Local author shares story of life’s trials

Taking care of a newborn is no easy feat.

From feeding to changing, a baby requires all of one’s attention. Now imagine if the feeding and changing were the easy part. What if when you touched your baby ever-so-slightly, you risked damaging him or her for life?

That is precisely what Gemma Geisman, a former Van Wert resident of 26 years, has written about in her book “From the Seeds of Sadness.” Geisman recounts how she and her husband Dick worked carefully to raise their son, Mike, who was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta when he was born.

Osteogenesis imperfecta is a rare, genetic disorder that is characterized by fragile bones. Just giving birth to Mike resulted in fractured arms, legs, collar bones, and ribs. In the memoir, Geisman talks about the struggle to raise her “breakable baby,” and difficulty in expressing her feelings and helping other to learn of the disorder.

From the “Seeds of Sadness” is not just a book for those struggling with disabilities in their own families, however. “I believe that my book is suitable for a mainstream audience, not just the disability community,” Geisman writes, “I think most people reading it can apply many of the ideas or lessons learned to their own experiences raising children.”

One of the lessons that Geisman had to learn was that of expressing her feelings to the world. Because osteogenesis imperfecta was and is still such rare disease, there were few people to turn to for help. After keeping her feelings bottled up, Geisman decided to send her story to Redbook. To her surprise, the company decided to publish her article.

Feeling uneasy, she checked with her family, and then gave Redbook permission to publish it. However, she was still nervous. “Parting with secret thoughts that have been sheltered for a long time is like having an abscessed tooth pulled. It hurts,” she writes.

Shortly after the article hit newsstands, negative criticism rolled in. But the tone changed as more and more people read her story. Geisman explains, “The negative reactions after the first Redbook piece were very difficult to take. However, the positive response far outweighed them. I realize now that disclosing such personal feelings was not the acceptable thing to do in those days. Personal feelings were kept under wraps as it was deemed shameful or disgusting to even suggest that such feelings existed. Everything was kept hush-hush, hidden, not to be spoken about. Today, things are different. Writers write honestly about their personal journeys with illness or addictions and about recoveries that inspire others to get help with their problems.”

The positive feedback and the joy of helping others encouraged Geisman to find the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. Since 1970, OIF has worked to raise awareness and support for the disorder and those with it. OIF has now spread to 25 states and is able to provide services to over 100,000 people each year, something Geisman is very proud of. “I am very happy, sometimes even overwhelmed by the progress made by the OI Foundation. It now enjoys a very good reputation with researchers around the world. There are so many good things happening.”

It also is part of the reason Geisman published “From the Seeds of Sadness.” “I decided to share our story with the world now primarily for my husband who prodded me constantly during the final years of his life to get our story published. Secondly, I believe that the topic is still relevant and could encourage other parents to seek help when faced with similar difficulties dealing with the illness of a child,” she notes. “I also had been asked by the OI Foundation to write the history of OIF to be presented at a national conference next summer, celebrating the foundation’s 40th anniversary. Since the story was already written in my book, I decided that now was the opportune time to publish it.”

With all of the success that Geisman has had, it is no wonder why she named the book the way she did. She explains the title was “chosen to signify that, from the seeds of our sadness, a firm foundation grew into a strong and flourishing organization with many branches.”

As for the message in the book, it is one that everyone can relate. “I hope to convey to the readers of my book, that no matter how hopeless a situation may seem, there is help available, that there is always something they can do even when told that nothing can be done. I want them to never give up, never stop believing, never stop looking for the good in people and, finally, to never stop loving no matter what. For, in the end, it is often those who are harder to love who need our love the most.”

For more information about “From the Seeds of Sadness” and Gemma Geisman, visit her website at www.gemmageisman.com. To learn more about OIF, visit their website at www.oif.org.

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