I Worried About Being a Mother With a Disability. Then I Heard These Words.
I was 10 when I sat in our doctor’s room with my mom. “When I get older, I’m going to be a mommy,” I announced. The doctor looked up from his notes, peered at me and said, “I hardly think so.”
I have spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy (CP), which leaves me dependent on a motorized chair for mobility. My CP affects my balance and muscle coordination, which affects my ability to carry out personal errands and house tasks independently. I do have perfect speech and limited use of my left hand. I consider myself high-functioning and psychologically adjusted to my disability. Those who know me well will tell you when I’m told something is seemingly out of my reach, I will find a way to achieve it anyway. I’m that stubborn.
By the time I was 28, I had graduated from university with a master’s degree with honors, traveled overseas, had a mortgage, was in a relationship and got pregnant.
But things were far from perfect. Right from the start of my pregnancy, I felt I’d reached for something I had no right to. When I bought the pregnancy test, the pharmacist asked, “It’s not for you, is it?” So I lied, telling her it was for my friend instead, while I watched relief sweep over her face.
My doctor fell off his chair when I presented him with my positive result. “How did this happen?” he stammered, as he picked himself up off the floor. “Well, you went to medical school, you tell me,” I told him. When my doctor phoned my surgeon to share my news, he was lost for words — apparently. I would have loved to have seen his face when he received the call mid-surgery. “I’m keeping my baby,” I declared with an air of determination in my voice as I left.
On March 28, 1999, a scan confirmed I was eight weeks and three days pregnant. Over the course of my pregnancy, I discovered many in society weren’t ready to embrace me and my swelling belly. I found out who my true friends were after learning about their negative responses about my pregnancy news. I felt I no longer fit in the disability circle because of my pregnancy, but I also felt like I didn’t fit into neonatology services either because of my disability.
Services to assist pregnant women with a disability were nonexistent. But my resourceful and supportive family were able to make slings, so I could feed and support my baby. They also made an accessible changing table to allow me to be hands-on with my baby as much as my disability would allow.
My daughter was delivered by Caesarean section in October. She weighed a healthy 6 pounds 4 ounces and was absolutely perfect. I was so ecstatic and in love with her.
However, my dream of motherhood was vastly different from the reality, and I quickly discovered I could do absolutely nothing for my daughter. Her father was not a very patient man. He had a hot temper and refused to let me try the slings or changing table with her, preferring to do this himself. I was forced to cease breast-feeding her — one of the few things that only I could give her — because of mastitis brought on by stress. All I could do was park my chair next to her cot, touch and talk to her, keeping her calm when her dad threw temper tantrums.
I felt a sense of helplessness. I needed to redefine myself and adjust to my disability all over again. I was depressed and sought counseling. “I can’t do anything for her,” I said tearfully. “How will she know I’m her mother?” The therapist looked at me and said something I’ve never forgotten. She said, “The eyes are windows to the soul. Look into your baby’s eyes when you talk to her, and she will always know you are her mother.”
Twelve months after my baby was born, my relationship with her dad disintegrated. I left him and took our daughter with me. She lived with my parents for three years since there was no support for me to bring her up in my home. I visited her every weekend until I was successful in securing support, enabling my baby to live with me again. She has been with me for 11 years now, and while there have been many blessed moments and many trials, our relationship is as strong as ever thanks to those kind words shared with me nearly 17 years ago.
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