Being a mom is a challenging role for anyone. Add having a disability to the mix and the adventure has just begun. Getting to know how your limitations are going to affect your ability to parent and finding out what's available to help you get the job done combined are like solving a puzzle. Then once the baby arrives, you have to get adjusted to him or her at each stage of life, all the while finding ways to meet the everyday challenges of parenting.
Even though these aspects of parenting may sound overwhelming, the role of parent can be lots of fun because it allows you the opportunity to have a hand in our society's future viewpoints. When it comes to the topic of our society's viewpoint in today's world, in my experience, people seem to automatically discount your ability as a parent just because of the physical limitations you exhibit to the rest of the world.
When I was in Middle School, I remember a teacher asking for a quote to put under our 8th grade yearbook by our graduation picture. I chose "don't judge a book by its cover" for what I felt, at the time, were obvious reasons.
Who knew that 25 years later I would still be facing what seems to be the same challenges that I faced with the 7th grade classmate who told me if she touched my left hand, she'd catch what I had because, to her, my Cerebral Palsy was contagious? Only this time, today, I'm dealing with more real-life issues: my ability to parent and care for my son Adrian.
I've led a pretty normal life, which has included going to college and living on my own. I can't imagine believing those antiquated assumptions, given how far I've gotten in life. It's not as if I'm the first woman with a disability who decided to have a baby. I've been able to find plenty of resources available and support to make me a successful parent, thanks to those who've done this before me. I just happen to accomplish certain things in different ways. I've found that there are a lot of mainstream companies that have things such as high chairs and strollers on the market that have been more than helpful in taking care of my son without even having to ask that a special modification be made to a product or the ever- daunting task of finding someone to help get a modification done. That's not to say there aren't modified pieces of equipment on the market too; those just take a bit of extra digging to uncover.
My top three tips that I've found helpful with daily care of Adrian are: a mobility or baby sling to transport the baby around the house with both hands free to push the chair; once the baby can sit in the stroller, you can dress baby from that position; and using the "football hold" to hold the baby if you have limitations with your upper extremities.
I've learned that the more independence you have in taking care of your child, aided by equipment/ideas mentioned above, the more self-confidence you gain in your ability to parent. That confidence, like with everything else in life, has a ripple effect, and allows you to spend more time enjoying the different stages you will experience in your child's growth and development. You'll find out of what people mean by "the joy of parenthood" first-hand.
It's funny; sometimes a person who has a disability can be more capable in some things in life than someone who doesn't. Unfortunately, we still have to keep pushing forward to consistently prove this point--never in a crude sort of way, because all we're trying to do is live life, and enjoy the world around us. It seems for the most part, people get stuck on outdated stereotypes based on outward appearances and make their conclusions without all the relevant information. A disability doesn't necessarily stop you from accomplishing goals in life. Sometimes it just gives you the opportunity to rethink how you can reach your goals.
Just like every other parent, I take Adrian grocery shopping, to play dates and to the park. He has the full experience of what life has to offer without missing a beat. The happiest child receives love and affection from their parent whether they're disabled or not. The child isn't concerned about mom or dad's disability because they don't see them that way; to them, it's just their mom or dad.
It would be great to see everyone be a bit more accepting of disabled parents. Our limitations are actually beneficial to our children and future generations, since I believe that it allows for us to be more accepting of one another, no matter our differences. Everyone deserves to have a family, if that's what they choose. If people with disabilities are willing, and able to rise to the occasion, like everyone else, then more power to them.
Christinne Rudd is a disability advocate, speaker, author, and consultant. Mrs. Rudd holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies and a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice both from the University of Central Florida. Her interests include Parenting with a Disability, Disabled Victims of Crime, IEP issues and the ADA. She authors a disability-related blog at http://mamasmunchkin.wordpress.com/. You can also "like" her facebook page at www.facebook.com/MamasMunchkinBlog./P>