Being a young, thirty something, blind woman I usually stand out in a crowd. People are often shocked to see someone my age wielding a white cane as I navigate through my local neighborhood. When my husband and I found out we were expecting just six months after I had been declared blind, the two of us were in absolute shock. The idea of impending parenthood thrilled and frightened us both. We had no doubt in our ability to raise and love a child. However, we knew the words “disability” and “pregnancy” were not exactly synonymous.
As my belly began to grow, I soon graduated from neighborhood oddity status to circus sideshow act. People could not seem to get over the fact that a blind, disabled woman could actually be pregnant and was planning to raise a child. Already scared out of my mind, the intrusive, jaw-dropping questions I received began to add additional stress to my already high-risk pregnancy.
I didn’t want to feel bad about being pregnant. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself for being blind. I just wanted people to be happy for me; but congratulations and inappropriate belly rubs were hard to come by. At a weekly ultrasound appointment with my doctor, I burst into tears talking about the situation. He listened sympathetically during my hormonal tirade, handing me a Kleenex after Kleenex. When I had finished, he put his hand on my shoulder and gently said, “But I have one question, why do you care?”
His words rocked me to my pregnant core and then it hit me. If I was about to be somebody’s mother, I had better grow some thicker skin. I couldn’t succumb to this negativity. Why did I care? I was not going to feel bad about this pregnancy or the baby I so desperately wanted because I was disabled. I decided right then and there if people had the nerve to ask, then they needed to be prepared for my answers and a few follow up questions.
1) Was this pregnancy planned? – The sex was, but the baby was an added bonus. Issues relating to family planning involve two people, my husband and myself. But, if you must know we were thrilled when we found out I was pregnant. No, we didn’t plan to have a baby six months after I became blind. We had tried to start a family for years and oddly enough in the midst of a catastrophic health crisis, it happened. There’s a precious bundle on the way and planned or not, we’re so excited. Can you just be happy for us?
2) You’re not keeping it? – If by “it”, you were referring to my baby, why wouldn’t I keep my child? I’m an educated woman in a happy, stable, and committed relationship. I have the financial means and support system in place to provide for this baby. I want nothing more than to become a mother. The world is filled with disabled people who are capable, competent, and financially stable enough to raise children, biologically or otherwise. Maybe you were unaware?
3) Where’s the father in all this? – Oh, you mean the man I’ve been married to for ten years? The person I share a life with? Are you referring to my husband, the soon to be father, who’s over the moon about impending parenthood….he’s right over there. Disabled people are married. Our relationships are not unlike any other you’ve encountered. We go through our fair share of good times and not so good times. Did you assume somebody wouldn’t want a meaningful relationship with me because of my disability?
4) I didn’t think disabled people were “allowed” to have kids. – Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no law that states people must become sterilized if they become disabled. We have sex. We reproduce, same as you. People with all sorts of disabilities make the conscious decision every day to have children. This may come as a shock but “people like me” don’t need permission from “people like you” to have a baby.
5) But how will you __________________? – How will I change the baby? How will I feed it? How will I get to the pediatrician? Don’t you think I’ve thought about all this stuff? Don’t you think I lay in bed every night worrying about how I can accomplish these things? I’m scared. Terrified even. But here’s a newsflash, what new parent isn’t? I’ve have nine months to make a plan, figure things out, network and put resources in place to enable me to meet the ever-changing needs of my baby. And frankly, since you’re not the one responsible for my kid, then you’re not the one who has to worry about any of it. I don’t have all the answers and that’s okay. Disabled or not, I am about to be a mother, and when it comes to my baby, I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure it has everything it needs.
6) Don’t you think having a disabled mother will be hard on your child? – Yes, having a disabled mother will be hard on my child. Despite my best efforts, I know I have limitations. As a blind mom, I’m might not be the ideal soccer coach, and there is no chance in hell I am going to be volunteering for car pool duties. But, I know having me for a mother means my child will learn determination. My child will know when life throws them a challenge, and there will be plenty, they don’t have to succumb to it. They will understand what it means to have empathy for another human being. My child will know that someone’s disability does not define them as an individual, because it does not define my role as their mother.
So please, if you ever encounter a disabled pregnant woman, don’t make assumptions. Don’t interrogate them. Tell them they are glowing. Say congratulations. Treat these soon to be mommies like you would any other expectant mom and always remember, despite the woman’s disability, loving their baby requires no “accommodations.”