In late November 1986 I was a young and very naïve 17-year-old girl. I had been dating my first serious boyfriend for a few months and we had begun discussing the idea of taking our relationship to the next level. It was now time, I had no choice but to share my secret.
I had grown up living with the birth defect Spina Bifeda. In my case I was extremely fortunate. There were few outward signs of my “disability”; the most obvious being that I was and always would be incontinent. Even back in the ‘80s there were products available so as to mask my problem. Gone were the days of using baby diapers with the inherent fear of someone discovering my secret due to sounds, smells and the seemingly unavoidable leaks.
I use quotations for words like disability because I have never really felt as if I have one. I had spent a lot of time during my childhood in Toronto Sick Kids and I was a first-hand witness to the hardships and the horrors that having a birth defect can bring. I was very lucky, and I knew that even at an early age. I could walk and run, jump and play. This was much more than many others I encountered.
Young children have this wonderful gift to not see differences in each other. They don’t see colour, creed, ability or even the challenges that come with language barriers, they only see potential friends. Spending all of that time surrounded by children of varying abilities instilled this notion in me that we are all different, but we are also all very much the same. I developed this sense of normality. But, more than that, in a way, those years spent in hospital wards cultivated not only my innocence but my strength.
I know, this seems to fly in the face of the idea that I had a secret to share. If I had always felt so normal, why did I have a secret? I was fortunate enough to have very loving parents who treated me the same as they would any other child. I was not restricted by my birth defect, if there was something I wanted to try I was able to and even encouraged to do so. However, there was one thing I was not supposed to do and that was to talk about it. It wasn’t that I was to be ashamed of who and what I was, not in the least. It was a directive driven by fear; the fear of the cruelty of children and adults alike. My parents were afraid that I would be bullied by those who didn’t understand.
It was a dichotomy that I’ve spent many years analyzing, kind of a self discovery exercise. As a child, it was just the way it was. I wasn’t any less than anyone else just because I drew the birth defect card in the lottery of life, but others had no need to know that part about me.
This brings me back to that fateful day in November. I had to tell my boyfriend about my problem. We had spent much of our time together as many teenagers do; hanging out, necking and even some light petting, but that was as far as it had gone. The new products that were on the market meant that he didn’t have a clue about my disability. We were now talking about “going all the way”. I was nervous and scared but the full import of what I was about to tell him never really entered my consciousness. I was who I was and if he wanted to be with me this is what he’d have to deal with. As an adult, looking back on it now, the sheer enormity of that information that I so casually talked about way back when now paralyzes me with fear. I can’t begin to imagine having to tell my first potential lover about my disability, in particular what my incontinence meant to our physical relationship, without the innocence and naivety of my youth.
To his credit he took it well, there was really none of the awkwardness you’d expect from that type of conversation. He was curious, asked a lot of questions and at the end of it he said that he’d like a few days to think about it.
It would be a full three days before I heard from him again. Those were the longest and hardest three days I’ve ever experienced. I was young and in love and I knew I had already found the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. The only question was, did he want the same of me? That was the question that haunted me, the idea of my disability actually being an issue never really resonated with me at the time.
It was a Saturday when he called and asked if it was okay for him to stop by. I was scared, excited and anxious to find out his answer all at the same time. My parents had gone up north for a few days, so I was alone in the house. When I answered the door, he didn’t say a word but just walked in, wrapped me in a bear hug and kissed me. We spent the afternoon watching TV, snuggling together on the couch and that night was our first spent together.
We recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Every day I feel so blessed that fate went my way at least once in my life. The possible consequences of having had that kind of rejection at that incredibly vulnerable moment would have sent me careening into a totally different path in life. In the years since, we have talked about those three days and what he was thinking about. Turns out, to hear him tell it, my disability never really entered his mind. He was concerned about making a commitment and figuring out if he was ready to do so with me. I was very lucky to find another, like myself, that sees the person inside and not the disability.
Photo Courtesy of Michelle Anderson – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
I am a new writer, just starting out, dabbling with publication. I have been married for over 30 years and the love of my life and I live with our two cats in Niagara. During the day I’m an accountant and IT system junkie, by night I am a insatiable reader who is on this incredible writing journey. Every day expands my imagination and desire for everything literary.