I was born with ABS in August of 1995. Doctors confirmed the ABS on my hands and one foot, as well as a cleft lip and palate, and a brain disorder called hydrocephalus. My right hand had all four fingers squished together, my right foot had the first three toes formed together. My right ankle and the index and ring fingers of my left hand both showed signs of constriction but did not impair me.
I have experienced several surgeries as a result of all of these medical problems. I estimate about eighteen total, but that’s hard to prove when the majority of them were when I was a baby or toddler. I can remember being as young as three, already knowing the routine. “You’ll first smell something bad under the mask, like your brother’s stinky feet, and then you can smell whatever flavor you pick.” Countless doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists (or sometimes nurse anesthetists) would tell me before each one. I always picked bubblegum.
Over the course of two surgeries, my hand was separated into four nubs. I have a lot of motion in my fingers, but a few missing joints. My toes were separated over three surgeries, but I don’t have any joints in those toes to allow movement. So I can’t wear flip-flops, and gloves look a little funky, but I make do.
I call myself a “forced lefty.” Though my brother and a niece are left-handed, so it is in my genes somewhere, I doubt that I would have been if I had separate fingers at birth. With shoes on, I tend to kick things with my right foot first, and my handwriting is questionable at best. I learned to adapt things like typing on a keyboard and buttoning a shirt with a lot of practice. I even played sports throughout my elementary through high school years. I played softball and volleyball as a small child, but my favorite was Taekwondo. Despite my physical challenges, I earned my black belt in 2012.
Life with a disability is certainly not easy. I was teased as a child, and often wished that I would have been born “normal.” As I got older, I started hanging around people that were more curious than intentionally hurtful and being able to feel like I could share my struggles as opposed to hiding them certainly helped.
When I moved away for college, I started a job as a cashier. Through this, I got to meet a lot of different people, some of which would notice my missing fingers and ask me about them. Some would share similar stories about someone they knew with missing fingers. One memorable customer was apparently a hand surgeon, who told me, “I knew that your fingers have been missing since you were very young based on how well you have adapted without them.”