Reading through this young woman’s story for the first time, I was both thrilled and intrigued. Her story sent a number of emotions through me. I was awed by how much and how well she was able to handle her son’s physical disability and turn it into an advantage and a strength. As someone who has a brother who is struggling with another type of physical disability, I can quite relate. Her story encapsulates the genesis of the problem, the journey through the years, the struggles she has had to face and the eventual victories. Her name is Anne Bessong and you will enjoy this story and be inspired by it down to the very end.
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I got married in December 1994 and on January 3, 1996, our first baby was born. At birth, David was just like any other baby until he cried or smiled. Then his whole face shifted to one side and the contorted sight wasn’t nice, to say the least. That was how our journey into the world of physical human disorders started. The doctors called it partial facial palsy, asked us to observe him till he was over 9 months old and we started getting referrals to go to different places.
After he turned two, I got fed up & stopped taking him to the Children’s Hospital. I just ensured he exercised his facial muscles by chewing on all the recommended stuff we had been told to use.
Just before he turned three, we travelled to America where a doctor commended David for being well-behaved and handed him a lollipop. David accepted it, smiled and said “thank you” & the problem started! The doctor began to ask several questions as she wrote down everything. Next thing, she brought out her pager, sent a message and some other doctors rushed in. We kept a few appointments before we returned home to Nigeria and he continued with his schooling. Needless to say that every time he cried or smiled, he was made the butt of jokes and jeered at because his face got contorted as it shifted to one side.
At age 5, David began to ask questions about people’s reactions to his laughter or cry. I got tired of telling him not to mind them, got tired of making excuses for their insensitive behaviour, got tired of buying him toys to take his attention away from it all. I quit my Media/PR job and had to become a full-time teacher so as to be closer to him. (I grappled with the financial step-down for a while).
Fortunately, he is very brilliant and so each time he got laughed at and came to me, I’d bring out a mirror and ask him to smile at it. I’d then ask him what happened. He would reply that his face moved. I’ll ask him to look at the mirror without smiling. He would say his face was okay. Then I would smile at him and tell him in a firm voice that his problem was outward and so temporary. I would also encourage him that it would have been a big problem if an internal organ that we couldn’t see was affected. I encouraged him to be the best at everything and after some years, he believed that the problem with his face wasn’t as bad as his peers with woeful results since that meant they had a problem with their brains!
And that was how my son went through primary and secondary school. People still made fun of him, laughed at him when he laughed instead of laughing at the joke he was laughing at. But I had groomed him to develop a thick skin and instead pity their lack of knowledge. He even went a step ahead each time he introduced himself and always added that he was born with partial facial palsy which made his face shift to one side when he smiled or laughed (remembering to add that it wasn’t contagious). Against all odds, I groomed David and his brother (who I had after him) to be complete gentlemen, God-fearing, well-behaved, focused, respectful and helpful.
In December 2015, at the age of 19, my son graduated with a First Class in Network & Telecommunications Engineering from Universitie Africaine Du Management Et Du Technologie in the Republic of Benin! He was posted Bayelsa State for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)! I talked about it with him and my young hot-cake First-Class engineer was excited and expectant about going to serve in Bayelsa. Even at the Orientation Camp, he was nominated the Social Leader of his platoon!
Today, I can claim without sounding boastful that I’m one of the best teachers there is! My pain led me to a profession I’ll never give up for anything. Today, I encourage other mothers and help them see that indeed there is light at the end of the tunnel. Today, I can say with even more pride that I have a son who conquered stigmatization to become the best in his chosen field of study. He has since completed his NYSC and is leading a normal life like any young man his age.
To mums out there with children facing challenges, let David’s story encourage you. Focus on the good in that seemingly bad situation and work on it like raw gold in the refiner’s furnace. The journey may not be easy, but the outcome is sure worth the effort! His face still shifts to one side but years of exercise has reduced it a tiny winy bit and we’re grateful for that little improvement!
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