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Armed with a Choice

Author: Alexis Hillyard
What my inner child wants you to know about having a limb difference. When I turned eleven I had one wish for my birthday: a Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party with pizza and games! My loving parents said “yes”!
So, in the dead of winter they hauled me and seven of my friends to the popular kids restaurant for an afternoon of pure chaos and delight. After polishing off three pieces of cheese pizza, I made a beeline to the ball pit. I jumped and dived and played to my heart’s content until I was happy-tired and sweaty. My myoelectric arm had other plans, however.

Sweaty me made my arm extremely slippery, and after a particularly big bounce my prosthesis slipped off and buried itself deep into the bevy of balls before I could rescue it.

My patient father was called to the scene. He waded through the used Band-Aid-ridden ball pit for what seemed like an eternity, and finally fished out my arm and passed it to my mom through the mesh netting. Mom slid it into her purse, with my prosthetic hand sticking out just enough to raise some eyebrows.

The best thing about my infamous ball pit experience was that mom and dad didn’t let it break the flow of my birthday party. I got right back to having fun. That’s how it always was with my parents.

Since the day I was born without my left hand, they took my limb difference at face value. It wasn’t something to be scared of, to pity, to overcompensate for, or to glorify. It was just a part of me, and they did everything they could to encourage me to feel comfortable in my own skin. Mom and dad never just ‘did stuff for me’ assuming that I’d have trouble with a certain task. They gave me the space to try things out on my own first. And they taught me how to ask for support if I needed it. This gave me an early sense of body autonomy that I believe is extremely important for kids with disabilities to develop.

'My parents always followed my lead. They stopped asking whether or not I wanted to wear my arm on any given day. From then on, it was my choice, and I loved that."

Interestingly, all of the doctors and medical professionals in my sphere strongly recommended to my parents that I wear a prosthesis. (Looking back, I think that children should be able to choose for themselves whether or not they want, or need, a prosthesis - but that’s another story!)

My mom and dad always wanted to do what was best for me, so taking the doctor’s advice, they took me to a prosthetist at the Glenrose in Edmonton to be fitted for a prosthetic device when I was about 18 months old. When we got home and I put the arm on, as mom recalls, I sat there like a lump - not unlike how a cat acts when you put a T-Shirt on it, sort of stiff and awkward.

I did wear it, and I wore other prosthetic arms that I received as I grew, but not super regularly. I had a passive prosthetic hand when I started kindergarten, and after just a few weeks my teacher informed my parents that I would take it off and place it on the windowsill as soon as I got to the classroom. I’d pop it back on before getting picked up. My parents always followed my lead. They stopped asking whether or not I wanted to wear my arm on any given day. From then on, it was my choice, and I loved that.

One of the beautiful things about being able to choose when and what types of prostheses I wore or didn’t wear was that it gave me room to explore and do everyday things with the body that I was given. (I recognize that I was very lucky to have financial support for prosthetic limbs from the CHAMPS Program through The War Amps of Canada).

I was able to learn my natural limits and push them at my own pace. This allowed me to grow a sense of bodily autonomy and confidence that stayed with me throughout my life.

My family helped me navigate my young life with a limb difference in another wonderful way too. My sister, mom and I would play ‘school’ together before I went to kindergarten. My sister would pretend to be a kid in my class and pose a lot of different questions to me about my arm. Sometimes she would even pretend to be a bully and make negative comments about my arm. My mom would carefully support me in crafting comfortable responses that I could have ready for any type of encounter - good, bad or ugly.

Doing these role-plays enabled me to build an entire lexicon related to my limb difference that I could tap into any time I needed to. It boosted my resiliency and confidence in ways that still impact my life today. I am forever grateful to my family for the ways that they enacted their love for me, and for how they always made sure I felt comfortable in my own skin.

Follow Alexis on Instagram: @stump_kitchen or Tiktok: @stumpkitchen.

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