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The thought of motherhood can leave any first time parent overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, anticipation, and overwhelming joy. Raising a child is one of the most difficult and rewarding journeys in life, but for women with disabilities maternity can be even more complex.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees that every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights. In this context, a family is the natural and fundamental group unit of our society. Everyone has the right to create and belong to a family, yet people with disabilities often experience prejudice when planning for a child.
The most steadfast of these barriers are societal misconceptions. According to Women With Disabilities in Australia, people with disabilities experience prejudice concerning their ability to care for their children. These myths falsely perpetuate that disabilities stand in the way of proper and safe parenting. If a person can lead an autonomous life and care for themselves, they can care for a child.
In her article, The Challenges of Parenting With a Disability Are Not What You Think They Are, Emily White challenges this fallacy. “Disabled people are just ordinary people,” she tells us as she recounts the adventures of her family life. “Yes, my husband is in a wheelchair, but he takes our kids camping, skiing, and mountain biking… but above all he loves them deeply and is always there for them.”
In fact, researchers at Bar Ilan University report in recent studies that the children of parents with sensory disabilities rate higher in certain emotional intelligences. Development and happiness aren’t hindered by parents with disabilities. Instead, these experiences forge a deeper sense of empathy and understanding in children as they mature into adults. According to Emily Beitiks, the daughter of a woman with multiple sclerosis, “it’s not just having a disabled mother that made me a better person… it’s what made me a person at all.”
Adaptation and Accessibility
A key aspect of parenting with a disability is to adapt equipment and techniques to suit different physical abilities and lifestyles. There are no strict rules for parenting, and many day-to-day caregiving activities can become more accessible through adaptation.
According to a study published by the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, Mothers With Physical Disability: Child Care Adaptations at Home, mothers report that their greatest difficulties include tending to their child at night, cleaning and bathing tasks, and carrying and transporting their child.
The study further explains that over time these parents changed their day to day lives to overcome these challenges. For example, many of the mothers found it easiest to use a wrap to secure their child to their body. As their child grew, they used belts and taught their child to sit on their lap in their wheelchairs. Furniture modifications were also popular among parents who spoke of altering change tables and cribs at home to improve access.
Occupational therapists are a great professional resource for parents with disabilities. By working together, clients and therapists can develop new techniques for physical tasks such as getting their baby out of the car or altering strollers and prams for wheelchair use.
What Is It Like To Be a Mum With a Disability?
There are many, many fantastic people with disabilities who are raising children or beginning their own parenthood journey. Blogs, journals, and books can be great ways to explore others’ experiences of pregnancy, birth, and raising children.
The following are some great resources written by parents with disabilities for parents with disabilities:
Growing Up With a Disabled Mother Made Me a (Better) Person by Emily Beitiks
In her Psychology Today article, Emily celebrates the lessons she learned while being raised by a mother with multiple sclerosis and how this has made her the person she is today.
The Disabled Parenting Project
The Disabled Parenting Project is an online blogging network which creates opportunities for parents with disabilities to connect and share information about adaptive parenting.
Dear New Mom With a Disability by Jessica Grono
Dear New Mom With a Disability is an open letter of encouragement to mothers with disabilities celebrating all the universally joyous moments of raising children.
Raising a Child as a Disabled Mother: The Joys, Challenges, and Victories
Raising a Child as a Disabled Mother is a blog about the daily experiences of Heather, a mother with disabilities, as she raises her family. There are many tips, tricks, and secrets for other parents littered throughout her posts as she shares her uplifting adventures in parenting.
10 Amazing Products For Parents With Disabilities by Tiffany Carlson
10 Amazing Products for Parents with Disabilities is an article which is jam-packed with accessible products to assist in the day-to-day life of parents with disabilities.
The Disabled Woman’s Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Judith Rogers
The Disabled Woman’s Guide to Pregnancy and Birth is a comprehensive and well researched handbook based on the experiences of 90 women with disabilities during their pregnancy.
Although societal misconceptions fuel the false belief that having a disability affects a person's parenting ability, these myths are disproved easily. For people with disabilities, parenthood can be a very rewarding journey.