“‘We noticed some things about her physical appearance with her hand and foot. She has some missing fingers and toes,’ the labor and delivery staff told my mother after she gave birth to me. A physician was called in to assess me and ensure I had no other abnormalities. I was healthy for all of my life, despite the differences in my appearance. I had several surgeries over the next few years to reconstruct my hand and foot to make them more functional for everyday life.
I was born with what they call syndactyly, or cleft hand and cleft foot. Syndactyly appears as a split hand or foot, often with digits missing. I was born with deep separations between my fingers, and no middle finger on my right hand. My right foot was also split, with toes that grew together on both sides. Geneticists found nothing caused my defect, but my condition resulted from a mutation in my genes. How ironic, a mutant with no superpowers.
I met all the milestones I should have as I developed. My mother says I used my right hand for everything as a baby until my surgery when I was about six months old. I adapted and transitioned to being a lefty, which I still am to this day.
I never remembered feeling different than anyone else, until I finally did. Other kids often asked what was wrong with me. They asked why, and I wondered the same things. Over the years, I was picked on. And that’s when I realized I actually was ‘different.’ I remember in middle school, a girl saw my hand and literally screamed out loud as if she saw a monster. Some of the boys didn’t like me because it was ‘weird’ to not have all your fingers. Fast forward to early high school, I had to take a typing class. I cried every single day because I was failing. Because I couldn’t do it. I asked for help, and my teacher told me to compensate as if I could just grow another finger and do better. It’s hard to not be the same as everyone else, but being psychically unable to do something is so much more difficult.
I was standing in the middle of the shoe store with my mom, crying because the shoes I wanted to buy don’t work for me. I tried to jam my oversized (actually two-toed but grown together) big toe into those cute sandals that have just a small hole for your big toe. And I was in meltdown mode. ‘WHY CAN’T I JUST BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?!’ I knew I had the best mom because she would help me search the store for a pair of shoes that were ‘just as cute’ and had room for my ‘bump,’ which was what we called the bunion on my foot that developed because of my condition. A bunion is a painful swelling on the first joint of the big toe — and let me tell you, it’s VERY painful. I had to buy wide shoes all my life to make room for the painful bump on the side of my foot and even so, I usually just ran around barefoot.
I always wanted to be an athlete. I tried them all- basketball, soccer, track and field, softball. Unfortunately, though, the bunion on my foot caused so much pain I just couldn’t do the running part of sports. And my hand made me not agile with throwing or catching. Then I found the thing I was finally good at: swimming. I spent years of life in the pool, and I finally felt like I could do something like everyone else.
In high school, I struggled with anxiety. I didn’t like the way I looked. I didn’t feel like I was the same as anyone else or good enough. I hid it very well. I hid my feelings, and I hid my defect. No one would have ever known the happy, bubbly Lauren was hurting the way I hurt. I struggled with being in front of people and had so much fear of being judged. I never got to be the person I wanted to be.
Despite struggling with feeling different, I had the greatest support system I could have asked for. My mother had tirelessly taken me to every appointment and sat beside me through every surgery. She found doctor after doctor, even when they couldn’t do anything for me or couldn’t see me. She had to watch me in pain, and she did everything she could for me. My father held me after my surgeries when I was so sick from anesthesia. And he always showed me that he believed in me and that I could do anything. I also found an amazing organization called the Lucky Fin Project that supports those with limb differences and shares the stories of other people just like me.
And that brings me to today. After spending a year crying because of failing typing class, here I am typing this to share my story. I succeeded in school and went on to college to pursue a degree in healthcare so I could help other people. I work as a respiratory therapist. I overcame so many obstacles in school and in my first year of work. I had to learn how to do ABG’s, intubations, and all things respiratory ‘my way.’
After these years of feeling different and judged, I realized differences don’t really matter after all. I recently posted a photo to my Instagram wearing my Lucky Fin Project shirt and showing off my hand. The number of people who knew me, but never knew I was different or had a birth defect at all was unreal. The support I was shown from the comments I had received made me finally come to understand I have lived with all of this fear and shame of being different, and people think I am beautiful regardless of what I think is wrong with me.
I have learned in life you can’t focus on the negative comments, the mean things people say, and most of all, your flaws and setbacks. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, who support you in every aspect of your life, who pick you up and put you back on your path because they know you can do it. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had let my differences set me back. I pushed through. I tried over and over and over again until I got it right. Being different is what made me who I am.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lauren Marple. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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