelchair— what a blessing it is to have the equipment to facilitate mobility.

Little did I know until these past few weeks, that there are people on the other side of the world who would give anything to have the freedom I am often complaining about— the freedom to move.

That’s why my non-profit organization, The Laurita Spina Bifida Project, has offered to help the Association for Spina Bifida And Hydrocephalus Tanzania (ASBAHT) by raising funds so they can purchase wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and a prosthetic leg for a young girl with spina bifida.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

A shifting perspective

It really gives me pause to reflect on how grateful I am for my “inconveniences.”

Over there, where my friend lives, people aren’t griping because someone took the accessible parking space. Or because their wheelchair won’t fit in their friend’s car when she offers to give me a ride.

They don’t complain about these problems because they don’t exist. Because access to the mobility devices they need doesn’t exist.

Many moms of children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus must push their children in strollers instead of carrying them. If they don’t have access to the brain surgery to have a shunt placed, the children’s heads grow until the parents can no longer carry them. Even these strollers are very hard to come by. As for me, I am only vaguely reminded I have a shunt in my head when the weather changes and I feel a slight headache.

This holiday season, I am fully committed to making the freedom of mobility a reality and not just a dream for at least several people in the Tanzanian spina bifida community…people who are much like me.

Maybe this will make a huge, life-altering difference for them. Maybe it won’t. All I know is, everyone needs someone in their life who refuses to give up on them.

I have you guys. Now, it’s my turn to be that person for somebody else.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

How you can help

What we need, first and foremost, is monetary donations. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every dollar makes a big impact when you add it all up. Trust me on this! How incredible is it that for the price of a latte macchiato you bring us one step closer to giving a deserving human being the gift of mobility?

 

Here’s a rough estimate of what each item costs, in U.S. dollars:

• Wheelchairs – $140.00 each

  • Walkers – $70.00 each

• A prosthetic leg for a youth with spina bifida – $460.00

Other ways to help out

If you own a company or know of a company or organization that might be interested in partnering with us to help raise the funds, please reach out to me at laurita.tellado@gmail.com. I truly believe “it takes a village,” and you are all my shining example of that!

Consider this campaign for your company’s end-of-year charitable contributions. Every donation is tax-deductible.

Also, since there are just so many wonderful social good campaigns during this time of the year, we need your help with getting the word out. Please, post to Facebook, Tweet, share, blog, Pin, Instagram post, etc.! There is truly no action that is too small to make a difference.

Please share / post using the hashtags #TheLSBProject , #SpinaBifida, and #Give5ToThrive (because we want to encourage that no amount is too small!).

Keep up with this campaign by following and connecting with us on social media:

The Laurita Spina Bifida Project on Facebook

@TheLSBProject on Twitter 

@TheLSBProject on Instagram

Remember what it’s all about

Finally, keep in your mind and heart that we are doing this to pay it forward. We have been so Blessed throughout this entire process, and I’m grateful for each and every person who has been part of The Laurita Spina Bifida Project’s journey thus far.

In the words of my friend Sifa of Tanzania, the angel behind-the-scenes who has put me in contact with the ASBAHT: “It will be an honor for ASBAHT to partner with you or any other organization or individuals out there with the heart to help the forgotten children, youth, and adults living with SBH in Tanzania.”

Thank you, Sifa. We’ll do our best.

Love,

Laurita ♥

In Case You Are Jealous of My Friday Night

People often comment on my Facebook posts (especially fellow ladies!) saying what a fabulous life I have. They see me gliding from event to event, effortlessly, cozying up to public figures and instagramming delicious food (and coffee drinks)!

I don’t blame you all for commenting, or even feeling a twinge of jealousy or resentment. It’s natural, and to be completely honest, the same thing goes through my mind when I’m instagram- or Facebook-stalking my friends and colleagues.

But, do you want the brutally honest truth? Because here it is.

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There’s A LOT that gets filtered out of my life when I post on social media. Like, a hell of a lot. When I publish a photo of me in a gorgeous dress with my hair and makeup flawlessly done at an event enjoying the company of others, here’s what you don’t see:

You don’t see/hear the laughably-inevitable meltdown/pity-party two hours earlier about not being able to wear the shoes all my other girl peers are wearing (heels, stilettos, etc.).

You don’t see the panic attack I’m having as I’m rushing to make it out the door on time and have to stop and raid every drawer in the house for urinary catheters. Since they are delivered and I need a doctor’s prescription, it’s not like I can waltz into a public restroom with a few quarters and get a catheter out of a dispenser. (But you can easily find tampons or condoms, no doubt!)

You don’t see the frustration I feel when trying to find the perfect purse to match my outfit— that is, one that is sleek enough to carry easily but that will fit at least 5 catheters (because when your LIFE depends on using a plastic tube every three hours, there’s no room for guesstimating. Better to overestimate than…God forbid. And if I have an infection…forget it.)

You don’t see me up all night with indigestion because my digestive tract is much slower than everyone else’s. That expensive dinner I had cost me a good night’s sleep.

But most of all, you don’t see the struggle it is as I try my best to “fit in” (say what you will about being an individual, but don’t kid yourself— EVERYONE wants to fit in) while treading the delicate balance of staying “healthy” (whatever that means, because I haven’t felt “healthy” in many years) and being able to breathe easy and have some semblance of a social life.

That all being said, I know how truly fortunate I am. I have opportunities that many of my peers with spina bifida do not. I don’t lose sight of that.

But, today is Friday. Tonight, God willing, I actually am going out on a Friday night alone (a rare occurrence!) to attend a social / professional function. Just a while ago, I got off the phone after talking to my medical supply provider and my urologist’s office back-to-back. It feels like I am constantly having to negotiate how important a life-saving product is to me. Negotiate how many times a day I am allowed to pee. Can you imagine having your visits to the bathroom regulated? These are questions I actually get from my doctor’s office. (They will actually insist I drink more water, and then ask me why I use so many catheters!)

Not to mention my private medical insurance, which makes me jump through bureaucratic hoops just to be able to receive these bare necessities.

I don’t want to be calculating. I don’t want to be counting catheters. I don’t want to leave half of my meal untouched because I’m afraid of indigestion. I don’t want to walk into the place and immediately scan where the bathrooms are. I don’t want to wonder where I’ll park my wheelchair.

Tonight, I just want to act my age, and know that I’ve earned it. Tonight, I don’t just want to LIVE, I want to feel ALIVE, and know that my posts on social media actually reflect the fabulous reality.

Your Shoes are Killing Me

 

One of the definitive moments of the feature film, “Sex and the City,” shows protagonist Carrie Bradshaw entering the large closet of her would-be new apartment. As the lights flicker on, she takes in the size of it (really, it’s ginormous) and imagines all of the designer shoes she will fill it with.

I cringe whenever I watch that scene, as much as I love that film (can you say, “guilty pleasure”?).

Because I would never find enough “sexy” shoes to fill that closet with, even if I could afford them all.

Because the shoe industry has neglected to make shoes for women like me. Women with small feet. Women with spina bifida

For me, an assertive invitation of “Let’s go shoe shopping” from Mami evokes feelings of being a lamb dragged off to the slaughterhouse.

I’ve been that girl— the one who has broken down in the size 5 aisle of Payless, or many a shoe store. Because they don’t carry anything smaller for me

Indeed, some of my cutest “girly” shoes are in children’s sizes. And yes, they’re flats

I can’t wear heels unless they are even. None of those stiletto-style heels or wedges— even the shortest heels will have me teetering off-balance within seconds of standing.

 

Shoes

One of the few pairs of shoes in my closet that have short heels. I wore this outfit to a vintage-themed event. When I posted this as my profile pic a while back, I received compliments on my cute pose. Little does anyone probably realize I am grasping at the tree to keep from stumbling.

 

As I visit shopping malls and see signs indicating accessible entrances and restrooms, and ramps conveniently placed across from accessible parking areas, I am reminded of how far we’ve come as a society that is striving to welcome people with spina bifida and other disorders.

As I scour the ladies’ footwear section of any major department store, I am cruelly reminded of how far we still need to go. 

Indeed, I think my gender makes things worse for me as a shoe consumer. Men can get away with wearing more comfortable shoes, and even dress shoes don’t have heels. In fact, they could probably get away with wearing the same pair of shoes for a week straight, and no one would be the wiser.

The entire culture of being a woman in the 21st century is centered around footwear. “I don’t know if I have shoes that will match this outfit!” “Let’s go shoe shopping this weekend.” “Oh, my shoes are killing me, and I didn’t bring rescue shoes.” 

Guess what? Your “rescue shoes” are what I would wear to a social function. For me, there is no such thing as rescue shoes, because I cannot wear the shoes you need so badly to be rescued from. 

I can recall so many occasions on which I’ve attended parties with girlfriends. Near the end of the night, they are complaining about their shoes. “God, my shoes are KILLING me, Laurita! You are so lucky you get to use that wheelchair. Can I borrow it?”

No, you may not borrow my chair, because it is not a one-time deal. With this wheelchair, (which I use often for events, especially when I have to resort to wearing uncomfortable boots to match an outfit) comes a lifetime of regret. A lifetime of envy, resentment, and anger, because I cannot wear the shoes that are killing you right now. Because I wasn’t granted the luxury of being able to wear strappy heels that I will remove in less than two hours to dance barefoot on the dance floor after my feet have blistered.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, especially to myself, I LOVE the shoes that every woman loves— the strappy, shiny heels that you seem to glide effortlessly in, while I stumble clumsily in my flat boots.

Because Fate long ago decided that I do not get to live the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy for one lousy night, because that’s life.

Oh, your shoes are killing you? Then by all means, be my guest and remove them. You know what? They’re killing me, too. 

To the Woman who Aborted Her Baby with Spina Bifida

 

Dear Woman,

First off, let me say that I am not writing this on an impulse. In fact, I have given this a lot of thought and have decided to give this situation a “grace period” in which I could cool off, reflect, cry, pray, gain perspective from others in your situation, and allow myself enough time in which to answer you without anger or bitterness.

Of course, this time has allowed me to be more merciful and fair to you. But please know that I needed this time as much as you did. It’s not easy to for me to process my emotions about an issue that is so personal to me.

But, you E-mailed me asking for advice and answers. After choosing to terminate your pregnancy of a child with spina bifida, you want my advice, my insight, my wisdom, on how to have a “healthy” baby.

How’s this?

I have nothing to offer you. No advice, no answers, no wisdom, no tips, no magic crystal ball to predict what your next child will be like. 

My first instinct, upon reading your E-mail to me, was to hate you. After all, you managed to break down wall after wall of cautious, precarious illusion of self-esteem that I have spent 28 years painstakingly building. And for 28 years, it has worked for me.

 

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My Mami when she was about eight months pregnant with me. I am my parents’ only child.

 

When I first began blogging five years ago, I was moved by the many moms who contacted me. Most have had children with spina bifida, and some were pregnant with a baby with spina bifida, and wanted advice on how to handle the birth of a child with “special needs.” Or maybe they wanted solidarity; just the notion of knowing someone else out there in cyberspace can relate. I was elated at the idea of being able to help these women; give them a glimmer of hope for what the future held for their children. I offered them my friendship and unconditional support, and in return, I have been rewarded many times over by their reciprocity, their encouragement in my difficult times, and their genuine happiness at my triumphs.

Then I opened your E-mail. It’s as if five years’ worth of fortresses of support and encouragement from these moms and little white lies I told myself quickly eroded around me. I was exposed. Vulnerable. You shattered my illusion of invincibility.

I built a community of support and encouragement, of sharing knowledge along with the good, the bad, and the ugly about spina bifida. Women all over the world contact me to thank me for simply sharing my story, trivial as it may seem to many. Because the story of my normal yet fulfilling life gives them hope. It helps them to know their children can aspire to this.

And yet, I cannot help you, because you aborted your baby. You cut the common thread we would have shared. Now all I see is a large, dark chasm between us, because I am nothing like you. 

No, I am that child with spina bifida, the one you chose to abort. I look in the mirror, and I see the life that was discarded because it wasn’t deemed worthy of living.

And you ask me for advice because you don’t want your next baby to turn out like me.

And I am angry beyond words. Because in spite of all I have accomplished in my life, no one wants to have a child like me.

Not even my own mother would have wanted that. But she did.

 

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I was about 18 months old in this picture. Whether or not Mami envisioned having a baby with spina bifida, she and I have always been thick as thieves.

 

And that, plain and simple, is what frightens me the most. That maybe, just maybe, your story and my mother’s are not all that different. You each won the lottery that no one wants to win.

I wish you well…and maybe next time, take a second glance at your lottery ticket.

It’s Never Too Early #RSVawareness #PreemieProtection

 

This is part of a sponsored collaboration with MedImmune and Latina Mom Bloggers. However, all opinions expressed are my own. 

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As many of you know, one of my greatest passions in life is raising public awareness of spina bifida and the challenges that affect people living with SB, as well as the accomplishments, talents, and abilities of these very people.

Along the way, I have become aware of so many other worthy causes, in particular other serious conditions and illnesses that also deserve awareness and publicity. It is in sharing information about these causes that I find great purpose.

November 17th is World Prematurity Day. (It’s actually the day after my birthday!)

With many wonderful awareness initiatives, walks, and fundraisers that now take place nationally, it’s awesome to see that much of the public is now more informed about the incidence of premature births.

What many don’t know about, however, is a disease that affects many premature babies– respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

It was the lack of awareness of spina bifida that encouraged me to begin writing this blog in the first place. And now, it’s the lack of awareness of RSV among parents that has compelled me to partner with MedImmune to share this vital, potentially life-saving, information. 

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RSV is a very common seasonal virus that affects nearly 100% of babies by the age of 2. 

Here are some fast facts about RSV and prematurity that  every parent needs to know: 

  • Each year worldwide, 13 million babies are born prematurely
  • 75% of parents don’t know the definition of prematurity (birth at or before 37 weeks gestation)
  •  Most pregnant women don’t ask their healthcare provider about the risk of delivering prematurely and the potential consequences of preterm birth for their child
  • Severe RSV disease is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations in the U.S., with approximately 125,000 hospitalizations and up to 200 infant deaths each year.
  • RSV season usually occurs from November through March for most of the U.S., but it varies regionally, and from year to year.

 

Most of the moms I’ve befriended or who befriend me on social media have a child with spina bifida. As pillars of strength and examples of grace and perseverance for their families, these women would do anything for their families, and it would break my heart to hear of one of their children falling ill with RSV, especially with everything else they already have to deal with because of spina bifida. 

This is why I feel it’s so important for me to share the symptoms and warning signs to look out for when diagnosing RSV. Parents, please be on high alert if your child exhibits any of these symptoms: 

  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Bluish color around the lips, mouth, or fingernails
  •  Rapid, difficult, or gasping breaths
  • Fever (especially if it is over 100.4°F [rectal] in infants under 3 months of age)

There is no specific treatment for RSV disease, so prevention is your best bet. That being said, here are a few simple parents should take to help reduce the risk of your child getting RSV, particularly during high season, which is from November through March:

 

  • Understand the risk factors and ask your child’s pediatrician if your child may be at increased risk
  • Wash your hands and ask others to do the same
  • Keep toys, clothes, blankets, and sheets clean
  • Avoid crowds and other young children during RSV season

 

Yes, this information may seem very overwhelming, and I’m sure that it’s nothing that parents want to even think about. But, as the tired old saying goes, “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” and by taking the proper precautions, parents, especially those whose children have other health issues, will have one less thing to worry about. 

And it’s never too early– or premature— to take good care of our children!

For more information and tips, you can visit www.RSVprotection.com.

 

The Power of Self-Acceptance Begins with You #loveurself

 

Disclosure: I was given a #loveurself T-shirt for participating in this campaign. I will not be compensated for publishing this post. All ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

There are moments when I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. In fact, I hate it. So much that I need to look away. It’s agonizing. 

What’s very difficult for me to remember during moments like these– is that I’m not alone. 

I’m pretty certain everyone has had moments like these, whether we choose to admit it or not.

What I also neglect to recall is that I am so much more than what is being reflected in the mirror. I am a person, a young woman, filled with potential, drive, passion, conviction, intelligence, humor, wit, compassion– and hope. 

 

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What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you see any of those qualities? 

 When I was invited to participate in a fashion show at BlogHer 2010, I was forced to confront these questions myself. I confess, it provoked some tears when I thought of how often I was loathing my appearance.

I had written about this issue some time earlier here, about a subject that is still very painful for me to talk about.

Indeed, I find it very ironic whenever I receive compliments about my looks, because, while there are often times when I am admiring my appearance, a lot of my insecurities stem from this very same aspect.

I mean, where the hell was this pep talk when I was having a b*tch fit at Ross while trying on shoes that I knew I couldn’t walk in?

Yeah. That. 

This is why I felt compelled to join the #loveurself campaign. One of my deepest desires in sharing my personal stories is to encourage others to stop giving others power over their psyches. I know full well just how much headspace I’ve rented, free of charge, to these immature people who probably have a hard time facing themselves. 

As an adult, I feel I’ve been able to let go of at least some of this self-imposed, self-hatred. I’m not in high school anymore, and I don’t feel the everyday social pressures of having to face my peers everyday.

Instead, now I get to socialize– both online and off– with a wide variety of friends of different ages, genders, and stages in life. Many are parents or even grandparents, and have a lot of sage advice and encouragement to offer me.

I feel that it makes a huge difference to be surrounded by people who have achieved a level of maturity that sadly, many of your high school peers never will. That’s a hard lesson I’ve had to learn, especially when I always felt compelled to believe my peers. It’s one thing to know that someone is wrong– it’s an entirely different thing to actually believe it.

The truth is, I think I’ll always have a struggle whenever I look at myself in the mirror. It’s nearly impossible to erase all of the scars of years of teasing, bullying, and emotional abuse from mean-spirited classmates.

But my hope is that, in writing about this topic, and in publishing it, I’m taking that power back. 

I’m so done with giving others power over my self-image, because it’s supposed to be a personal thing, and a positive thing.

The journey towards healing is rocky and tumultuous. Nevertheless, it must start somewhere. 

And this looks like a pretty good place to start.

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

Join Me in Getting Covered #TakeCareChat

Disclosure: This post is part of a campaign with Ad Council and Get Covered America. I will be compensated for publishing this post and for participating in the Twitter chat. All ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

If there’s someone who truly understands the value of having good health insurance, it’s me– trust me. I certainly wouldn’t be here without the vigilant care of many good healthcare providers and nurses, and there were times in my childhood when I was literally in and out of the hospital every other week.

Sadly, more than 1 in 6 Americans don’t have health insurance.

This is mostly due to one of the following reasons:

  • They don’t receive coverage from their employer 
  • They cannot afford coverage
  • They were previously denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition

 

Under the new Affordable Care Act, people cannot be denied health coverage because of a preexisting condition.  This is fabulous news for me, having spina bifida and hydrocephalus! Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies can’t turn me away because of that. 

I feel very blessed and fortunate to have access to good healthcare, and I don’t wish to take that for granted for a single second. But, if you’re not willing to take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to this adorable menagerie of pets who have a message for you:

 

 

What’s more, most people will have to pay a fine if you don’t enroll in healthcare up by March 31st. The 2014 fine is $95 for an adult or 1% of a person’s income, whichever is greater. (The fine is $47.50 for a child, and a family can only be fined up to $285.)

I’ll be joining Ad Council and Get Covered America TOMORROW from 1 to 2 p.m. E.T. during a Twitter chat where you can learn more and ask questions about getting covered. Be sure to follow @GetCoveredUS on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #TakeCareChat to participate in the conversation!

 

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In the meantime, you can visit GetCoveredAmerica.org to find out how you can enroll in health insurance, and to get answers to some frequently asked questions about the process. There are also some pretty awesome tools on the site, like the Get Covered Calculator, which can help you discover how much assistance you could qualify for to help pay for your insurance coverage.

Figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs of the ACA can be daunting, especially since it’s so crucial to your health and to the health of your family. But with the proper tools and resources, you’ll be enrolling in no time– and hopefully by the deadline of March 31st!

 

–Laurita

The Sad Truth About ‘Selfies’ #NaturalDay

Disclosure: This post is not sponsored. I will not receive any compensation for writing/publishing this post. I am writing it of my own free will. All ideas and opinions are my own.

 

I’ve had a lot to say lately on the societal front. And I mean, a LOT. It’s no secret that I’ve always had my major gripes with society, and who can blame me? As a young, naïve, kindergarten kid, it was society that informed me that I was different, and not in a way that would be deemed “acceptable.”

It was children in our society that bullied, taunted, and tormented me, and it was parents of those children in our society that stood by idly, shrugging their shoulders, and letting it happen, while my parents made desperate phone call after phone call to plead on my behalf that they talk to their cruel kids. 

But maybe– just maybe, this wasn’t entirely their fault. Because other parents maybe stood idly by while this happened to them as they were growing up. They learned that some kids are just “born different,” and it’s okay to stand by while they get helplessly picked on because of something in their physical appearance. 

I’ve made some incredible friends in the past four years of being a blogger and online activist. Last night, while flipping channels absentmindedly, I grew bored and decided to join the #NaturalDay Twitter party, hosted by my awesome friend, Nadia Jones, of Justice Jonesie and the Niche Parent Network.

The party’s guest of honor was Sanah Jivani, a girl with an unbelievably remarkable story that I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of until yesterday.

Sanah was diagnosed as a little girl with a rare disorder that caused her to lose her hair gradually. By the time she was in middle school, which is such a critical time in the human development process, she had lost it all.

The target of teasing and bullying, she decided to take a bold step– she took to YouTube and filmed a short video of her removing her wig.

It went viral. She received many supportive and encouraging messages, and she had found her calling. 

Sanah launched a project called “Natural Day” for today, February 13th. The purpose is to get everyone to go without makeup, wigs, or embellishments for one day. The request is simple, but it sends a strong resounding message about who we’ve become as a society. 

We are all smoke and mirrors. On instagram, we are all about filters. 

It’s sad to realize that, in an age so obsessed with “the selfie,” most of these self-portraits are actually staged– with lots of makeup, perfect lighting, and carefully-coiffed hair. Rarely is there any actual spontaneity in these images. And, as a result, rarely is there ever any truth. 

Watching Sanah’s brutally honest video, I can’t help but wonder what my friend Carly Findlay, an Australian blogger and badass appearance activist, would have to say about this topic. She has spent her entire life living with a condition that she can’t hide from.

In a way that might not be obvious to most, I’ve done something very similar with my body– I’ve tried to hide it. I’m reflecting on a post I wrote in 2011, Standing on My Own Two Feet, which I found excruciatingly difficult to write. 

I remember sitting at my laptop, eyes wide and wary, hands cold and clammy, as I hit “publish.” I remember refreshing my Facebook page what seemed like a million times as supportive comments pouring in.

I remember my eyes welling up with tears as I realized that people love me and accept me for who I am.

I remember feeling vindicated. 

So, for Sanah and so many others, here’s my own selfie. No makeup, hair slightly “done” but nonetheless in disarray. No smoke or mirrors– just me. 

 

 

NaturalDay

 

 

Who knows? If Sanah can do this– reveal her true self, little by little, maybe I can, too. 

 

I never go out without makeup on my face, so for me, let’s just say this is a good first step in the right direction.

Be sure to post your own selfies and videos without makeup and with natural hair today, using the hashtag #NaturalDay! And follow my girl Sanah on Twitter @SanahJivani.

We may be a society that is saturated with images of New York Fashion Week models that are rail-thin and wear excessive makeup and high heels, but we’re all human and we can grow. (To that end, did you see this awesome article in HuffPo about the first woman with a ‘physical disability’ to strut the NYFW runway? Check it out!)

Yes, these are all baby steps, and it’ll take a heck of a lot more than just a selfie or two to change long-held standards of “beauty.” But that’s what’s so fabulous about the internet.

It only has to start with one. 

 

For more of my thoughts on beauty and self-worth, please read “The Woman in the Mirror,” my post on the BlogHer ’12 Fashion Show, which I participated in as a model, as well as “Standing on my Own Two Feet,” which was chosen for BlogHer’s Voices of the Year in 2012. 

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

 

 

5 Simple Ways to Help Someone Living with Spina Bifida / #GivingTuesday

 

Giving Tuesday

 

 

Today is Giving Tuesday, a movement for social good that is taking social media outlets by storm. 

Thousands and thousands of people are sharing ways in which we can all give back to great causes. 

I don’t wish to add to the cacophony of causes by asking you to donate to this or that. Instead, I want to give all of you — even those with limited funds some tips on how you can support a friend or loved one who has spina bifida, or who lives with someone who has spina bifida (caregivers need support, too!) 

So, read on for some musts and must-nots.

 

1. Don’t exclude us from social gatherings. 

I remember how painful it was growing up, and the teen years were just as awkward as my early years. It hurt me deeply when I found out some of my girlfriends were hanging out and choosing not to invite me. The reason? They thought I might bring my mom along. Although it wasn’t true at all, it still hurt. My so-called friends didn’t think I was independent enough to attend a social function on my own, without my parents at my side.

If you have a friend with spina bifida, ask them what hobbies or activities they enjoy. Invite him or her to your next outing. If you have any doubts as to what their capabilities or limitations are, ask, but never assume. 

 

 

2. Ask us for help or advice when you need it. 

Believe me. This can actually be one of the greatest gifts you will give someone with spina bifida. Many of us with spina bifida are so tired of being “helped” all the time, and many times people won’t approach us to ask a simple favor out of fear that we won’t be able to help, or we’re too “burdened” by our lives. That, if you ask me, is an even greater burden.

So, go ahead and ask! The worst possible thing we could say to you is “no.” 😉

You might even find that we have a lot to offer and give to others. 

 

 

3. Don’t tell us about every medical study you’ve read about pertaining to spina bifida! 

No, seriously. We don’t want to hear it. Especially if it involves the prevention of spina bifida, medical research is based on a lot of different variables, and while your intentions may be noble, mentioning something like this can sound like you’re trying to “fix us.” Most people with spina bifida go through countless surgeries and hospitalizations, and often have different therapies to learn to maximize their potential, physically. Many times, if there is a procedure we can benefit from, chances are it’s already making the rounds in online support forums for families with spina bifida!

 

 

4. Don’t tell us God will heal us, or that there’s a reason we have spina bifida. 

I’m a deeply religious and spiritual person, and I have my firm beliefs. I personally do believe things happen for a reason, but if you’re saying this to me after I tell you about spina bifida, you’ll come off like a total jerk. Does that mean God chose for me to deal with spina bifida? Maybe. Then again, there are a lot of great things in my life that have come from having spina bifida, and also, a lot of great things that don’t have absolutely anything to do with that.

Still, never put us on pedestals because of having spina bifida. That’s just…creepy. 

 

 

5. We’re not sheltered. You can talk to us about…anything. 

I don’t know where this crazy misconception was born that people with spina bifida aren’t exposed to certain things– like sex, alcohol, rock n’ roll, the rise and fall of Communism, and Miley’s infamous twerkfest. 

We’re human. We read the tabloids from time to time, usually in the bathroom, just like you do. 

And we also like to party. Hey, you can’t expect us to sit around and watch C-SPAN all day, right? (Fun as it sounds.) 

What’s more, many of us have graduated high school, or even college or grad school. We like to talk. And I love Google and Wikipedia! So, even if I don’t understand what you’re talking about, give me about 30 seconds with my phone to impress you. 😉

Oh, and we also have brag-worthy lives filled with riches and diamonds and yachts and filthy-rich-jetsetting, so make sure not to hog the entire conversation. 😉

 

 

Hopefully that sheds a little light on some basic things you can do to keep someone with spina bifida in your life. (Yes, we grow tired of being overlooked, just like you would!) The most important thing to remember is that our lives don’t revolve around having spina bifida. There are so many facets of our lives, and many of them are similar to yours. 

Also, like you, we hate twerking.

Happy Giving Tuesday!  

–Laurita ♥

It Takes a Village

That is, without a doubt, one of my favorite, perhaps overused, sayings. But, I’m a firm believer in its veracity.

I don’t think anyone was put on this Earth to “go it alone,” at least not entirely. If you reach out far enough, there is always someone there.

There has always been someone there for me– many people, in fact. 

For several years, one of those people has been Tracy Jensen. The mother of five beautiful boys, her youngest, Kumaka, has spina bifida. She and I connected on Facebook a long time ago, and since then, her stories about Kumaka’s strength, resilience and overall sense of adventure and humor have encouraged me during difficult times.

Through all of their challenges, Tracy has remained an exceptional mother, as well as a great encouragement to many families in the spina bifida community.

Many parents might raise an eyebrow and think, sympathetically, (and frankly, a little condescendingly), “I don’t know how Tracy does it.” And I’d be lying if I told you the thought hasn’t crossed my own mind more than once. What is most amazing about Tracy and her family is that they always take the time to support their community and involve their kids in great things. Kumaka is currently following in the tire tracks of the notorious Aaron Fotheringham, a WCMX (extreme sports for wheelchair users) pioneer and truly, the resident badass of the spina bifida community. 

While living on the west coast, Tracy and Kumaka also support and encourage Misty Díaz, a runner who has spina bifida and is raising funds to help kids and youth with disabilities compete in sporting events.

So you see, this is a very mutually nurturing community, and our paths often overlap. Now Tracy, the woman who does so much for all our community, needs our help. 

She has reached out– this time, across the globe– and fallen in love with a little girl named Sofi.

Sofi is four years old, lives in Eastern Europe, and she has spina bifida.

During the first two years of her life, Sofi was only bottle-fed and was rarely let out of her crib. As a result, her physical impairments are severe, as she has been deprived of achieving several critical milestones.

 

Sofi Rose

Still, her sunny disposition are encouraging signs that she will continue to improve, and she now lives in another orphanage, where she is thriving.

But, she needs a family, and a permanent, loving, safe home. And so, Tracy and her family are heeding this little girl’s call for help. They’ve decided to adopt Sofi, and bring her home to the U.S., where they will take excellent care of her, as they have for Kumaka and Sofi’s four other big brothers.

Since August 2012, the Jensen family has been tirelessly raising funds to offset all of the costs associated with Sofi’s adoption– the court fees, travel documents, airfare, hotel stays…the list goes on and on. Indeed, the expenses are astronomical.

The moment that they get to carry Sofi into their home will be priceless. You can’t quantify the value of a family’s love

This isn’t the first time I’ve shared my thoughts and heartache over orphaned children overseas who are living with spina bifida. All of the challenges that children face in an orphanage environment are multiplied many times over by the severity of the child’s condition.

In Sofi’s case, we know the sky will be the limit for her– once she comes home. 

In a classic race-against-time, the Jensens have been presented with the possibility of having her home with them for Christmas, but they can’t do this without our support. 

Please take a moment to visit Tracy’s donation site for Sofi and commit to giving $5, $10, $20, $25– any amount will help, and it all adds up. 

If you can afford that latte (ironic, since I’m typing this at my local Starbucks!), you can afford to help bring Sofi home. 

In Tracy’s own words, “We may be on this journey to adoption because we feel led to bring Sofi home, but you all are on our journey too…you are all part of the steps to bring our girl home.”

I feel privilege to be part of the “village” that wants to help bring Sofi home. From the orphanages of Eastern Europe, to the creature comforts of her new West Coast home, it’ll be quite the journey for little Sofi, but luckily, she has all of us to guide her steps along the way.

 

Tracy_and_sofi

It may take a village to raise a child, but it’ll take an even bigger village… to bring her home for good. 

–Love,

Laurita ♥