From Fear to Free, by Katie Memmel

Thank you, Meg, for asking me to write a guest blog. You are a truly inspirational lady, and your support means so much… In the early hours of December 3, 1985, my journey into motherhood began. When the doctor proclaimed the traditional, “It’s a boy!” my husband, Todd, and I felt emotions most new parents feel: exhaustion, exhilaration, happiness, fear, and deep joy. But also add to our list: confusion, disbelief, and fear (again) – not just the normal fear of becoming parents, but a real fear of how our new baby’s life might turn out. There, in the delivery room, we saw our baby boy for the first time, and he was missing his left forearm and hand. Todd and I named our son Anthony – Anthony Joseph Memmel – “Tony,” for short.  The pre-natal books I’d read hadn’t prepared me for our new reality. Through the hours and days that followed, I experienced new-parent worries, and asked questions I’d never anticipated: Would Anthony play sports? How about music? What about friends or dating? I had Anthony’s life mapped out in one of the bleakest scenarios one could imagine. I cried. And I prayed. My husband possessed more of an it is what it is mentality, viewing things more optimistically than me, thank God!  Together, Todd and I balanced our feelings, rolled up our parental sleeves, and began our ‘mom and dad’ adventures. Sure, I’d had my doubts, but I put them all aside. Our new life wasn’t about me – not anymore. I focused solely on raising a happy, well-adjusted, independent and confident child. We loved Tony, but cut him absolutely no slack. Whatever other kids his age were doing, I insisted he try. Tony amazed us every day with what he could do. Unlike the dim scenarios I’d originally imagined, Tony became his own fabulous person. He accepted that he had one arm, and it didn’t seem to bother him – at all. He didn’t want to be a good one-arm anything. He desired to be good at whatever he chose to do. Period! Soccer, baseball, music – he worked hard and played hard, figuring out life on his own terms – often with humor. Yet, when he announced to his dad and me that he wanted to play the guitar, I admit that we felt a bit thrown. We’d thought trumpet was a good fit. He gripped the instrument with one hand, and fingered the notes with the same hand. Never in our wildest dreams did we think he’d be able to play something as two-handed as the guitar. We actually told him so. But rather than doubt, we challenged him with a deal. “If you raise half the money for a new guitar, we’ll pop for the other half.” Perhaps if he felt ownership to his wants/desires, he’d take his decision seriously. To our surprise, Tony accepted our deal and never looked back. Even at age 13, he seemed to know what he wanted, and kept his eye on that prize. Not only did Tony learn to play the guitar, he excelled at it. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with a Bachelors of Music degree, he now works as an accomplished musician/singer/songwriter. Along with his wife, Lesleigh (who is lovely), they travel the country extensively, sharing his music. Through the Lucky Fin Project, Hands Down, Helping Hands, etc., he has met so many families of children (and adults) with limb differences. He always brings a warm smile and offers words of encouragement. “Work hard at your craft – if you really want to do something, you can accomplish it…” So, on December 3, as I celebrate my son’s birthday, I reflect back on so many things that have happened in our lives. My initial maternal worries and questions have been answered. And I thank God for all the experiences. Happy Birthday, Tony!

Katie Kolberg Memmel is the author of the newly-released, “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born With a Limb Difference.” It is available through Amazon as both a Kindle download and a paperback.

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