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Learning What It Means to Be a Blind Mother

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I have never had sight. I was born three months premature, only weighing 2 pounds, 1 ounce. Blindness has always been my normal; I’ve never had even a remote concept of what a sighted world is like. For the majority of my life, this fact has never bothered me. I would at times wistfully wish I could see grand things like the ocean, sunsets or mountains, but this was never a prolonged sadness. I had to learn how to do things differently, find other ways of accomplishing things without using vision, but that wasn’t usually a concern. It was just my reality. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

I had my struggles in middle and high school, but don’t most people at that awkward age? I do think some of my feelings of loneliness were due to my blindness, but if I’m being honest with myself, the majority of it was self-imposed drama and isolation.  Shortly after graduating high school, I spent time in a training center for the blind.  Many of the staff there were blind, and they helped me learn how to do things like cook, use power tools, and wild things (that in my older age now I can’t believe I did) like white water rafting and rock climbing. That experience helped solidify for me that I could live my life just fine without vision.  Sight might be a luxury, but it wasn’t necessary.  I could do without it and have a pretty awesome life.

However, about three years ago, something drastic happened to change my view.  This event caused me to rethink my casual attitude toward vision as a luxury; I began to see it as a gift and often wish that I possessed it. I became a mother.  We brought our 2-and-a-half-year-old little girl home from eastern Europe and my whole perspective changed.  Before she came home, I had hardly spent any time caregiving for kids. To be honest, little kids terrified me.

As we prepared to bring our daughter home, I had a lot on my mind. I was very apprehensive of how I would handle the everyday tasks of parenting, from getting her dressed, feeding her, diaper changes (orphanage life on her was rough) or keeping her safe. I wondered if I could really accomplish these things without sight. Would I be a good and safe mother for her?  We had been matched with our daughter because she was blind; it was believed that we would be a good family for her because of my blindness. I would be able to relate and teach her in ways others could not. I agreed with this assessment, but was still terrified about this little person now being dependent on me as her primary caregiver during the day.

Well, as the saying goes, practice sure does make perfect.  I was now her mother and I had no other choice but to learn. With time, consistent practice and trial and error, I am happy to say I am now doing daily parenting tasks efficiently and much more easily than I would have thought.  I found other ways of getting things done without sight, just like I had for other areas of my life. We brought our son home, also from eastern Europe and also blind, over a year ago now and I’ve found I can handle two without sight. Every day they are fed, clothed, bathed, taught (I have found homeschooling to be quite challenging and rewarding) and they have ample time to play. I have happily realized I can do all this without sight after all.

While I am excited about my new role as a mother and am glad to have found a routine and rhythm to do this, I still wish I had vision. I have come to begrudgingly realize from observing my sighted husband that vision is such a practical and efficient tool for getting life done! He can find that one tiny toy my daughter can’t do without by just glancing around our large living room. I on the other hand have to walk the length and width of the whole darn room and still, nine times out of 10, I will miss the obscure thing.  He can tell at a glance if their clothes match. I have to take extra time to identify by touch what they are wearing and remember what articles of clothing go together.  He can take them to a playground and let them play while he watches from a distance and gets some relative quiet.  Or he can actively and easily play with them, helping them find that certain slide or play chase with them around the park.  I can’t do the former for safety reasons, and the latter is difficult and slower at best for me.

Let’s go beyond the practical.  I want to be able to actually see, in the literal sense of the word, my kids.  I want to see them grow up. I want to see how my daughter looks with her new haircut or how she looked last year all dressed up as a flower girl for my sister’s wedding. I want to see them laugh and smile. I want to see their facial expressions when they are surprised or delighted in something.

Now I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way.  I am not bemoaning my blindness; I am overjoyed to be a mom and I think being blind and raising blind kids is a unique and awesome opportunity. As they grow older and wonder how to live life as a blind person in a sighted world, I hope I can be of help to them and teach them well.  But in my more emotional moments, I am envious of those parents with vision. I want you, sighted people, to see (no pun intended there, I promise) the amazing and awesome thing you’ve been given. Don’t take it for granted, learn to truly value and appreciate it and make the best use of it that you can in your life!

I am not writing this to elicit pity or portray a negative or inferior view of life as a blind person. I am writing this to make a point for sighted persons; treasure what you have!  I am also writing this to say to other blind individuals that you can live a complete life without sight. But it’s OK to still wish sometimes or even much of the time that you had vision. I don’t think that makes you weak or cowardly or second class to your sighted family, friends or colleagues. I think that just makes you human.

Getty image by evgenyatamanenko.

Originally published: December 26, 2018
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