A clinical psychologist’s memoir about how she uncovered the truth behind the family secret that surrounded her disability.
Cronin was just 3 years old when she realized that while her siblings had “two legs and a bunch of toes,” her own body ended at the knees. When she asked why, her Catholic mother would say that it was because God had chosen her “to carry the cross.” Yet none of the other members of her family ever treated her as though she were different. That all changed when she entered school. She wore prosthetic legs but discovered that she would have to fight to win other people’s acceptance. Despite her physical challenges and the fact that her mother would be diagnosed with mental illness, Cronin still managed to have a relatively normal adolescence, which included parties, boyfriends and a healthy dose of sexual experimentation. It wasn’t until college, though, that Cronin became painfully aware that she wasn’t just, as one therapist suggested, a “mermaid” making her way in a two-legged world: She was disabled. Anger drove her to alcohol and to the destruction of meaningful personal relationships. At the same time, it also fueled her break with traditional Catholic expectations that she dedicate her life solely to motherhood and pushed her to demand answers about why she had been born legless. Investigation into her parents’ pasts finally confirmed what she had long suspected: that it was her mother’s use of thalidomide during pregnancy that had caused her deformities. Cronin’s confrontation with family secrets eventually allowed her to enjoy a successful career and marriage.
Perhaps the greatest achievement with this book, which brings to light one of the great medical tragedies of the 20th century, is that she is able to tell her story with a winning combination of candor, grace and humor.