A Tribute to My First Advocate: My Mom
My birth came with no real notable complications. I was born crying and kicking my legs, and my parents and older sister were ecstatic to welcome me into their hearts. It was not until I was about 9 months old that my mom started noticing my delayed developmental milestones.
After some neurology appointments and medical consultations, my parents received the diagnosis of my cerebral palsy. My mom asked the doctors what my brain damage entailed and what the likelihood would be of me being able to live an independent life. The doctors told her and my father it would be very hard for me to learn to talk, read or write, that school would be extremely challenging for me, and that I would probably not graduate from high school.
My mom was of course devastated in the way that any parent would be upon learning that so many barriers were suddenly in place for her young child – not only that, but they were barriers she would never fully have to face herself. I have often tried to imagine what it must have felt like for my mother to realize she may never hear my voice and may never attend my high school graduation. I cannot comprehend how frustrated, angry and scared she must have felt.
My mom never felt sorry for herself or let these emotions bring her down – lessons I would soon learn and embody myself as I got older. She did her research and dedicated all of her time to helping me. She knew it would be hard to have a truly independent life if I could not read, so she spent hours and hours reading to me, over and over again. When I was 3 years old and still could not speak, she made me picture books out of magazine clippings with pictures of my favorite foods, TV shows and toys so I could point to them to show her what I wanted without having to use any words. She learned to understand the sounds I would make as my own language – making sure I was always heard before I could even fully speak.
She helped me for hours and hours with my physical therapy and with my homework as I got older. She always was patient with me, and she managed to find the perfect balance of never pushing me so hard that I felt inadequate but never assuming less of me. She insisted I reach my potential.
And over the years, I learned to read, speak and write. I adopted her love of school and literature. I proudly brought home report cards with As. And as I got even older, when I told her through tears and confusion that I am a lesbian, she never faltered in her unconditional love and acceptance for me.
My mom is my friend and role model, but she is also my advocate. She always spoke on my behalf when I was a kid at every parent-teacher conference and anytime a stranger made a rude remark about my behavior out of ignorance. She taught me how to describe my disability in understandable words and how to ask for help. She taught me to not be ashamed of my limitations and to value my body for what it is. And as I got older, I learned from her example how to advocate for myself.
I do not know the woman I would be today without my mother, but I am certain I would not be as confident, brave, determined or resilient without her because it is the unrelenting love and determination of a parent that is the best tool to fight life’s hurdles. On this Mother’s Day, I want to thank my mother for always advocating for me, for helping make the world more accommodating to me and for never accepting the prognosis I was given – for believing I could and would achieve more than the doctors said was possible. Thank you, Mom.