A Time of Joy and a Time of Sorrow: Grandmothering Without Sight

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Blind Parenting series created to provide visually impaired parents and grandparents with first-hand accounts of how you can raise a child safely and independently. In today’s post, Sheila Rousey shares her experience of becoming a grandmother with vision loss.

A Time of Joy and a Time of Sorrow: Grandmothering Without Sight

by Sheila Rousey

Baby Ben Allen sitting in a car seat smiling at the camera

When I received the news that our family was expecting our first grandchild, I was so very overjoyed. Yet an unexpected emotion of intense sadness soon replaced my joy. Now how could fantastic news bring such sorrow? Grandchildren are supposed to be the best part of being grandparents. Everyone knows that grandparents have the wonderful job of indulging and pampering the grandkids and then sending them home to mom and dad when they get tired.

Although I have never really allowed my limited vision to interfere with life’s challenges, I found the new situation emotionally devastating. I wanted so very much to be excited and happy for my daughter and son-in-law, but I was unprepared for the realization that I would never be able to see my grandson or granddaughter’s beautiful face. How in the world could I help diaper and feed or even keep up with the baby as he or she begins to walk? Having memories of the challenges of raising my own children as a mother with very limited vision, I remembered how very thankful I was for the vision that I did have back then. Something as simple as being able to recognize colors and some details provided me with the confidence to care for all of my children’s needs. Looking back, I realize that I never really thought about it very much. I just did what needed to be done with a few simple modifications here and there. Thankfully my vision loss was gradual as the years passed. I had eased into being blind in small increments. So, when I lost the remainder of light perception, it did not affect my day-to-day routine other than using more adaptive techniques and fully transitioning to braille.

Somehow the knowledge of not having eyesight and learning that our first grandchild was on the way was as if I slammed headlong into a brick wall. I realized that I would not be able to share the same kind of joy through the experiences of those around me. I could not see the ultrasound pictures during the pregnancy, the beautiful gifts from the baby showers, or my grandson when he arrived. I was going to have to rely on verbal descriptions from those around me. And experience had taught me that everyone’s description is different depending on what they find most interesting.

On July 29th of this year, our grandson was born weighing in at nine and a half pounds. As his father brought him into the nursery for all of his grandparents and family members to see, I found myself stepping back from the nursery window. After all, I couldn’t see anything and I just felt as though I was in the way of our other family members. Then the most wonderful thing happened. One of the nurses stepped outside of the nursery and asked me if I wanted to see my grandson with my hands. How could she have known how much it meant to me to see him in the only way that I now experience things? He was perfect! Of course his dad told me that he had beautiful blue eyes and chubby cheeks. But I was able to discover those chubby cheeks for myself.

In the following days, my daughter gave me many opportunities to interact with our grandson and assist her with his care. Before I even realized what was taking place, all of those mothering instincts that I had learned through raising my own children had simply fallen back into place. Yes, caring for an infant is much more challenging without eyesight. But it is not impossible.

At first, I am sure that I missed Ben’s little mouth with the bottle and tried to feed him through his little ear because I didn’t realize that he had turned his head to the side. I quickly learned that by gently using my little finger to locate the side of his mouth first, I was assured that I was getting the bottle into his little mouth. How simple is that.

In just a few short months, I have learned to adapt to my new situation with much optimism. I no longer focus on what I may be missing, rather, I focus on my contributions to Ben’s care and the simple joy of being a grandma.

As you read more articles from our VisionAware Peers, you will find many wonderful strategies for caring for infants, toddlers, and children. All that remains is a little patience and lots of love and knowing that you are not alone in your endeavors as a parent, grandparent, or family member with vision loss.

From the Blind Parenting Series

A Grandma’s Thoughts

Grandparenting with Vision Loss

Introduction to Blind Parenting Series

Bottle-Feeding Baby As a Blind or Visually Impaired Mother

How Congenital Vision Loss Affects Motherhood