Editor’s note: This post is the first in a short series on Mother’s Day.
My First Child Was Born When I Was a Peace Corps Volunteer
My eldest daughter was born near the end of my tour of duty as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa. Due to a tragic mistake at the hospital in country just before my daughter’s birth, a healthy new born baby boy had died. Thus, the country Peace Corps director insisted that all three of the pregnant Peace Corps volunteers be sent eighty miles to give birth at the L.B.J. Tropical Medical Center in Pagopago American Samoa.
The wife of the village chief where I lived asked me if I wanted her help in locating a wet nurse. It wasn’t my blindness that concerned her, but that she believed European women all used formula and couldn’t breastfeed. She also assumed that because I worked every day, I would need someone else to take care of the baby for me. The only formula available was a powdered product. It had to be mixed with water. Since there had been a Typhoid outbreak in our village, I never even considered using formula. I even planned to boil Angelyn’s bathwater for twenty minutes to be sure she didn’t swallow even a few drops of potentially dangerous water.
Becoming Aware of How A Mother with a Disability Is Often Perceived
I gave birth to my baby girl near dawn on Good Friday. It was while I was still in the hospital that I first became aware of how sighted people viewed a new mother with a disability.
I had been serving in the Peace Corps for more than two years by then, and although I wasn’t a fluent speaker of the Polynesian dialect spoken in Samoa, I understood it well. Nurses gathered around my bed talking about me. They speculated that this was my first child and that I wasn’t married. The man who came to see me was always with another woman (my best friend, who had flown over to be with me when my baby was born) and they wondered how I would ever take care of my baby. Little did they know that I would go on to adopt one of my blind students the same month my daughter was born!
A Basket for My Baby
We flew home on Easter Sunday. The teachers at the school where I worked gave me a hand woven baby basket. I covered it with mosquito netting and carried it back and forth on a local bus each school day. Dengue fever, carried by mosquitoes was also a danger.
Learning About the Public View on Women with Disabilities and Raising Families
We returned home to the U.S. with our two children six weeks after Angelyn’s birth. Our second daughter was born twenty months later in Oregon. I was studying to become a La Leche League leader to teach breastfeeding and childcare to other young women. The first time I became aware of how the general public viewed women with disabilities in regard to raising families occurred about then.
I was walking down the street with Kassia in a baby sling across my front, towing a stroller with my two-year-old daughter Angelyn riding in it and working my guide dog. A stranger approached us at a corner and asked me if I didn’t know about birth control. I was startled to say the least, but replied, “Yes, I do, that is why my two daughters are two years apart.”
I have had other blind friends tell me that when they became pregnant, the doctor told them the news as if it was a diagnosis of something like cancer; or, that no one in their families congratulated them on the blessed event and was glad for them. Like anything else in life, parenthood poses challenges. However, I honestly believe that the blind women friends I know who raise families are excellent mothers. They are joyful at the news of their impending motherhood. They use all of the skills to care for their children they employ to care for their homes and themselves. They are often more alert and conscious of where their children are and what they are doing than many sighted women.
Advice for Women with Vision Loss Who Are Considering Motherhood
If you are thinking of starting a family and experiencing vision loss, know that you can do it. Reach out to the blind community for tips and tricks and realize that your baby has no idea that their mother is different from other moms until toddlerhood takes them out in to the world. They love their mama’s as all babies do.
A Few Techniques That Worked for Me in Raising a Child
- Both of my daughters were breast-fed because as my friend Hetty’s husband put it, “The milk is always warmed up and available when the baby needs it and it comes in the prettiest containers.”
- When bathing my babies, I held the back of their heads in one hand and used the other to wash them. A baby bath can be anything from a bus tub to kitchen sink.
- Start out feeding solids by giving your baby chunks of banana and other soft finger foods. You can make your own baby food by putting whatever the family is eating through a baby food mill. Give the baby a spoon to experiment with and don’t worry too much about solid foods until they show an interest in them.
- I used a plastic table cloth spread under my baby’s high chair so that I could clean up the baby, lift her clear of the mess, wipe down the chair and then clear away the dropped food by carrying the tablecloth outside to shake it off for the birds.
- When your baby gets mobile, put bells on their shoes or clothes.
- When wrangling pre-school children invest in a harness and leash. They can move quickly and even if you hear negative remarks about how awful it is to put a two-year-old on a leash; you will know where your child is when out and about.
Enjoy and Embrace Motherhood
I have enjoyed my children from infancy through adolescence, and you can too if you learn to ignore nay-sayers who try to impose a one dimensional view of what it means to be blind. Happy Mother’s Day to all and please share with us your own tips for being a mom with a visual impairment.
Read part two in the Mother’s Day series, On Being a Blind Mother, by Mary to learn about her experience as a visually impaired mother.