‘She was BORN like that!’ My ‘superpowers’ were activated by his words.’: Mom with limb difference shares experiences, ‘You’ll help others just by being you’

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“My mom told me the story when I asked about her reaction to my arm. ‘The room was quiet, you were quiet. I was waiting for you to cry, it took you a minute, till they put that warm blanket on you. You didn’t like that! I asked if you were ok, they were hesitant, the doctor and nurses. They said we’re missing a hand. I asked again, is my baby ok?! They responded yes. GIVE ME MY BABY!’ My mother recited this to me with such feeling. She was fiercely protective of me. My limb difference came as a surprise to my parents. I mean, it was 1982, ultrasounds and anatomy checks at 20 weeks weren’t regular practice yet. I asked her what it was like learning about my ‘disability’ when I was in my early teen years. I wanted to know the truth. Was she sad? Did my arm or lack there of affect her? That’s when I first encountered mother’s guilt.

My parents had been trying for two years when I finally came to be. My mother recounts a horrible pregnancy, undiagnosed, she had what we would know as hyperemisis gravidium. She almost lost the pregnancy that she desperately wanted. To aid with her sickness, her OB prescribed a medication that was on the market for morning sickness. It helped and she carried me to term, two days late, according to her. My mother expressed guilt regarding my arm, taking the blame for it, because it was suggested that the medication caused birth defects, though she wasn’t aware of that when she had been prescribed it.

Upon my arrival, they were confronted with a world of unknowns and doctors who couldn’t advise or give any insights. Unfortunately, my parents were presented with incorrect information and worse case scenarios due to the lack of understanding surrounding my limb difference. She may be mentally handicapped, she may be delayed, things will be harder for her, etc. My parents didn’t care. They took me home and treated me as any other child. I was their only child, after the horrible pregnancy my mother had she said she would never do it again, haha. Plus, with all the unknowns she told me she wanted to make sure I had everything I needed. She was a stay at home mom, a former police officer, in my hometown, Fayetteville, NC. My Dad, he was the hardest working man I ever knew, who took it very seriously to provide for his family. Working for a tire manufacturer, he did hard labor working six days a week to make sure my mom could stay home with me.

They weren’t acclimated to the medical world or the world of having a child with one hand. So they looked for help and were directed by friends to contact the Shriner’s Hospital. The closest one to us was in Greenville, SC. The local shrine assisted my family and I became a very well cared for patient of theirs when I was around 9 months old. That’s where my prosthetics journey began.

little girl with one arm holding a stuffed animal
Courtesy of Kim Stumbo

My family and I would travel down to Greenville two times a year to attend the prosthetics clinic, check my progress, growth, and participate in their team meetings for my best care. I loved that hospital. It was a treat for me to go. We stayed in a hotel, I got to miss a few days of school, and we always did something fun. I got to show off new tricks I would have learned, or come to them with requests. For instance, problem solving when I wanted to play the cello beginning in 5th grade. Between them, my dad, some velcro, and duct tape it happened! They knew I was an active child and participated in sports, music and everything a typical child would, I never let anything hold me back. That was their goal, with or without a prothetic, that the kids were living their lives to the fullest and however they could assist they would. Because of their charity, I was able to receive prosthetics that cost 10s of 1000’s of dollars, at no cost. I am forever grateful for their contribution and the role they played in my life.

From as far back as I can remember, my arm was not seen as a limitation, to my parents, it was just normal. We had fun and inside jokes regarding it, my dad was a huge jokester. Proudly parading around the mall with me on his shoulders and as I handed him my prosthetic, because I was tired of wearing it, would put it in his back pocket, with the hand sticking out. Yes, a hand sticking out of his butt… And dared anyone to say anything negative. It was all in good fun! Halloween costumes were always a fun adventure, dressing up as a doctor who cut her own hand off, carrying around a bloody prosthetic. The reactions of ‘Great costume!’ My reply ‘Thank you, it’s real!’ As I wave my nub. To candy being dumped in my bag because that adult felt bad. Haha.

I had a happy childhood. I knew I was different, but in elementary school it didn’t affect me. I was the only one handed kid I knew of in the entire town, the only other amputees around were the Vietnam vets. So I was on my own in that aspect. I had plenty of friends, and few ‘bullies,’ mostly just moments where unkind things were said, usually by strangers or people new to me.

Middle and high school brought about different challenges. I knew I was physically capable of anything I wanted to do, I was a smart kid, did well academically, but when it came to self confidence…. that plummeted fast in those years. Just like most girls, I struggled hard with self esteem, how I looked, and now my physical difference came into play. It was quickly expressed that I was not like other girls, duh, one hand… I am aware. But, now it’s a problem when dating and such. Those were the years where I put on a smile, but I was hurt behind it. I lost my carefree, I can do anything attitude, as I questioned whether anyone would ever love me?

woman with one arm in a tree
Courtesy of Kim Stumbo

My mom watched as I cried in the kitchen, as teenage girls do, over things we look back on now as not important. But, at that time, I was devastated being the outcast. Being different sucked, and all I wanted was to be seen as was ‘normal.’ I fought hard to fit in, not be seen as different. I was just Kim. Not Kim with one arm. I didn’t want to be her. Even during the negative moments my mom would tell me, ‘You help so many people just by being you. You will always help people by being you.’ She hated seeing my confidence leave and my spirit drop to just wanting to be ‘normal.’ I didn’t hide my arm, but I didn’t flaunt it either. In photos, I always posed where my arm wasn’t visible. I did this for years. During those years, I questioned whether I would ever get married, have children, and live that, ‘happily ever after.’

woman with one arm sitting down at a table
Courtesy of Kim Stumbo

As fate would have it, I did get married, and I did have kids. My confidence was still wavering in my 20’s as I embarked on motherhood. I questioned my worth, my ability to mother, and also how my child/children would be affected by my visual difference. That time came when I was already in my profession, Occupational Therapy. That was full circle for me, helping other children with disabilities. I bonded with them. I loved kids, but could I have one?

I knew the looks, questions, and everything I dealt with as someone with a visual difference/disability. Could I put that onto a child? My head spun with doubts. No, I can’t have my child picked on because their mom only has one hand. I heard the taunts in my head. I questioned it even up to the birth of my first child. Once I held him, I knew I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. I also knew I have years to prep him for anything that may be said. I mean, the school years were the ones I was worried about. So, I stepped into motherhood, scared out of my mind for multiple reasons, some similar to most first time moms. Others were specific to me.

HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS????? I didn’t think this through. Alas, no turning back. I have to figure it out. My mom, unfortunately, had passed away when I was just 18. I didn’t have her to lean on and help me figure anything out. I had myself and a few friends. They were supportive, but they could only advise as far as what a baby needs, not how I am going to do XY&Z with one hand. That was all on me. I wasn’t a part of any groups, social media was just really coming about, this was 2008. I didn’t have any examples of how to do things one handed. I just winged it and figured things out as we went. Taking care of my baby the best way I knew how, I still feared judgement from the world. I felt the stares, I could hear their thoughts. Some days I was fine and sassy like, ‘YEA I AM DOING ALL THIS WITH ONE HAND!’ Other days, I didn’t want to be seen, I just wanted to exist as everyone else.

mom holding her newborn
Courtesy of Kim Stumbo

Time went on, first words, first birthday, first steps. I was in my groove. So I thought. I continued to work, be a wife, and a mom. The thoughts of my abilities being questioned lingered mostly in the background, but would peer their ugly head every now and then with new daycares, new states we moved to, new play groups. Sometimes they were fleeting moments, fleeting thoughts of ‘Am I a good enough mom?’

But, that all changed with one moment. It all happened when my oldest son was around 3 years old. ‘She was born like that!’ He proclaimed loudly, standing protectively in front of me as I kneeled on the ground to answer his little classmates question. It was a moment that lives on forever in my memory. The moment that gave me life, my ‘superpowers’ had been activated, by his words. This little human who I had birthed, stood in front of a sweet classmate at his daycare after he heard her ask ‘WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR ARM?!’

This was nothing I wasn’t accustomed to, I’ve heard it almost daily for all of my current 39 years. But, at that time, it was probably the first time that my son had heard it and was affected by it. My deepest fears of my limb difference negatively impacting my children vanished. I heard it in his voice, his love for his momma, he didn’t care that I have one hand. He loved me for me. See that mom guilt my own mother had regarding my arm. I now had it.

My son freed me of questioning myself, if I was a good enough mom for him. I was, I had always been. He knew it before I did. Him standing fiercely protective and the pride in his voice that I was just me. That I was HIS MOMMA. I knew I never had to worry about my fears coming true, that my children would ever feel or be shamed by my limb difference.

mom with 1 arm and son in Halloween costumes
Courtesy of Kim Stumbo

I went on to have two more boys, because God knew I didn’t need more hair to do when I barely liked styling my own hair.

My boys are now 6, 9, and almost 13 years old. They are full of life, energy and are my greatest achievements. Despite my fears, my greatest dream growing up was to be a mom. During my time as a mom I found my voice. My children are the reason I started sharing my story online. I had heard the saying, be who you needed when you were young. I needed to see someone like me. I wanted to see a mom, just as my mom was to me, but one with a limb difference. I needed to see a role model who was someone regular, not a movie star, not a model, not an athlete. I needed to see what my life could be, as just a mom.

Not saying that I’m like every mom out there, or that my kids don’t get experiences that aren’t out of the ordinary. My children have the unique experience of having strangers come up to their mom asking what happened to her arm, or ask about my prosthetic when I wear it. My children also get to hear me yell random things like ‘Bring me my arm!’ ‘Hold my nub!’ (when crossing the street), or purposely holding down my arm when we are roughhousing. They go for the weaknesses…savages.

They also have the blessings of not judging someone based on their disability. I have prided myself on them understanding that even if someone has a limitation, allow them to do it their way. Don’t automatically do something for someone. They are able to respect others and accept people for their differences.

Now as positive as I have been, it’s not always sunshine and roses. My kids have had experiences that I feared. They have witnessed others mocking their mom, they have seen extra attention and whispering when I have been in their schools. They have also seen their mom use these moments for education. They have seen their mom as PTA President, as a key note speaker in schools around our area, and at different organizations discussing disability awareness and inclusion. They have seen their mom with her head high, because I know they don’t view me as anything other than their mom. The one handed thing comes after the fact. I’m their mom first, oh and by the way, ‘She has 1 hand and a nub, sometimes wears a robot hand and is a superhero!’ As my youngest son would say when introducing me to his classmates.

Back to being who I needed when I was little. I started sharing my story online, then decided to write a comic styled children’s book back in 2018. I had been dubbed a ‘Wonder Mom’ by friends who expressed that all I did as a mom was admirable, and I did it with just with one hand. So I birthed ‘The Adventures of The One Arm Wondermom’ where I was my own superhero, and my children also had their own superpowers related to differences they have. After not wanted to be seen as different for so long, I had realized that my superpowers lied within what made me different. My fears for my own children had been erased by the power of unconditional love. I then felt protective over the little kids who were different, the little girl with a limb difference. I didn’t want them to ever question their abilities or worth. So, I needed to share my story to give them an example they could look to.  The scared new parents who were thrown into a world they weren’t prepared for when their child isn’t the ‘typical’ 10 fingers 10 toes baby can see that their child will be just fine. They can grow up to be whoever they want to be.

The media is wonderful sharing stories of triumph with athletes and celebrities. But, that’s not everyones path or dream. It wasn’t mine, my dream is what I have under my roof, my three gifts, the ones who drive me up the wall, but melt my heart all in one breath.

I look back at the scared teen who questioned her worth, who questioned her abilities. My eyes fill with tears as I write this. ‘Oh hunny, you have nothing to fear. You will be everything they need. You are the best mom for your children. Hold your head up sweet girl, your time will come where you will see the power in your difference, how magical you are and how you will help others just by being you.’ They say hindsight is 20/20. All the moments of doubt, walking the path alone as mom with a limb difference, allowed me to have these wonderful experiences with my children. These experiences that have allowed me to gain confidence not only in my mothering skills, but also having the confidence to share my story.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kim Stumbo from Chesapeake, VA. You can follow their journey on InstagramTikTok, and Facebook.

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