Hello, my name is Caroline. I don’t know if I have ABS or not, as I have never been given a reason for my different hand, but I was born with a little finger, another “finger”, and a thumb on my right hand.  I am right-handed.  I had several operations as a child when a plastic surgeon made the middle finger into two fingers.  He put the feeling nerve in one finger and the movement nerve in the other finger.  I have ended up with a normal little finger and thumb, one finger that just “flops” and doesn’t really do anything, and another finger that does move, but only has one joint in it so only bends to 90 degrees.  The surgeon thought that I would not be able to use my hand much, but he was proved wrong!!

 

I am very fortunate not to have other disabilities, and to have parents that fiercely wanted me to live a normal life and be treated the same as everyone else, so I am not aware that it affected my development at all.  I learned to pick things up and open doors with my feet and do most things with my left hand.  I feel fortunate having had this from birth and not from injury as I just naturally compensated.  As a family we all accepted and compensated for one another.  I don’t think my brothers or my parents ever thought of me as disabled – I certainly did not, we all compensated for each other - my brother had an allergy to the pet rabbit we both shared and so I took on all of her care – she still belonged to both of us. When I was 6 years old I started picking out melodies on our piano, so Mum and Dad sent me to a piano teacher – she was brilliant and taught me how to play, even with my hand.  Because I started so early, I play the piano without thinking about it and I really couldn’t tell you how I do it – if I try to watch, I can’t play any more!!  I did not take any exams because I did not like people watching me, but I have learned to adapt pieces of music so that most of the piano playing is with the left hand.  I am not a concert pianist, but I find a lot of pleasure sitting and relaxing, playing the piano – I have even played at a friend’s wedding.

 

I did find it hard as a teenager.  Growing up, as a teenager, I had a low self confidence and low self-acceptance, and although I longed to be married, assumed that no-one would want to marry me because of my hand. (My biology teacher was talking about genetics and described a tribe of hairy-eared men which died out “because who would want to marry a man with hairy ears” – this affected me very deeply at the time because my immediate teenage thought was – well my hand is far worse than having hairy ears. Of course I know now that my thinking was very wrong).  I knew that my parents and brothers loved me and accepted me unconditionally, but it was not until I had some new youth workers at my church that did the same that I started coming out of my shell and stop hiding so much. They told me that they had never noticed my hand because I had such a lovely smile, they just saw my face – I have heard that so many times since then that I believe it now!!! I discovered that people stared at my hand, more because I was very conscious of it and because I hid it a lot sometimes.  As I grew older and started waving both my hands about while I was talking etc, people seemed to not notice any more (except when shaking hands or when I was writing cheques etc) and so I started becoming less conscious of it myself.   I did sometimes have a hard time at school with other children staring or whispering about my hand just within my earshot, so my reaction was to always wear a top or jacket with large pockets so I could keep my hand hidden.  This made the problem worse because other kids wondered why I always had my hand in my pocket and kept staring at my hand, but I didn’t connect it at the time.  I remember myself as being very shy and retiring and hiding away at school, but I have seen old school friends since and none of them remember me in that way at all!  I also found out that I was apparently quite popular, but I never recognised that!  It may explain why I was chosen to play the lead part in our end of school movie production even though I had never done any acting in my life before!!

 

I took A-levels and then went on to do nursing.  It was quite hard to get into nursing because it is quite a physical job, but I did manage to persuade one nursing school to take me on.  After that I did not mention my hand to anyone, and it really did not make a lot of difference – I’m sure that that is hard for some to believe, but I have grown up with my hand and learned to compensate, so I did not find anything that I was not as able to do as well as others (although I did need help lifting patients – but I think it was assumed that that was because I am short!!)

 

After a couple of years as a qualified nurse, and 2 years out doing voluntary work, I became an in-flight nurse ( I have always loved flying and loved the job, bringing people back from their holidays after they had been injured or taken ill) and from there ended up in management, setting up and running medical call-centres.  Although no-one was aware of my hand (I have no idea how – I assumed that everyone knew until last year when I caught up with someone who had worked with me and mentioned it in passing – she was astonished and said that no-one had noticed at all!!)  I became known as a “high-flyer” and was very successful in my career, which I really believe was partly due to my special hand as I have grown up solving problems and adapting and that is what we have to do a lot of in business.  I also have found that although I have a very mild disability compared to many others, I have a real empathy with others because I have had a taste of it myself.

 

I met my husband 10 years before we married – we were both in very serious relationships at the time and he was seeing my house-mate!!  In the years in between meeting him and marrying him I had 2 more relationships with lovely guys – but I had become very picky and it was not until Dave moved away that we both realised how fond we had become of each other!! The rest is history as they say.  We now have twin daughters who are 5 years old and I have given up my career as I want to be available to my girls.  With help from my family I was able to breast feed both of them for a year and feel that they have not in any way missed out because of my limitations – in fact I think that they are better for it as they are able to accept people with differences more readily than other children their age.  Because I have now accepted my differences, they do too.  They accept that I cannot lift them in the same way my husband can and they laugh with me when I drop things or can’t hold things properly.  They accept others with differences because I just explain that they are like me, except that it’s their legs or face etc that is different.  They call it my “funny hand” and love the fact that, because it is as thin as my tiny wrist, I can wear their bracelets. They do “high 4s” with me!!

 

I am now just starting up my own business making things to sell on-line and at craft fairs.  I have always loved to make things – have tried most things including glass and silk painting; woodwork; hand and machine sewing; sketching; embroidery; basket-weaving; and many others.  The only things that I can think of that I have wanted to do but been unable to do are – playing the saxophone, marquetry (far too fiddly) and cat’s cradle.  I can live with that!!

 

Just to put things in perspective, there are many things that are physically difficult for me to do.  I can only write for short periods of time as my hand gets tired and loses its strength.  I am unable to chop or prepare food; shopping is difficult now I have children as I like to hold one of them in my good hand, but can only carry the shopping with my little finger on my right hand.  Doing up buttons, zips and fasteners can be a struggle.  Anything that needs a strong grip with a dominant hand is difficult or impossible for me.  There are ways round most things though, I do my shopping on the internet, buy prepared food, type rather than write, dress my daughters in clothes with elasticated waists etc.  My understanding of my special hand now as an adult is that I am a better person because of it – I did well in the business world because of the problem-solving abilities that I naturally developed, I have a patience and understanding that I would not otherwise have and I am a much stronger person – yes of course there are times when I get frustrated, especially now that I am a Mum myself, but overall, I can honestly say that I am very happy with the person that I am.