When I lost my eyesight in 2012, I never thought I would find purpose again. The loss of my vision was absolutely devastating. In those first few weeks of adjustment, I considered ending my life several times.Thankfully, with the help of my husband, the NYS Commission for the Blind and by the grace of God, I somehow rallied enough faith to keep on living. When I found out I was pregnant, just six months after becoming blind, I knew the universe had a bigger plan for me. I just didn’t think I would ever be blogging about it.
The realization I was going to be somebody’s mother helped me get my emotional and physical priorities in order. There I was, a white cane wielding pregnant woman, in a constant state of anxiety and morning sickness. I searched the internet for anyone who could relate to what I was going through. I found no one. Not a soul. I knew there had to be other blind mothers out there, but it didn’t seem like anyone was actively blogging about their experience. So I continued prepping for my baby, rallying resources, and leaning on my medical team for support.
The Birth Of A Daughter
The day my beautiful daughter, Nuala, was born was one of the happiest days of my life. As I held her in my arms, a paper sign hung over my head that read, “Patient is legally blind.” The sign was meant to alert hospital staff about my visual impairment. But as a new mother, this well meaning piece of paper had a much different connotation. It meant my disability was evident and it would be for the duration of my daughter’s life. I feared my blindness hovering over me, much like the sign above my hospital bed.
I could barely make out my baby’s face. Yet suddenly I was entrusted with raising this tiny human being. Family became aggressive in their efforts to “help” care for my child. The normal stressors of new motherhood were compounded by fear. I was terrified that someone was going to take my child from me, be that child services or family, who believed my blindness rendered me “unfit to parent.”
I isolated my baby and myself into a cocoon of false security. I desperately wanted a shoulder to cry on and for someone, other than my husband, to tell me I was doing a good job at motherhood. Like most new mothers; I needed validation. Those first few months navigating infancy were terribly lonely. My only comfort was on the internet, in the form of parenting blogs. Reading the experiences of other fully- sighted women soothed my nerves, made me giggle and helped me to reflect on my new role as mother.
This blind woman made it through her first year of parenting, badly bruised, but overall unscathed. Two weeks after Nuala’s first birthday, we discovered we were expecting a second child. This time my pregnancy nerves were much more manageable. After all, I had been down this road before. When we brought out daughter, Aoife, home from the hospital in October 2014, I felt confident in my mothering abilities. Validation was no longer necessary. Only three people mattered to me in the world, and they sat across from me at my dinner table.
Finding The Mighty
Aoife was a much more difficult baby than Nuala ever was. She never slept and I found myself awake both day and night. I was exhausted, but by the glow of my cell-phone I came across Mike Porath’s website, The Mighty, an online blog promoting people’s different disabilities. The Mighty was looking for blogs, stories really, about how an individual’s disability impacted their lives. I remember sharing quite a few of The Mighty’s blogs with my husband.
“Do you think I could ever write one of these?” I asked him.
“Sure you could,” he said. “With everything you’ve been through; you’ve got plenty of material.”
A few days later I wrote my first ever blog, “A Blind Mom’s 6 Imaginary Friends” and held my breath as I emailed it off to The Mighty. Within a day, I received a response. To my surprise, my piece had been accepted.
The Words Begin To Flow
Since my first publication with The Mighty one year ago, Blind Motherhood has taken on a life of it’s own. To date, I have written over 60 articles for a variety of sites including: Scary Mommy, Wonder Baby, The Disabled Parenting Project, In The Powder Room, and Her View from Home. I have been invited to do podcasts with people from across the globe and have shared my parenting story with some of the most highly respected blind organizations, including Perkins School for the Blind. I became of Peer Leader with the American Foundation for the Blind and am currently the Coordinator for their Blind Parenting Series.
Every invitation, every publication has been a blessing. Your support has helped set a precedent.
Together we are educating the world that blind parents can raise their children safely, independently and effectively. Blind Motherhood has made this the crux of it’s mission. My personal story, and those shared by my contributors, seeks to diminish any negative perception of parenting without vision; enlightening both sighted and blind readers.
Goals Supporting My Mission
With one year under my belt and two toddlers tearing up my house, I have no intentions of slowing down. As a blind parent, social worker and blogger I would like to see the following changes happen within the blind community:
- World Wide Web Inclusion: I want every single website that is geared towards addressing the needs of the blind community to have a section of resources dedicated to blind parents. The internet is overrun with information dedicated solely towards helping people cope with their visual impairment or for sighted parents raising blind and visually impaired children. How have blind parents not been given a seat at the table? Give us some space and please, make room for a conversation that speaks to our unique set of needs.
- Research: More research must be conducted that strengthens the argument the blind community can parent effectively. We must begin conducting quantitative research that is designed to accurately illustrate the blind parenting journey. Similar to studies conducted on children who are raised with a disabled sibling, researchers must be solicited to examine how children of blind parents develop into adulthood.
- Education & Professional Development: As an alumni of Columbia University School of Social Work, I can attest that there was no mention of disabled parenting practices in any of my classes. NONE. How are incoming and established mental health professionals supposed to service our community, if they are not taught “how” to do so? Professionals must learn there is an etiquette to our situation, one that respectfully sees the parent as a parent, not as his or her disability. Let’s work together to diminish ableism and instead educate those within the field of service. Then, let’s take this concept one step further and venture out into our own communities. I encourage any of you who are currently blind and parenting to speak at your children’s schools, religious institutions or any community organization willing to have you. Show them who you are. Tell them what you do. Not because parenting while disabled should be seen as inspirational, but because it gives us a platform to educate others on how we get the job done.
- Relationships: Whether you’re a blind, single parent or in my situation of raising a family with a fully sighted partner; we need to look at the dynamics of our relationships. Once again, this goes back to research. Does who you raise your children with as a blind parent impact how they develop into adulthood? What kinds of relationships are currently out there? What’s the majority? What combinations make up the minority? I don’t have the answer, but the social worker in me would love to find out more.
- Be Authentic About Blind Parenting: Can we just get honest when it comes to parenting? I mean, there are days when I wake up and ask myself, “Holly, what the hell were you thinking having two kids 20 months apart?” Sure, I have had my fair share of blissful motherhood moments. On the flip side, I’ve also had days when I’ve been covered in children’s bodily fluids. Literally. Blind Motherhood strives to be authentic. When you read the blogs on this site, whether written by myself or another contributor, I want you to leave feeling something. Laugh. Cry. Get angry. Parenthood can be a hot mess and parenting while blind is a situation unlike any other. Let’s get real about it – the good, the bad and the ugly.
- Rally Around The Cause: Blind Motherhood has never been, nor will it ever be, about total views or page likes. I have countless friends in the blogging community who are some of the most amazing writers and blind parents you could ever hope to know. Some of them were born congenitally blind, others acquired their visual impairments later in life. It shouldn’t matter how any of us got here. Collectively educating, informing and demonstrating our parenting abilities needs to remain the overarching goal.
Some Special Thanks:
I could not end a post about the one-year anniversary of Blind Motherhood without thanking a few important people who have supported me on this journey. Thank you to my counselor at the NY State Commission for the Blind, Paula, for providing me with such excellent supportive services, including my Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor Carol and my Adult Daily Living (ADL) Skills instructor, Monica. Thank you also to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for recently matching me with my guide dog, Frances, and to Meagan, my trainer, and her puppy raisers, for providing such a blessing in my life.
Thanks to Arlene Sorkin, Executive Director of IlluminArt Productions, and my boss for my real job. A fellow social worker, Arlene has unequivocally supported my writing and has always encouraged me to share my voice. I treasure her guidance and friendship.
Jessica Marano for her beautiful logo, Amanda Marie Artistry for sharing her wondrous gift of photography and Leslie Means, Editor of Her View from Home, for convincing me to hire Control Yours to redesign my beautiful, new website. David Lano and his team rock!
Thank you to my dear friends, Stephane McCoy (Bold Blind Beauty), Nicole Shultz Kass (Chronicles of a Crafty Blind Chick), and Karen Nagale for helping me keep some shred of my sanity in attempting to balance work, blog and motherhood.
To My Family & Readers
I would not be writing this today, without my “Mostly Wonderful” husband. Joe, as much as you drive me crazy (and that’s a lot), you are my Mo Anam Cara. Your love has been unconditional and your faith in my ability to mother our children is unwavering. I have made it through two pregnancies and almost five years of blindness because of you.
To our beautiful daughters, Nuala & Aoife, you are both the breath to my life. I write this blog with hope you will one day live in a more accepting world, free from discrimination towards blind parents, like your mommy.
Finally, thank you to all the people who read this blog. Lord knows there are plenty of them out there. The fact that you choose to read my posts and support this family with your kind words never goes unnoticed.
If you are a blind or visually impaired parent or are considering starting your family; I want you to know you are not alone. Blind Motherhood is here for you. I am here for you. Continue to grow with us and promise me no matter what hardships you endure in your life, you will “never lose sight of life, love and laughter.”
We’ll see you next year!