parent opinion

"When I was pregnant, none of the parenting books were about a mum like me."

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:

Video by MMC

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.

parents with disability Eliza Hull
"Parenting has been the most incredible and rewarding experience. I am proud to be a disabled parent." Image: Supplied.
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Being a disabled parent has its challenges at times, especially when my daughter was little. To get her out of the car I struggled to balance, and picking her up off the ground as a baby was a well thought out process. I was always very cautious. As she’s grown, it’s been hard when she’s fallen over when we’re down the street, and I can’t lift her off the ground and walk to the car.

People stare at me, and judge, questioning why I’m not picking her up and soothing her. This kind of judgement hurts, I will never get used to it. I’ve fallen over in public holding her. It happened as we walked into the supermarket, and this time people looked at me with deep concern. There are times I wish I had more energy, or wasn’t in pain, but I’m an incredible mother. We paint and we read together, but most importantly I’ve already taught her the importance of a diverse and inclusive world.

I believe that disabled people need to be given the chance to tell their own stories; we need more representation of disabled parents in the media in order to break down societal misconceptions. This was the reason I produced the series ‘We’ve Got This,’ as part of a scholarship with the ABC. I shared the stories of parents with disabilities, in a way that could accurately represent their lives. I remember receiving emails from people within the public, who through listening to the series, changed their opinions about disabled parents.

Each parent I interviewed had ways they adapted their lives, for instance two parents, Emma and Vaughn Bennison, who’re both blind, put bells on their children’s shoes, so they could hear where they were in the house. Or single mother, Jen Blyth, who is deaf, used a baby cry alarm, which alerted her in the night with a flashing light, or Carly Myers, a mother with dwarfism, cut the change table’s legs so it was the right height.

I found the most common challenge each parent experienced happened out within the community, an example is the constant assumptions from strangers; that their children must be looking after them.

Parents with disabilities are successfully parenting; in fact they’re thriving. We deserve the right to parent, and not be questioned in wanting that for our lives.

Disability is not something that ought to be feared, diversity is what makes this world a beautiful one.

You can listen to Eliza Hull's podcast series, 'We've Got This,' here. You can also read more from her right here.


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