My birth was atypical.
I was born at 25 weeks – three months before my due date. My mother calls me her “miracle” or “alphabet soup” baby, for all the three-letter acronyms for my various conditions. At birth I weighed 1 pound 10 ounces and was given a 50/50 chance of survival.
When I did survive, I was expected to be severely disabled – both physically and cognitively. Slowly, I was taken off the ventilator as I learned to breathe for myself. In time, I learned to breastfeed without sucking milk into my lungs.
I vaguely remember my three years of physical, occupational, developmental, and speech therapies. Neither I nor my mother remembers when I first learned how to … crawl? Walk? Speak? Only that it happened slowly, with two steps forward and one step back, for months.
I couldn’t read – at least not independently – for the first 10 years of my life. At 15, I’m almost ashamed to say I spell only adequately.
Despite all this, I learned to speak fluently, honed my motor skills, and learned to follow along both physically and mentally. Steadily, I was molding myself a normal girlhood.
There are always those quick to remind me of my journey. When I started school, not everyone was accepting of my differences, and even some who set limits on my future potential. These assumptions deeply angered me. To think that almost strangers could see me and decide who I was, who I was going to be, based on what I had struggled through in the past. When I saw these same biased views cast on others, I felt obligated to protect them. Experiencing my struggles attuned me to the struggles of others.
Throughout middle school, I was there for my bullied friends. I supported my friends who “came out” in school. And I was the voice against racism in my Girls on the Run team as we watched a group of young black men get racially profiled by police.
Throughout my life, I have learned to covet my firm belief in this, above all else: Doing what you can, when and how you can, and doing it one step at a time makes a difference. All change happens as a series of steps – we reach our destination as we keep moving, going slowly, one foot at a time.
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