by Ammie Bryant
Mama Bears are formidable. Do not get between a mama bear and her offspring. She is dedicated, brave, and determined to protect her babies from all harm. As a mother, I identify with the mama bear and her protective instincts. I would wager that all the other mamas out there reading this feel the same way.
Recently, I met a fellow human mama bear. Dr. Tamara Richardson does not resemble a bear, but she has the heart. We agreed to meet up at Aspen Coffee in downtown Stillwater. Over a moab smoothie, I learned all about Tamara’s labor of love–inspired by her mama bear instincts.
Tamara came to Stillwater in 2002 to attend OSU. She met her husband, Trevor, here while they were in the same grad school program. Today, she is a psychologist working with University Counseling Services and also has a private practice in Stillwater.
Tamara and her husband both loved Stillwater while attending school and decided to raise their family here. Their first born was a girl, Talia. “Everything went so well with her, she convinced us we were great parents, so we decided to have another,” said Tamara with a smile as she opened up her picture gallery on her phone to show me a picture of her adorable red-haired daughter.
When Tamara became pregnant with their second child, she and her husband weren’t expecting any difficulties. “When I was 15 weeks pregnant, the Penta screening test came back positive for Down’s Syndrome,” said Tamara. “In order to confirm the results, we followed up with an ultrasound and amniocentesis. The ultrasound revealed Reece was missing his right arm below the elbow and had a small hole in his heart.”
Tamara’s doctor decided to test for Down Syndrome, as well as other genetic abnormalities with a range of diseases and potential fatal complications. The tests came back negative for Downs Syndrome, but the overall health of her baby was still in question as they awaited the other results.
“I tell you all of this back story because I want you to understand that I spent the better part of my pregnancy worried about all the possible problems and the life expectancy of our baby,” Tamara tells me. “When Reece was born healthy and the hole in his heart had closed, we were relieved he only had a missing limb.” While some people see limb loss as a tragedy, for Tamara and her family, there is nothing tragic about their Reece.
Tamara knows that her son will face many challenges in his life because of his missing limb. Some of those will be physical and he will adapt accordingly. But some challenges will come from his interactions with others.
She started looking for materials and literature about limb loss. She especially wanted to find a children’s book on the subject that she could read with her daughter to help her understand Reece’s missing limb. She also wanted to find materials that could be used in Reece’s daycare and school classes.
“The mama bear in me wanted to protect him from bullies,” Tamara explained.
Tamara hit a brick wall in her search. “There was nothing. I looked everywhere. There were depressing books about trees who lost their limbs, but that’s not what I was looking for.” Tamara wanted a book that would teach children how to talk to and treat others with limb differences. She wanted to normalize these differences and teach kids to talk about differences while being sensitive to them. “This is just one kind of difference and by talking about it, it brings up other types of differences and encourages kids to talk about it.”
Out of this search emerged the book, Let’s Explore the Missing Piece of Captain Reece. Tamara wrote it. She did the hand drawings for the book and sent them off to an illustrator to be formatted for the book.
There are personal touches throughout the book. The main character is modeled after her son, Reece. The teacher in the book is her daughter who requested that she be drawn wearing a leopard skirt and purple shirt. Three of the school children in the book are based on Tamara’s nieces. Reece’s handprint is on the inside front cover page and his scribbles adorn the table in the classroom on page five.
Tamara’s heart is in this book.
This labor of love came from a desire to help her son, but also to help others understand people with differences of all kinds. It took two years to finish and publish the book, which was released July 2015. It is available online through vendors like Amazon and on Tamara’s website, http://missingpieceofcaptainreece.com.
“I didn’t do this for money,” Tamara told me. “I want it to be a tool to help others. I feel selfish keeping it to myself. I wish I could give them away for free.”