by ShaTavia Godbolt
A few years ago I read an article in Amplitude that said: “For people who lose their limbs later in life, it can be difficult to experience a life-threatening, traumatic experience and then learn to live without something they once had. Not only do they have to learn to mentally cope, but they also have to learn a new way of living”.
This really hit home for me. I grew up able-bodied and learned to do everything with two hands, but that all changed in a split-second when I was involved in an automobile accident and lost my right, dominant arm due to the injuries I sustained. I had to relearn to do basically everything. Although quiet and reserved, I have always been independent and very mature for my age, so I’ve always wanted to prove that I could do things on my own, handle difficult tasks, and “figure it out,” so to say.
I adapted to living with limb loss, and I thought I was pretty successful in becoming self-sufficient and taking care of myself. Then, two years after my accident, I became a parent. Now I had to adjust to doing things for another human! It was no longer just about me. It was about being a mother to my child.
I became an amputee at a very young age—I was 18 years old, a freshman in college. Having children of my own seemed so far from being a reality to me at that time. But when I did become a parent, I knew the time had come for me to clock in and fulfill my parenting duties. Although parenting is one of the most challenging jobs there is, it is also one of the most rewarding. It’s an experience I would not trade for the world, and one that I do not take lightly.
My husband and I now have three children together, 12, 9 and 8 years old. They didn’t start to acknowledge or ask questions about my amputated arm until they got to about three or four years old. At first, I would tell them my story in the simplest way possible: “Mommy got into a car accident. I hurt my arm really bad, so the doctor gave me a new, cooler arm!” My kids were curious, but they didn’t view my limb difference in a negative light. They thought I was superwoman and that I could do anything. This very thing encouraged me. Even when I think I’ve been defeated, my kids have a way of making me feel like a champion. Whenever I bump into my physical limitations, my husband and kids make me feel like the sky is not even the limit to what I can do.
When my kids started going to school, I worried that some of their classmates might be insensitive toward them because of my limb difference. Some children instinctively tend to stare, ask questions, or even point and laugh. This was something I had gotten used to personally, but I feared how it might affect my children if their peers reacted to me in this way. I did not want them to feel embarrassed of me or be bullied because their mommy had a “fake arm.” So I focused on protecting my children during these precious school years and teaching them how to respond to inappropriate behavior—AND how to act appropriately toward those with differences.
I remember one particular conversation I had with my daughter when she was six years old. She said to me, “I felt sad today because my friends said my mommy has one arm. But when I told them what happened to you, they all thought it was cool and wanted to hear more.” All I could think about was that she felt sad. But she reassured me with a hug and told me that she is never embarrassed of me, and that she is inspired by me.
I’ve found that kids love with an unconditional love. And that’s one reason parenting with a limb difference has taught me to accept who I am more than ever. Being an amputee does not define me. Parenting has given me the opportunity to pay it forward and teach my children what it means to be different. Because they’ve grown up with a parent who has a limb difference, they just view it as normal—and they are now beyond their years in knowing how to accept differences in others. They have learned to be empathetic, and they know how to handle their peers’ curiosity about my condition. They actually tell my story now before their friends even notice my prosthetic arm. It’s sort of their way of breaking the ice.
My kids are no longer babies. Part of the fun of watching them grow up is that now I can put them to work helping me out with things I’d normally struggle to do with one hand. They are at the age where they want to be independent and do everything to help Mom and Dad. When a jar is too tight for me to open, they love to flex their muscles, show their strength, and open it for me. They also love to help cook and take care of our toy poodles, Violet and Vincent. In due time, they will also pay it forward and teach their children the same values.
My outlook on parenting is without a doubt different than it would be if I was not an amputee. My husband and children make me feel more confident now than I was right after losing my arm. Age and maturity did play a part, but my family assisted a great deal in how tall I stand today. My perspective has also changed. Before starting my family, I had one arm. Here it is, 12 years later, and now I have nine arms! Oh, the things we can accomplish together with so many limbs!
ShaTavia Godbolt works as a healthcare financial representative and is earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. She lives with her family in Miami, Florida. This is her first article for Amplitude.