Raising a Child With a Limb Difference! by Katie Kolberg Memmel

We all need some inspiration from time to time! So I decided to dedicate the month of April to “Overcoming Circumstances” on my blog.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would love to introduce you to Katie Kolberg Memmel!

“Love your kids like crazy! Be strong and bold advocates for your children. Through your strong example they will, in turn, grow to be strong and bold advocates – not only for themselves, but for others as well… and for the world around them.”  

A quote from “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born With a Limb Difference” by Katie Kolberg Memmel

Over the past couple of years, I’ve connected with many inspiring people via the internet – including Candida Sullivan. I just love how broadly the internet impacts (in good ways) the world we live in – don’t you? When Candida asked if I’d guest write for her blog this month, I felt honored. She told me that April’s theme would be “Overcoming Circumstances.” I want to thank her for this unique opportunity, and allowing me to share my story with you. Hopefully my insights will make a positive difference.  

As I pondered her theme, I decided that the most basic advice I can offer is this: in order to overcome circumstances, we need to first acknowledge that there is an issue that requires overcoming. And once acknowledged, we need to take action. I do not believe there is a human being on this earth – past, present or future – that didn’t or won’t have something that they need (or want) to overcome. Certainly, each person views their circumstances differently – some present upbeat and positive outlooks, while others complain and sulk – but nonetheless, there’s something that each individual is working on. Guaranteed!

In my younger years, all I dreamed of was to become a mother. So, in 1985 when my husband and I found out I was expecting, we eagerly anticipated our brand new roles of mommy and daddy. Though I’d received decent pre-natal care, ultrasounds were not performed routinely back then. Entering the delivery room, we had no idea what was about to happen. I gave my last push and the doctor exclaimed, “It’s a boy!” At the age of 24, I had given birth to my first child, Tony Memmel – and he was born missing his left forearm and hand.

People talk negatively about “judging.” But in all fairness, I believe there are times that I don’t think we have a choice. I find that judgments of many varieties are made easily and spontaneously. Why, without hesitation my doctor – a professional who’d witnessed hundreds of births – instantly judged our new situation. Though his mouth was covered with a surgical mask, I could read the shocked look in his eyes, and knew something was wrong. My husband also judged the situation as he gently turned my head toward his chest, sheltering me from seeing my newborn son. And when I wriggled free, I also immediately judged. From that very first minute I wondered everything a young parent might wonder: What now? Is everything else okay? Will he crawl? Will he hold a bottle? Will he have friends, play sports or music? Will he ever get married?Before my son had a name on his birth certificate, I’d negatively plotted out his entire life…

I loved my baby – please never doubt that. However, I’m never very proud to admit that I cried about his arm – in fact I cried really hard. I just didn’t know what the future would hold for my sweet baby boy.

About a week into my motherhood adventure, my pastor asked me a thought-provoking question. “Kate, have you considered that God might use this situation for His larger purpose?” 

Ummm, no… I have not considered that. Can God really use a situation like this for His greater good?  I liked the thought and decided it may have merit. With this new thought in mind, Todd and I set out to raise a happy, confident, and independent young man. Piece of cake…

Because of my own early snap judgments, I assumed that other people would judge our situation too. Their possible negative opinions of our new family made me afraid to go out into public with my baby. Often when a stranger admired Tony, they’d notice his arm and become quiet – awkward. At that time, it would have been easier for me to simply stay home.

But a persistent voice kept talking inside my head… How will you raise a happy, confident and independent young man if you never expose him to the outside world? You need to go – get out of the house!  Sometimes the voice had no name. Other times the voice came through loving family members or friends who wanted the best for us, and encouraged my participation in any and all events.

Remembering my pastor’s question, I forced myself out – no more hiding. If the location seemed scary, I figured it was even more important to go. Consequently, Tony and I went everywhere – the mall, the beach, pools, getting fit for prosthetics. When I felt sad and needed to talk about our situation with other people, I acknowledged that emotion and sought support from those who’d gone through similar situations before me.

Along the way, something interesting happened. I got good at confrontation. I learned to look up, make eye contact, and answer questions without crying (although there were days I went home and cried – not going to lie). Through these encounters, I chose to present myself as an educator – welcoming rather than discouraging questions from others. Through this repetition, my son heard my answers and learned his own truth. Every step Itook was a step he took – and eventually, he found his own voice. “I was born this way,” he began to say boldly.

Were kids ever cruel or judgmental? Sure, you bet! So are adults! So are siblings! And in the beginning, so was I, right? People can be cruel and judgmental in every scenario of life. It helped me to remember that whether someone has one arm, or freckles, or glasses, or braces, or red hair, or green snow pants, or shoes that don’t tie, or straight (or curly) hair – the list is never-ending – if someone has it in for us, they’ll be cruel. BUT, I’ve found that the best defense is a good offense. I asked myself what can I offer this situation – Kindness? Humor? Constructive sarcasm? I needed to acknowledge my issues and take action. What might have happened if I’d hid in my house after Tony was born? What if I hadn’t challenged myself to figure out our new situation? Our life may have turned out very differently.

As things turned out, Tony Memmel has become an inspiring and talented man of faith. He’s a college graduate, a public speaker, a musician, a traveling singer/songwriter, who’s married to a beautiful young woman (Lesleigh). He hasn’t let his arm stop him from doing anything he’s wanted to do, including playing the guitar. For his schedule and information, visit www.tonymemmel.com.  

 In 2012, at the age of 50, I proudly wrote and published my very first book, “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born With a Limb Difference.” (Read reviews at www.katiekolbergmemmel.com.) It chronicles my/our parenting and family’s experiences of raising Tony. The book is a labor of my deepest love for my family. If you choose to read our full story, I hope you enjoy it.

God’s Blessings to each of you as you overcome your own circumstances.

Katie Kolberg Memmel’s “Five Fingers, Ten Toes…” is available through Amazon as both a Kindle download as well as a paperback. http://amzn.com/1478368055.

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