Despite my initial disappointment that the Push Girls are all women whose disabilities were due to injury or illness, I’ve fallen in love with the show.
Very little of it appears contrived, the women are candid and authentic, and the show feels more like a serial documentary than most reality show fare. Although the four main stars of the show – Angela, Auti, Mia, and Tiphany – have all been paralyzed for at least a decade, they have also taken another young woman, 21-year-old Chelsie, under their wing.
Chelsie is only a couple of years post-accident, and in the most recent episode, “Fired Up,” some of the differences between her and the other four women were highlighted. Despite not having a disability myself – much less paralysis – I could identify with the episode in many ways as the mother of two children with special needs.
Early in the episode, Chelsie tells the women she is considering a stem cell treatment available in Panama. First, Angela:
“For the first five years,…I was on this healing journey…I understand what Chelsie’s going through. That soon after my injury, I would have gone anywhere and done anything to get some mobility back.”
Many moms of children with special needs – particularly cerebral palsy – can probably relate.
I spent an inordinate amount of time seeking out treatments, therapies, and up-and-coming research on spastic diplegia when Sarah Kate was younger. I knew everything I needed to know about baclofen, Botox, selective dorsal rhizotomy, conductive education, and so on. If a way to “fix” her existed, I was going to find it. Today, I’m much more accepting of her diagnosis.
Later in the episode, the women (this time without Chelsie) discuss stem cell treatment amongst themselves. Mia puts a different spin on the conventional wisdom that the folks who can’t walk, should:
“We all have this mentality that everyone needs to be fixed and everyone needs to be perfect and everyone needs to be walking and that’s all these things do so it’s like cosmetic surgery, in a way.”
Inevitably, the topic of using adult stem cells versus embryonic stem cells comes up.
Auti (who shared on an earlier episode that she had an abortion years earlier) asserts that she believes that life begins at conception, and as a result, she also believes that using embryonic stem cells is morally wrong. Even when pressed by Angela (who calls her position “BS”), Auti is firm in saying that she would never accept embryonic stem cell treatment, even if it meant a complete return to her pre-accident self.
When Sarah Kate was younger, people occasionally would ask me about stem cell treatment, and I held the same position as Auti.
Though there was certainly the temptation to consider stem cell treatment for my daughter, I also felt strongly that the potential benefits of embryonic stem cell treatment weren’t worth the cost. I feel even more strongly about it now that I’m further along in this journey (and have a child whose peers are routinely aborted due to their diagnosis). Not every mom – particularly those who are still new to the world of disability – would agree with me, but even those who don’t have probably had the debate with themselves about what they’d be willing to do.
Finally, in a poignant conversation over lunch, the women talk with Chelsie about her latest physical therapy-based treatment at Project Walk. The women try to encourage her by reminding her of all the things she’s accomplished that she would likely have never done without the accident. Chelsie tearfully responds:
“I just don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to suffer and try to inspire all these other people to do things when I’m not getting any benefit at all…No one’s helping ME.”
Wow. Many times when Sarah Kate was younger, I voiced similar sentiments to my family. I knew that being different in a way that seemed more difficult was good for my character (and hers), and that other people were inspired by my unstoppable, tough-as-nails daughter, and I was okay with that…most of the time. But that didn’t stop me from feeling like it was all very unfair – a feeling that was compounded, briefly, after Nathan was born.
But despite seeing myself reflected in Chelsie’s emotions, the self I saw isn’t who I am anymore.
Today, I identify more with Auti, who believes that her paralysis was like an anointing for a higher purpose, and that treatments that cross a moral line aren’t worth the potential benefits.
Have you watched the show? Tell me what you think!