Today, that baby is an eleven-year-old girl named Sheriauna with a vibrant personality who dances through life despite her limb difference. Determined to show her daughter and the world that there is power and strength in difference, Sherylee put pen to paper to tell Sheriauna’s story in I Am Sheriauna, an illustrated children’s book. The book is not only helping to start important and compassionate conversations about amputees between children and their caregivers, but it’s providing much-needed representation for children with amputations. I had the opportunity to learn a little more from Sherylee about the moments that led up to the book and the impact telling Sheriauna’s story has had.
1. Tell me about when you were pregnant and found out Sheriauna was going to be born without her left hand.
I completed my 20 week ultrasound on a Friday afternoon and on Sunday morning I went to church. While sitting in service a thought popped into my head. "What would I do if my baby was born without a left arm?" I immediately told myself not to think like that; that my baby was fine. The pastor's message was based on Psalms 139:13-14: “For you formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works and that my soul knows very well." This became a source of strength for me as I went through my pregnancy. The next day, on Monday morning, I received a call from my OBGYN who asked me to come into her office immediately. I instantly began to worry that something was wrong. Once I saw my doctor she told me that my baby did not have a developed left hand. At first, there was sadness and blame. I tried to find answers through the process of genetic screening that we were advised to complete; it resulted in no conclusive answer. It just was what it was. Once she was born I was so thankful that she was here that nothing else mattered.
2. What do you think has been the biggest challenge for Sheriauna thus far?
Sheriauna's biggest challenge was handling the curiosity people have about her arm. From a young age, because she could not fully explain to people (and we cannot educate everyone in a split second), I would tell her to say "God made me this way and I am special." As she has gotten older, she has become better at expressing herself but it is still a challenge for her arm to sometimes be the first thing people see.
3. She looks like an incredible young woman, is this how you imagined she would turn out or has she far exceeded your expectations?
I have always believed that each person, regardless of their age, has a purpose in life. Sheriauna has such a bright personality and attracts positivity wherever she goes. Her kindness and empathy for others were evident from the time she was a toddler; that is what I am most in awe of about her. In addition to that, as a parent, I always had great expectations for her life. She is inspirational to many people, both children and adults, not because of her limb difference but because of who she is as a person. She perseveres through difficulties, isn't afraid to try new things and if she finds it difficult at first, she will keep trying to achieve her goal.
4. Tell me about the moment you were inspired to write a book about your daughter. What led to it?
I wrote this book when Sheriauna was about 4 years old in 2010-2011. It was during a time when Sheriauna was having difficulty explaining her arm to people when they asked her randomly. Sometimes she would be okay with the questions and at other times she would get upset depending on the circumstances. It was difficult for her to always have to explain herself and why she was born this way when there were no clear answers. I asked myself, "If there were some things we would want other parents or children--people in general--to know what would they be?" So I began to write.
5. What does Sheriauna think about all this?
Sheriauna is totally excited about the book and she loves sharing it with people. When I first showed her the first illustration she was so excited and she cried because she was happy to see someone that looked like her in an illustration. A lot of times growing up she would ask why dolls don’t have her complexion or her hair texture or a limb difference. This book is empowering in so many ways for her: she gets to share her story with the world and we begin to hopefully open the door to creating more diversity in books and media.
6. What has the reaction been like from the public? Have you gotten any letters or messages about how the book is resonating with people?
The public has been great! I have received a lot of support from friends and family and from people I do not know who have seen a shared post through social media. One woman was gifted the book for her daughter and we were able to connect in person which was awesome. I have received great feedback through my website and also through Instagram. The message is that people appreciate our openness to share our story as well as to see the opportunity to share with children that we are all different in a unique way.
Parents really appreciate it because it a great way to start a conversation with young children regarding disability, differences, and being kind to everyone.
7. What's the biggest lesson you've learned out of this process?
Through this process, I have really come to understand what purpose really means. There is a lot of talk about finding your purpose and doing what you love. If you are fortunate enough to tap into something that is of true value to you and you are patient, things will come together. This was a long journey that is still not complete but I have a voice, Sheriauna has a voice, and the message we are sharing is something that people really appreciate. Many people want to learn and understand; they sometimes just need someone to start the process.
It is important to change the narrative around disability. My daughter is not an inspiration because of her limb difference; she is an inspiration because she doesn't let it stop her from moving through life and accomplishing her goals regardless of the difficulties and challenges she may face because of it.
Sherylee and Sheriauna will be at the Chapters Indigo bookstore at Kennedy Commons for a book signing meet and greet on September 9th from 11:00 am-4:00 pm.