"It's just his hand"
I can't tell you how many times we've heard this. We have even said it ourselves. It's "just" his hand. It is only ever said with love and compassion, but it still strikes a nerve with me that I want to try to explain.
"He was born this way so he'll never know the difference"
I call B.S.
There are two things that I always want to ask back to these types of comments:
1. Would you give up one of your hands?
2. Which one of your limbs or senses is the most valuable?
To #1, as a mother I would say of course I would be willing to give up a hand if it meant #MightyWoody would have his. But I'm not even really sure what that means or if I say it because I am supposed to because that is what unconditional love is supposed to be. I've never even broken a bone so I can't really speak to the loss of movement and ability. What I know is that one day, I am confident that to Woody, it is going to mean so much more than "just a hand."
That may happen on the day he figures out how to do something that ten-fingered folk do pretty easily (ie button your clothes, tie your shoes, cut your food, zip your coat, ride your bike, type, open a jar...you get my point). It may also happen the first time he asks me "Why me?" and I don't have an answer. It may happen when another child or adult asks him what happened for the umpteenth time, and he has to answer (for the umpteenth time) but really he just wants to talk about the book he is reading and not about his arm. And maybe it happens because he is recognized for doing something as a "one-handed kid" when all he wants is to be a "just a kid".
To #2, and to the comment of it "just" being his hand and "he'll never know the difference", I am uncomfortable because it introduces the idea of comparisons. And comparisons are a big part of what has gotten us in trouble in contemporary society (aided no doubt by social media and how we can so easily present all the pretty shiny parts of ourselves and invite the comparisons). It is an entirely different take on the concept of "keeping up with the Joneses."
I am not grateful that my son was born with "just" a missing hand. Is it better to be born with one hand rather than one foot? Is it better to be born with just a missing hand instead of no limbs? Is it better to be born with a missing hand than to contract a disease? I don't know. But I grapple with the idea that we are supposed to compare our children to each other and ourselves and through a comparison somehow feel better about our situation. The answer is yes, shit can always get worse. But is that how we want to live our lives? Feeling good because someone else is feeling worse?
But our society is set up that way. We are compared to each other all the time. It is the same way I have felt whenever I have been asked - or heard other people be asked - how much a baby weighs when it is born. I mean I get it. But what does it mean and what will it tell us? It is one of the first quantifiable things we ask about that starts our trajectory of comparisons. And it makes new parents start the incessant firing of questions and comparisons in their brain that literally never let up. For someone to be in first, everyone else is not in first.
To be honest, this whole experience has made me realize that it is absolutely AMAZING that so many human beings are born without more things going "wrong."
And I get what people mean when they say he won't know the difference because he was born this way. Limb loss and amputation are not the same thing as a congenital limb difference. So yes, he'll never know what he's missing. But will he know he's different? You bet he will. I've seen him see it already in himself, in how his clothes are on his body, and in how he moves things around. And I love it! There is so much fun and good to celebrate. But my caution is to not impose my experiences onto him. To not impress upon him this difference that he didn't choose, we didn't choose it for him, and that cannot be explained.
These ideas are complicated for me. It's the stuff I don't want to have to think about. But it really is the stuff of humanity. I want to tread lightly because I don't have a limb difference. I have a very young child with one and he hasn't expressed any of his feelings about it to me yet. And there are adults and children with limb differences that are perceived as "worse" or "better" than how #MightyWoody was born. And that's the rub.
None of it is better or worse. IT JUST IS. And that's why we have to learn to let go of the comparisons. I'll definitely be writing about this idea of IT JUST IS because that is part of my journey to release perfectionism.
But for now, my hope is that for my son - and for all of us - we can relax with comparisons of all sorts and instead celebrate that we are ALWAYS comparing apples and oranges and so there is really no reason to waste time comparing. Instead, I want to convert all of that churning anxiety that is born from comparisons into love and care for each other and our planet.
(This is me and Woody moments after he was born)