Five years ago I was pregnant with my daughter. Like most parents to be, I was both excited and nervous at once. Although as a person with a physical disability, there were added complexities in the mix.
Internally I was battling questions that were fraught with fear. Would I be able to parent with a disability? Would the pregnancy be too hard? Would people judge me? Could I manage? At times, my head was a whirlwind of anxiety.
I have a neurological condition, ‘Charcot Marie Tooth’ disorder, which affects my nervous system. I walk with a different gait, need railing to get up stairs, am in pain, fall over, and have lack of sensation. For a long time I was afraid to say I had a disability. For me, it felt like an identity that I didn’t belong to. To name it, was to accept it, and that scared me. But where does this fear come from? Why was I so afraid of being a parent as a disabled woman?
Vanessa Cranfield shares her experience of parenting a child with a disability:
I remember being given a huge pile of parenting books. In all of them, there were no mums like me. Where were any parents with disabilities? I couldn’t think of any movie or TV show that represented a disabled parent. In Australia, twenty per cent of households have a parent with a disability, so where were we?
After searching far and wide, I finally found an overseas TV show that shared the stories of disabled parents, yet the person narrating the story didn’t have a disability. This meant it was inaccurate, sensationalised, and reinforced stereotypes that I had been taught. The main argument within the show was that people with disabilities would find it far too challenging to parent.
I realised after watching this show that these beliefs were everywhere, and had been reinforced throughout my life. I remember my neurologist filling my head with doubt when I was considering having children. He would constantly question my ability to parent. As a society we’ve been taught to trust and listen to medical staff, but his views were out-dated and hurtful.
In the end, becoming a mother enabled me to not only face my own internal fears, but also understand where these discriminatory beliefs had come from. I came to realise that for so long I had been fed a lie.
I now have a four-year-old vivacious and kind daughter, Isobel. Parenting has been the most incredible and rewarding experience. I am proud to be a disabled parent. I accept who I am, and love that I can offer her a life where diversity in all of its forms is celebrated.
Just recently she noticed that I walk differently. She said, “Mum I love you, you walk like a penguin.” We laughed. Some of her friends are now noticing, asking me “Why do you walk like that?” I tell them I have a disability. It’s very cute hearing them say that word back at me.