by Chris Prange-Morgan
In 2011, I suffered a traumatic accident that landed me in and out of the hospital for the winter. Two years and 11 surgeries later, I ended up losing my leg below the knee.
At the time, I wondered: How will I do this? My kids were ages six and four. I knew they needed their mom, but surgically healing pelvic, back, and leg fractures kept me confined to a bed in our living room for three months—scrambling for hope and answers for how our family might keep it together.
I couldn’t go upstairs to help my kids pick out their clothes. I couldn’t do their laundry. I couldn’t cook, make their lunches or get them on the bus for school. I felt robbed of all the things that I thought defined my role as a mother, at least for a while. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to look back not at all that we had lost, but at all the things we had gained.
I had to learn self-compassion, as well as my kids
As a lifelong athlete and compulsive doer, it was hard to learn how to be kind to myself, listen to the rhythms of my body, and ask for help when I needed it.
After my accident, I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do in the ways I was used to. I had to be patient. I needed to set aside self-judgment (not an easy task) and learn how to tell myself: You’re doing great; hang in there; keep going. I also had to learn how to let some things go that simply weren’t feasible and challenge the assumptions that were no longer serving me or my family. One of them was that I was entirely self-reliant (because news flash: none of us are).
Looking back, I now see how helpful it was to learn this self-talk because it’s the same advice I give to my kids: “It’s okay to not be perfect; you’re doing great, just hang in there.” In a hustle culture that prioritizes productivity over mental health, self-compassion is necessary.
Prioritizing became second nature: a life skill
After my accident, it took a while to learn how to function in a body that didn’t always cooperate. I had unpredictable pain flare-ups. My energy levels waxed and waned. I had to adjust to fluctuating limb changes and socket fit issues after my amputation, and this required lots of pre-planning, prioritizing, and adjusting expectations.
I had always been used to packing in as much activity as possible, but living with a disability taught me to rethink my priorities. We couldn’t do all the things, but we could do some things—and really enjoy them.
I began to think in terms of squeezing in quality time over quantity time in all of my family’s endeavors, and this made our experiences much richer, deeper, and more meaningful.
Every day is met with obstacles; we know life isn’t fair and adapt accordingly
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through my experience has been that my children learn so much more from how I live my life than from what I say or try to teach. As a person living with a disability, I’ve learned that life isn’t fair. Life can be hard. Obstacles exist everywhere.
As a result of our family’s collective health challenges, we’ve encountered financial hardship—as many families have. My kids have had to go without many things I’ve seen other families enjoy. It has been really challenging and grueling at times.
This was not the life we had planned for, nor was it the life we had ever envisioned.
Now that my children are teenagers, I’ve had the opportunity to look back and reflect on the character-building that they’ve gone through as a result of all the challenges we’ve faced over the years.
They’re both hard workers. They know life isn’t always easy. They know they have the agency to seize the life ahead of them in ways that are creative and rewarding, and they also have the capacity to appreciate what they have.
I learned the value of slowing down and being present
It’s only been within the past few years (as I’ve approached middle age) that I’ve learned the value of authentic presence, and living with a disability has been the largest contributor to this understanding.
I now work in healthcare, and so does my daughter. We regularly talk about the experiences of patients when they feel unheard, misunderstood, or devalued.
I’ve recalled times while being a patient when I felt unheard or misunderstood, and how it impacted my relationships with my medical providers. These conversations have been invaluable.
One of the most interesting aspects of living with a degree of chronic back pain is that I need to listen to my body. I’ll need to pull up a chair and sit for a spell. This relays a message to patients (and my family) that they matter. It also gives me permission to rest and take it all in.
My kids have learned empathy; they stand up for what’s right
One of the greatest sources of pride for a parent is to witness the fruits of one’s labor in action. As my kids have grown, I’ve seen them both become amazingly compassionate people.
For them, living with differences, challenges or difficulties is the norm. They both see themselves as individuals working to make the world a better place for others, and that’s an amazing feeling for a mom.
It’s really too bad the prefix “dis” is a negative one. Because over time, we’ve all felt more enabled as a result of my “dis” -ability. And that’s a good thing.
In a world that can at times feel overwhelming, and where hustle culture is the norm, I’m proud to embody a reality that speaks to life as it is—perfectly imperfect, ever unfolding, and always revealing new opportunities for learning, growth, and healing.