Bree O'Boyle

@breeoboyle | contributor
I am an amateur writer with a disability just trying to share my view on the world with people who might understand.
Bree O'Boyle

My Mother Lost Custody of Me Because She's Disabled

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, my biological parents filed for divorce. At this point, they’d been married around 10 years. They got married on August 23rd, 1986, and when I watched their wedding video, it seemed like my mom was over the moon in love with my dad. It was my mom’s first marriage, but my dad had already been married and divorced once before with a son from his first marriage — my brother. I came along about five years into their marriage and — according to my aunt — after quite a bit of fertility treatment. My mom wanted me — even though she knew there was a really good chance that I would be disabled. I never knew that until recently because I was brought up on lie after lie from my dad. My mom was 25 when she got married and 29 when she had me. She was a really great mom from what I can remember. Of course, this is now that I’m an adult and have brought up years of memories from before my dad got custody. My dad is a man who is known to have a fuse shorter than I am — which is pretty damn short — and he already abandoned one child from his previous marriage. As it turns out, he had two more children we didn’t even know about. He somehow got full physical custody and joint legal custody of me — a small child with complex medical needs. He had no experience, no support, and on a good day, he was flying by the seat of his pants. My early memories of my parents are honestly a bit muddled. I remember my dad laying around a lot complaining about how tired he was and constantly falling asleep and snoring loudly during whatever movie or TV show I was trying to watch. My mom, on the other hand, was always trying to figure out things to keep me busy: books, projects, coloring, and crafts. She was the queen of being over-prepared. I often had to be in the car for hours in order to go to my medical appointments a few states away, but she would always make sure we had a car version of my favorite games. I also had this little troll tape player where she’d recorded a cassette of her reading my favorite bedtime stories. I had cassettes of some of my favorite songs too. My mom made those trips bearable for me as a small child. She also made sure I always ate the right foods, got my vitamins in, and brushed my teeth, and she would sit and do my homework with me. She’d even take the time to read my terrible handwriting so she could understand what I was trying to say. Why then, you might ask, did my dad — who never even knew my favorite color, made me a meal, or stayed awake long enough to play a game with me — get full control of me as a child? Here is the truth: My mom was disabled. You see, both my mom and I have dwarfism. My mom was on SSI most of her life. She tried to get the odd job, but her body often gave out right when she needed it most at her jobs, and then she would have to go back on SSI. However, she was completely capable of being a mom. If you ask anyone who really knew her, they’d say I could not have asked for a better mom, even though for a long time I disagreed with them. My dad had me convinced for a long time that my mom was the worst — a terrible person who had ruined my childhood and stolen my dreams. This, however, was far from the truth. The question on many people’s minds was how my dad had convinced the family court of the fantasy that my mom was a terrible parent and he could take care of me. The truth is, he didn’t have to. My mom was in her mid-30s at the time and she was on SSI. She was disabled. According to a report by the National Council on Disability, 13 percent of parents with disabilities lost custody of their children, and parents who have physical disabilities are more likely to be treated with discrimination in a divorce case where child custody is involved. 13 percent might not seem high, but it is when you are part of the 13 percent who lose their child or children simply for being disabled. Could you imagine having your entire parenting career judged solely on something completely out of your control? From what I can remember, my mom was great. She had her flaws too, but doesn’t every parent? Every year I was with her, I earned “A” grades in school. I also had no major discipline problems. As soon as my dad got custody of me, though, I was constantly in the school nurse’s office in school for one ailment or another. I was constantly sick, but honestly, I think I just missed my mom. To this day, my father is an incredibly spiteful man. Do I think he wanted to gain custody of his youngest daughter just to spite his ex-wife and potentially ruin whatever relationship we had? Yes, I do believe he would stoop that low. My dad didn’t have his own place or even a steady source of income when he was granted custody of me. He was living with his parents “temporarily” while he found something better. It was a completely inaccessible house where I didn’t even have my own bed for months. If I had been allowed to stay with my mom, I would’ve lived in a mortgage-free house, had my own bedroom, been fed a balanced diet, and been able to see my dog — who I adored more than I can say. My dad somehow managed to even take away my mom’s visitation rights not much further down the road. It started out with “supervised visitation” with my mom, but then visitation stopped altogether. My memories of my mom started to fade, and my young mind was easily twisted against her. I feel terrible about this now. She passed away last May on Mother’s Day around 8:00 a.m. She finally lost her battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression, and her body just shut down. I remember my mom laughing and making funny faces when I was growing up, but when I last saw her coherent, she was a shadow of her former self. She was not smiling or laughing but instead lying in a hospital bed in a local nursing home. She was not one who accepted pity, but honestly, she didn’t look like the mom I remembered. I still love my mom dearly and miss her more than words can say. I never got a chance to completely mend my relationship with her and for that, I will always be filled with regret. What I hope to bring to light is that parents with disabilities are losing their kids to less fit parents because people with disabilities are still being discriminated against in court. When I was 16, my dad allowed an infection in my leg to almost kill me, claiming I was being “overly dramatic” when “Ghostbusters-colored” goo started oozing from a hole in my leg. My mom, on the other hand, would rush me to the ER even if I twisted an ankle — which I did often as a kid — to make sure I didn’t break anything. My mom was an amazing, grade-A mom.  She was the kind of mom you make cheesy “World’s Best Mom” cards and horribly cute macaroni art for in elementary school. Instead, though, I was stuck with a man who thought that bringing a young child to his latest drunken conquest’s house was OK. My mom would’ve flipped her lid if I told her things like this, but I was young and impressionable, so I thought my parents could do no wrong. That was my mistake. I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder back then, Mom. I miss you.

Bree O'Boyle

My Mother Lost Custody of Me Because She's Disabled

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, my biological parents filed for divorce. At this point, they’d been married around 10 years. They got married on August 23rd, 1986, and when I watched their wedding video, it seemed like my mom was over the moon in love with my dad. It was my mom’s first marriage, but my dad had already been married and divorced once before with a son from his first marriage — my brother. I came along about five years into their marriage and — according to my aunt — after quite a bit of fertility treatment. My mom wanted me — even though she knew there was a really good chance that I would be disabled. I never knew that until recently because I was brought up on lie after lie from my dad. My mom was 25 when she got married and 29 when she had me. She was a really great mom from what I can remember. Of course, this is now that I’m an adult and have brought up years of memories from before my dad got custody. My dad is a man who is known to have a fuse shorter than I am — which is pretty damn short — and he already abandoned one child from his previous marriage. As it turns out, he had two more children we didn’t even know about. He somehow got full physical custody and joint legal custody of me — a small child with complex medical needs. He had no experience, no support, and on a good day, he was flying by the seat of his pants. My early memories of my parents are honestly a bit muddled. I remember my dad laying around a lot complaining about how tired he was and constantly falling asleep and snoring loudly during whatever movie or TV show I was trying to watch. My mom, on the other hand, was always trying to figure out things to keep me busy: books, projects, coloring, and crafts. She was the queen of being over-prepared. I often had to be in the car for hours in order to go to my medical appointments a few states away, but she would always make sure we had a car version of my favorite games. I also had this little troll tape player where she’d recorded a cassette of her reading my favorite bedtime stories. I had cassettes of some of my favorite songs too. My mom made those trips bearable for me as a small child. She also made sure I always ate the right foods, got my vitamins in, and brushed my teeth, and she would sit and do my homework with me. She’d even take the time to read my terrible handwriting so she could understand what I was trying to say. Why then, you might ask, did my dad — who never even knew my favorite color, made me a meal, or stayed awake long enough to play a game with me — get full control of me as a child? Here is the truth: My mom was disabled. You see, both my mom and I have dwarfism. My mom was on SSI most of her life. She tried to get the odd job, but her body often gave out right when she needed it most at her jobs, and then she would have to go back on SSI. However, she was completely capable of being a mom. If you ask anyone who really knew her, they’d say I could not have asked for a better mom, even though for a long time I disagreed with them. My dad had me convinced for a long time that my mom was the worst — a terrible person who had ruined my childhood and stolen my dreams. This, however, was far from the truth. The question on many people’s minds was how my dad had convinced the family court of the fantasy that my mom was a terrible parent and he could take care of me. The truth is, he didn’t have to. My mom was in her mid-30s at the time and she was on SSI. She was disabled. According to a report by the National Council on Disability, 13 percent of parents with disabilities lost custody of their children, and parents who have physical disabilities are more likely to be treated with discrimination in a divorce case where child custody is involved. 13 percent might not seem high, but it is when you are part of the 13 percent who lose their child or children simply for being disabled. Could you imagine having your entire parenting career judged solely on something completely out of your control? From what I can remember, my mom was great. She had her flaws too, but doesn’t every parent? Every year I was with her, I earned “A” grades in school. I also had no major discipline problems. As soon as my dad got custody of me, though, I was constantly in the school nurse’s office in school for one ailment or another. I was constantly sick, but honestly, I think I just missed my mom. To this day, my father is an incredibly spiteful man. Do I think he wanted to gain custody of his youngest daughter just to spite his ex-wife and potentially ruin whatever relationship we had? Yes, I do believe he would stoop that low. My dad didn’t have his own place or even a steady source of income when he was granted custody of me. He was living with his parents “temporarily” while he found something better. It was a completely inaccessible house where I didn’t even have my own bed for months. If I had been allowed to stay with my mom, I would’ve lived in a mortgage-free house, had my own bedroom, been fed a balanced diet, and been able to see my dog — who I adored more than I can say. My dad somehow managed to even take away my mom’s visitation rights not much further down the road. It started out with “supervised visitation” with my mom, but then visitation stopped altogether. My memories of my mom started to fade, and my young mind was easily twisted against her. I feel terrible about this now. She passed away last May on Mother’s Day around 8:00 a.m. She finally lost her battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression, and her body just shut down. I remember my mom laughing and making funny faces when I was growing up, but when I last saw her coherent, she was a shadow of her former self. She was not smiling or laughing but instead lying in a hospital bed in a local nursing home. She was not one who accepted pity, but honestly, she didn’t look like the mom I remembered. I still love my mom dearly and miss her more than words can say. I never got a chance to completely mend my relationship with her and for that, I will always be filled with regret. What I hope to bring to light is that parents with disabilities are losing their kids to less fit parents because people with disabilities are still being discriminated against in court. When I was 16, my dad allowed an infection in my leg to almost kill me, claiming I was being “overly dramatic” when “Ghostbusters-colored” goo started oozing from a hole in my leg. My mom, on the other hand, would rush me to the ER even if I twisted an ankle — which I did often as a kid — to make sure I didn’t break anything. My mom was an amazing, grade-A mom.  She was the kind of mom you make cheesy “World’s Best Mom” cards and horribly cute macaroni art for in elementary school. Instead, though, I was stuck with a man who thought that bringing a young child to his latest drunken conquest’s house was OK. My mom would’ve flipped her lid if I told her things like this, but I was young and impressionable, so I thought my parents could do no wrong. That was my mistake. I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder back then, Mom. I miss you.

Bree O'Boyle

Why Dating Is Hard as a Lesbian With a Disability

To some this sounds like a crime I am being charged with, and honestly, sometimes it feels like one. I am a 30-year-old lesbian woman with dwarfism who relies on a wheelchair part-time. However, society only sees me as a woman in a wheelchair and that is the end of it. Therefore, I am not supposed to be attracted to anyone or seen as attractive. It’s almost a sin to be disabled and to want to be in a relationship with someone who isn’t. As a disabled person on dating apps, I rarely get swiped right on, and when I do, it is usually one of four situations. They are way too into my disability, they are a couple looking for a unicorn, so they swipe right on literally everyone hoping to find someone, or they are someone who swiped out of sheer curiosity to ask me some absurd question about my disability they would never ask in person. However, since they are on a dating app and never have to see me face to face, it’s somehow OK. As a person with a disability, according to the media, I am supposed to be so busy being an inspiration to able-bodied people, or being so positive about my life, or my absolute favorite, being so depressed and hating that I’m disabled so much that I don’t have time or need for a life partner. However, I am not asexual and I am not aromantic. Yes, those are valid identities, but that is not who I am. I am a sexual, romantic person, and yes, I happen to be in a wheelchair part-time. The media portrays people with disabilities as some sort of ethereal beings who don’t need to find love or companionship, when and if they represent us at all. It irks me SO much that according to any movie I am too pathetic or disabled to love. The old saying goes, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” So, most people have an “ocean” to choose a potential date from, but those are straight able-bodied people. LGBTQIA+ people don’t usually have “oceans” but generally instead “seas” of people to choose from. When you’re disabled, that “ocean” turns into a “puddle” if you’re lucky, and by lucky, I mean heterosexual. If you are disabled and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, well that “puddle” turns into a raindrop on the sidewalk of life. Honestly, how many people do you know who can fit in a raindrop? Because I don’t know any, and that is just the beginning of your issues when you’re dating with a disability and queer. I’m 30 years old and I’ve honestly never been hit on by someone. In my almost 31 years on this planet, I’ve only dated one person. After almost six years together, the problem of being “too disabled” reared its ugly head. I’ve now been single for almost four years now and struggling to even find someone to look past my disability long enough to make it to the first date. Dating while disabled and queer is hard. That’s for sure. So, the next time you see someone who’s visibly disabled, don’t pity them, especially if you think you might hit it off with them. Try looking beyond their disability and get to know the person behind the disability. Who knows, you just might find love!