J.C. Hannigan shares something with her sons: a rare chronic pain disorder.
It’s common for little girls to dream about their wedding day, about having a family and taking care of babies. I know I dreamed of those things, before experience opened up my eyes to my would-be reality.
When I turned 16, a girl from my school got pregnant. She was also 16. I remember being a little jealous, because I wasn’t going to get pregnant. By then, the fanciful daydream I had as a child of holding my own baby was gone. In its place was the hard truth: any children I biologically gave birth to would have a 50/50% chance of inheriting my genetic bone disorder, Hereditary Multiple Osteochondromas.
I was in and out of hospitals, having surgeries to remove the bone growths and try and counteract damage. Surgeries were exhausting, and I pretty much had at least one a year for many tiring years. The recovery was never fun, and each surgery left scars – both physically and emotionally.
Surgeries aside, there was the day to day pains, the severe loss of self-esteem when I became aware of the fact that my body was different. I felt repulsed by it. I wore layers even in the summer, making sure that my bone growths and scars stayed hidden from my peers.
“You don’t have to worry about me. I am going to adopt. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if my baby inherited this,” I remember stating to my mother when the conversation came up.
There are days when it is blatantly obvious that I have not forgiven myself, and I may not ever truly get to that place.
When I was 18 years old, I met my now-husband, Matt. I gained confidence and self-esteem, simply from seeing myself how he saw me. We were focused on each other, on having fun and not taking life seriously. Then I found out I was pregnant.
I was terrified and excited at the same time. I honestly didn’t think about my hereditary disorder…not even when I was in genetics counseling having all kinds of blood tests done. I told myself it would be fine. I rolled the dice with genetics, hoping for them to land in my favour. I was excited to have a baby with the man I loved,
I prayed that they would be healthy, and that the baby wouldn’t inherit my HMO. But he did, and our next child too. My eldest son is affected more by it, but thankfully neither of them have needed surgeries just yet.
I dance between feeling incredibly guilty about it, and wanting to punch myself in the teeth for feeling guilty. Our sons are beautiful souls, they are remarkable on the inside AND the out. I can’t imagine my life without them.
I consider myself a better person because of my struggles with HMO and chronic pain. I am incredibly empathic towards those around me. And it’s not the worst thing out there…I am thankful every day that I at least KNOW this disorder, and it isn’t terminal.
Still, I would be lying if I said that their future struggles didn’t terrify me. I know what it’s like, after all I LIVE this.
The list of things I cannot do seems overwhelmingly long. I cannot stand for long periods of time, I can not walk far. I’m never without pain and I’ve had to let go of dreams because I knew my limitations would get in the way. For so long, I felt ashamed and unworthy, because I couldn’t work regular jobs like “everyone else”. I worry about their futures and their abilities to work and provide for themselves.
I also know what it feels like to feel hideously different from peers, and to be bullied. I still remember what it felt like to be called “Disease Girl” and “Crutch Girl” and “Crippled”. Kids are cruel when they don’t understand things, and I worry about my kids feeling the same way I felt. Devastated. Isolated. Less than.
I don’t want my boys to ever experience that kind of despair…but hopefully, that will give us all an advantage…my knowledge and understanding. Hopefully, neither of my boys will feel as isolated as I did…because they’ll have each other, and me.
Photo: J.C. Hannigan