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. 

My Actual Letter to the Mother who Aborted her Baby with Spina Bifida

 

A note to my readers: 

Recently, I received an E-mail from a mom who contacted me for advice. She had a pregnancy affected by spina bifida, and at the recommendation of her doctor— she chose to abort. In addition, she wanted my advice on how NOT to have another baby with spina bifida. As you might have read in my previous post, I felt the entire gamut of negative emotions upon opening and reading that E-mail— anger, sadness, judgment towards her, and just an overall sense of melancholy that seemed to pervade my emotions for several days. 

In a desperate attempt to sort out my thoughts, I took to the only place I felt I could safely share my heart— this blog

 

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The backlash was almost immediate. I expected there would be pro-choice advocates (I am still very much on the fence in the abortion debate— so don’t ask me) who would argue that she acted on her rights. Really, I anticipated that. 

What I didn’t expect was the anger and vitriol that spewed, even from moms of children with spina bifida who know me personally. I was accused of not being a good advocate because a good advocate “doesn’t think of her own feelings.” 

How is it even possible to do that!? I could never put my own feelings aside, for it was my own feelings that helped me become an advocate for the spina bifida community. It is my emotions that fuel my passion for activism and education. I could never turn off my emotions. That is just absurd. 

However, I also was not prepared for the outpouring of love, support, and encouragement from many friends and followers who applauded my article. They felt it was a good tribute to how many parents of kids with spina bifida— and adults with SB, especially— feel when they come across stories like these. I will be forever grateful especially for these people, for they buoyed my spirits up during one of the most challenging times I’ve encountered in my 5+ years of blogging. 

What a difference four days makes! 

After a few days away from the circus (really, it was ridiculous!) I decided to finally reply to this woman with a clear head and lighter heart. I’ve also been physically sick with various illnesses which have had me very preoccupied. 

So, without further ado, this is what I actually said to her— verbatim, raw, uncut, no edits. And it was from the heart. 

 

Dear _____________,

Thank you so much for contacting me. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to contact someone with spina bifida after losing a baby with spina bifida.

First, let me say I am very saddened and sorry for your loss. However you lose a baby, it is heartbreaking and it must be so difficult. I admit, upon first reading your E-mail, I was quick to judge you. I felt angry that you did not want to have a baby with the condition that I have, as if having spina bifida means that my life is not worth living. This is why I did not answer you immediately. But after much thought, crying, and praying, I have come to realize that there are many like you who do not have the information they need to make this decision. I know for a fact that many doctors put pressure on mothers to have an abortion when spina bifida is diagnosed.

I have lived with spina bifida my whole life, but I have never been a mother, so of course, my advice is based on what I know from having spina bifida myself.

But, I receive many E-mails from mothers who are pregnant with a baby with spina bifida, and many who have children with spina bifida.

Let me start by saying that there is no way to guarantee that you won’t have another child with spina bifida. Nobody can promise you that.

Sadly, there has not been much research or information about spina bifida until recently. Honestly, the only way to guarantee that you won’t have a baby with any disorder or disease is to not get pregnant. A B-vitamin called folic acid has been shown in recent years to help prevent a child from having spina bifida, but even if you take it as recommended by a doctor, it only works about 70 percent of the time. So, that is not going to promise you a baby without spina bifida.

Here is the link to some information about folic acid published by the March of Dimes, a wonderful organization that helps prevent birth defects and support families of children affected by birth defects: http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/folic-acid.aspx

Finally, because you seem very determined to not have a baby with spina bifida, the final piece of advice I can think of offering you is this: if, by chance, you do end up having another baby with spina bifida, please know that it is NOT a death sentence, or a tragedy. 

I have met many, many families who have children born like me, with spina bifida, and who, like me, grow up to be happy, successful, even healthy adults. Yes, they sometimes go through many surgeries or other medical complications, but most can grow up happy and make friends, and as adults, get jobs, go to school, and even get married and have their own families. I have played with many children with spina bifida I have met through these families, and they are absolutely beautiful and precious, and very smart and active.

It is possible to have spina bifida and live a happy, healthy life. 

I work as a blogger, writer, and social media professional. My work has taken me to different places, as I am often invited to speak at events and conferences around the United States. I have connected with adults with spina bifida and families all over the world who reach out to me for advice or simply to know that someone else understands.

I do not mean to say that I never get sick or feel pain, because I do. I have had 19 surgeries and many, many hospital visits. My family has been through a lot, and it is not easy. Pain is a part of life, and even “healthy” children will get sick, get hurt, and suffer at some point. Every parent feels their job is to take away their child’s pain, but like my parents have done with me, their job is to stand by me, to hold my hand when I am having a hard time. They are my best friends and love me so much.

So please don’t think that having spina bifida means I have had a horrible life. Thank God, I live a wonderful life and I feel grateful for every minute of it.

I hope this serves to encourage you, no matter what doctors say, no matter what others say to you, to be the best mom you can be for your child, whether he or she has spina bifida or not.

That’s all you can really do.

 

May God Bless you and please contact me if you want to talk some more. I am here.

Laurita

 

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.

I Don’t Always Have Spina Bifida

 

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Photo courtesy Macbeth Photography: MacbethPhoto.com
 My life consists of many awesome events…and many funny photos! 

 

 

Yes, I know. That’s quite the inflammatory title.

This is a topic I’ve been reflecting on for a long time. I’ve read many articles and posts on both sides of this 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 this– to a certain degree. 

To be sure, even now, in writing this, I am on the fence on this subject.

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 not, 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 nazi who is constantly editing other people’s words as well as her own (I seriously can’t help it!).

 

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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.

 

Goats*That awkward moment* at Disney when you can’t figure out why the goats love you so much…and later on you find the bag of edamame in your purse. -_-

 

 

 

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…well, then, I’d never make it out the door on time.

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 ♥

My Sin of Omission

DuctTape

 

Yeah, it’s been a while, to say the least.

I spent the last few hours posting photos, status updates, and responding to Tweets about an event I attended in Orlando, and which I plan to write about on my other blog.

Earlier tonight, I put on my casual-dress-professional-cold-weather attire and was present at an exclusive preview tasting at a chocolatier.

I sipped great wine, ate fine chocolate, and mingled with friends, old and new.

We exchanged lighthearted conversation about our blogs, and weighed in on other recent events many of us have attended.

I exchanged hugs, social kisses, and sincere thanks to the people who hosted and invited me.

And I did it all with the utmost sincerity. Of that, you can be sure. 

No one knew that, for about a week, I’ve been dealing with a persistent, painful bladder infection that has me cringing every time I pee (a.k.a. “self-cath,” but whatevs. Peeing is peeing.).

No one probably imagined that, every night for the past three nights, severe bladder cramps have kept me up late and have almost brought me to tears. (Well, not really close to tears– but only because I have a pretty high threshold for pain. I’ve grown “accustomed” to it, if that’s even possible.) 

No one could have known that, just this afternoon, I was on the phone several times with my urologist’s nurse, scheduling what will be my first appointment in years with him. I’ve been in a urology limbo of sorts, because he is a pediatric urologist, and while technically, he is supposed to see patients until they turn 21, I am a “special case,” because I have spina bifida and an augmented bladder. He performed my bladder augmentation surgery– my most invasive and dangerous procedure to date– when I was 10, and I trust him with my life. 

Indeed, no one, save for my parents, would have known any of this, because, simply put, I haven’t talked about it. 

And why would I talk about it?

Since the holidays, I’ve been to numerous blogger events, celebrated birthdays, weekday happy hours, workshops, and the like.

My posts on Facebook have often been the trigger for playful, harmless jealousy. Friends often comment, wishing they had my life. From what I usually post on my Facebook profile, I can’t say that I blame them. By all accounts, I seem to lead a pretty fabulous life. 

I’ve got news for you, though.

Everyone omits on Facebook. 

Yep, that’s right. From the bitchiest posts to the statuses that are downright inspiring, we are all guilty of carefully vetting and considering the content that we post on our social media profiles. 

Why would anyone assume I am an exception? 

In fact, if anyone has good reason to filter her output, it’s me. 

Because my girlfriends don’t want to hear during our ladies’ night out about how my urine stinks of ammonia and looks as murky as swamp water.

Because, as bloggers, while we all over-share to an extent, no one wants to hear at a professional gathering of social media influencers how Miralax isn’t doing the trick for me just yet.

Because, God forbid I should choose the joyful family Christmas dinner in Puerto Rico as the venue for disclosing how I’ve totally slacked off on my neurosurgery stuff and am now desperate to schedule a follow-up with my neuro to find out the results of my MRI, which I had done before the holidays.

Because God forbid I be more human than people can actually bear. 

Unsurprisingly, the issues I just described above (and many more) are very common topics of discussion on many of the private online groups and forums I’m a part of that pertain to life with spina bifida.

You might find it odd, but I actually don’t share too much in these groups. Don’t get me wrong– I’m eternally grateful for the love and support many of these people show me and others with spina bifida. I’ve forged many great friendships with parents of children with SB, and with adults with SB, all over the world.

I guess that I don’t feel the need to share everything about the spina bifida part of my life with them. Heck, they majored in this, as did I!

But I want to share it with you. 

And I want to be able to share honestly and openly with you– without any of the following responses that I’m dreading right now, and that I always dread:

1. Pity. Please, absolutely NO “I’m sorry you have spina bifida” talk. It makes me feel as if you believe that living with spina bifida is pitiful and shameful. And trust me– I don’t need that. 

2. Discomfort, awkwardness, squeamishness. I’m sorry if I slip up during lunch and casually mention I have to go cath. Usually I say “pee,” but occasionally I will slip up and make some allusion to the fact that I use a plastic tube to urinate. Obviously, I overlooked the fact that you are not as used to this as I am, and any remark that you make along the lines of “ew” and the like will only make you come across as a jerk. Please, grow up and get over yourself. Call me when your pee is prettier than mine.

3. Holy talk. You know what I mean here. I consider myself to be a religious/spiritual person with my own faith and personal relationship with the Creator. And if you say you’ll pray for me, I’ll gladly accept your prayers, good vibes, etc. But please don’t attempt to make yourself feel better about my ailment by saying that “everything happens for a reason.” It’ll upset me, and will only serve to make me wonder why this “everything” doesn’t seem to be happening to you. 

Simply put– I don’t expect everyone in my life to relate to my struggles, anymore than you might expect me to relate to all of yours. If you can’t relate to the situation, that’s perfectly fine. I think admitting you can’t understand what it’s like, is actually the first step towards putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

The ugly truth about life is that permanent chronic conditions like spina bifida can’t be cured, anymore than you can bring your deceased loved one back from the dead or force the cast of F•R•I•E•N•D•S to do a reunion.

It’s just not going to happen like that.

We all go through difficult, challenging, brutal stuff. So from here on out, I promise to try to level with you. I’ll try to be honest.

Are you willing to try to listen?

 

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”   –Albert Camus 

 

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 ♥