This is my story
When I was 18 years old I had my daughter Savannah. Being a teenage unmarried mother was deeply traumatic; but learning that Savannah was diagnosed with cerebral palsy was even more so. It was a torrid period in my life. I was married and divorced by the time I turned 21years old.
I mourned in silence the loss of my hopes and dreams for my daughter as I slowly came to grips with the reality of her diagnoses.
Back then (and even now), society was not kind to mothers like me. The disappointment and shame I felt about myself coupled with the taunts of those around me because I was a teenage mother should have destroyed me. The assumptions that I would not be able to parent a child because I was such a young single mother, and more so that it would be impossible for me to parent a child with a disability, chipped away at what little hope and self-esteem there was left in me.
Over the years there were many more losses to mourn but something awakened in me then. The love I had for my daughter steadied me. The reality that the world that judged me was no more capable or better suited to parent this fragile yet powerful little soul that I was given to care for, helped me to shut out those voices. I was given Savannah to care for. Yes, me. The 18-year-old Barbie doll as someone said. I was given Savannah. A child, whose diagnoses set her against the acceptable norm of society everywhere. Not just in a tiny community south of Johannesburg. That sunk in really deeply.
I have journeyed a long way from the 18-year-old who thought she always had to do what everyone else deemed right for her. I was forced to do what was right for Savannah first and I slowly learnt to let go of everyone else’s expectations of me. In being Savannah’s mother, I had to learn to fight for her to be accepted and seen as whole, and valued just as she was while I was still trying to figure out how to feel whole and value myself.
This is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Even for parents who planned their lives and had everything go according to that plan. They also struggle to figure out who they are as parents and how to keep fighting for their children amidst the challenges that having a child with a difference brings. Sometimes the battles are not with other people. More often they are within us. As parents of children with a disability, it is an incredibly difficult and a lonely battle to fight your own preconceptions of who you wanted your child to be.
Savannah has become an inspiration to many people from many different communities. Because of Savannah I married my best friend Michael (she sort of introduced Michael and me); I also have two more souls to care for; a daughter Talisa (15) and a son Eli (10). I have gone on to serve the community of families with people with special needs in varying capacities. From talking publicly about being a mother to a person with a disability; to being a sister to an amputee; to working as an assistive technology advisor; to being a motivational speaker about strength and determination; to offering my shoulder to those who need it; to networking with communities and now as a Tammy Taylor Mrs South Africa semi-finalist; I am proudly ME.
My family has lived through more heartaches and struggles than my 18-year-old self could have imagined she would survive. But she did. Because she learnt that life is frail and must be handled with care. She learnt that there are heartaches that will never be healed, but living with a broken heart doesn’t mean you are broken. She learnt that people need people, but not everyone wants to be the person who is needed. She learnt that unconditional love is real and a rarity. She learnt that God does not give his strongest fights to his strongest warriors.
He helps normal, everyday people to face their difficulties and He never leaves them.
She learnt that…… her true self…… is made up of a million beautiful pieces.
Makeup & Photo by Cathy Heaton