October is Spina Bifida Awareness Month. Spina Bifida is one of the most common birth defects. According to the March of Dimes, it affects 1 in 2,500 babies in the United States. Here are some important facts about this condition.
The three most common types of Spina Bifida are:
Myelomeningocele: This is the most severe form of Spina Bifida. With this type of Spina Bifida, a fluid-filled sac comes through an opening in the baby's back. Because part of the spinal cord and nerves are contained in this sac, moderate to severe disabilities can result.
Meningocele: With this type of Spina Bifida, the sac of fluid protruding from the baby's back does not contain spinal cord or nerve tissue. There is usually minimal to no nerve damage involved.
Occulta: This is the least severe form of Spina Bifida. It is usually detected in later childhood or adulthood, and some go their entire lives without being diagnosed. With this form, there is an opening in the back, and usually the spinal cord is normal.
Every woman of child-bearing age is at risk of having a child with Spina Bifida. It is recommended that all women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms (mgc) of folic acid daily. This can reduce the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect; however, it is no guarantee.
Spina Bifida is present before a woman even realizes she is pregnant: Spina Bifida occurs at the end of the first month of gestation, when the neural tube fails to form completely.
Now that you have some facts, here are some common myths about Spina Bifida.
A diagnosis of Spina Bifida insures a poor quality of life: False. The treatment of Spina Bifida has come a long way in the past few decades. Most people with Spina Bifida lead fulfilling lives. They live independently, are active in the community, get an education, hold down a job, drive and pay taxes just like everyone else.
People with Spina Bifida will always be lonely because they are not datable: False. This is one of the most common myths about people with any physical disability. People with Spina Bifida are just like everyone else. All human beings crave the companionship of another person. Like everyone else, they can be heterosexual or GLBT. No matter which sexual orientation one happens to have, people with Spina Bifida are definitely relationship material. A common question that is asked is 'can they have sex?' The answer to that is yes. Many have active dating lives, marry, and eventually raise families of their own.
The level of the opening (lesion) will determine how smart they are: False. The level of the lesion in the spine will mainly determine the level of paralysis. Most people with Spina Bifida do develop hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid on the brain. This is treated with a shunt, which has been very successful. People with Spina Bifida are doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, artists, writers and homemakers and are found in most professions.
I have Spina Bifida Myleomeningocele. I can personally say that life with it is not as bad as people assume. I have accomplished all my goals thus far. My goal in life now is to help change the public's perception of people with this disability.