The Choice Mothers Make When Disability Is Part Of The Equation

This weekend the UK will celebrate Mother’s day; that time of year when motherhood is celebrated and gifts, flowers and special gestures are presented to mothers but as a disabled person nothing that I will do for mine can ever represent the feeling of appreciation and gratefulness that I hold for my mother.

I have read many articles, reports and blogs over the years of the difficulties that mothers with disabled children endure and while it is also self-satisfying but the struggles seems to have over shadowed many of the things that I have read. Clearly such readings only serve to increase a feeling that already exists within many disabled people; guilt and dependency. For years and maybe until this day I carry a guilt of being a heavy load on my mother an almost ‘burden’ on a woman who never left my side, accompanied me to every hospital appointment, cared for me 24/7, stayed by my bedside when I was ill, there are images in my head that always hunt me, of her sleeping on a hospital chair next to me, or when she is ill but pulls herself out of bed to care for me or even just how she coped with people’s attitude towards me yet never allowed me to know about it.

I am sure I am not the only person living with disability who has these feelings, it is beyond us, we see our mothers getting older and weaker and automatically find ourselves to blame for their back pain or weak legs. There is no escape from this guilt as the care is continuous.

This feeling of guilt is exasperated by media and society; we are constantly exposed to the idea that a mother who gives up her disabled child is selfish and cruel and the ones that don’t are some kind of martyrs for doing an honourable act that not many can cope with. Both images are wrong, I would not judge anyone as I dislike being judged but not every mother who gives up her disabled child is selfish, maybe it is out of love that she sacrifices her motherhood to ensure he or she receives the best care. Details don’t seem to be important for people that jump to judging others purely on their actual act disregarding the special and unique circumstances of each individual. In a similar manner not every mother who chooses to keep her child should be praised, would we hail mothers of able-bodied children for keeping them? Why the discrimination? Plus just as the mother is giving her all to her child, she also gains many things from her disabled child; one example is the continuous sense of purpose that mothers receive from having a disabled child.

The irony of both society and media’s attitude lies in the fact that they portray mothers of disabled children as over worked, sacrificing and struggling yet shun the most brutal attacks on mothers who take the difficult decision of giving up their child. What message does this attitude send out? That you as a mother of disabled child will suffer but you will be admired so you must accept your fate or you will be labelled as heartless and selfish. I wonder if people who make such hasty judgement have ever thought about the responsibility and sometimes stress that may result from having a disabled child, not necessary due to the special care that is required but from people’s behaviour and attitude towards the child. As a toddler people often stared at me and made comments that mother often heard which used to make her feel like a ‘failure’ as though all the mothers passed the great test of having a healthy child except her and she was somehow to blame, not every person is equipped to cope with such attitude. My mother had a strong character and support system but not everyone is as fortune, I recently come across two newspaper articles that addressed the issue of mothers who had disabled sons both born with Down’s Syndrome; one gave up her son at birth as in Armenia you are given the option of whether you want to go home with your child or leave him/her for the hospital to find a family willing to adopt him. The other mother kept her son who is now 47-years-old but regretted her decision and in the article she clearly states that she would have rather aborted or given him up for adoption, had she knew the strain and struggle she would endure ‘while I do love my son, and am fiercely protective of him, I know our lives would have been happier and far less complicated’ she acknowledges that life would have been very different without her son ‘I’d have probably gone on to have another baby, we would have had a normal family life and Andrew my other son would have the comfort, rather than the responsibility, of a sibling, after we’re gone’. The mother explains all the physical, mental and emotional impact it had on her and she even suffered a nervous breakdown.

Therefore as a disabled person I can understand why some mothers would rather give their child up and in my view it is better to let go of your child than bring him/her up with resentment and anger. The child will sense and feel the strain on its mother, will notice the resentment and eventually a feeling of guilt will grow and nurture within the child, resulting in a miserable situation for all the parties involved. Parting away with you disabled child is not always a selfish act, your love for the child will guide you to sacrifice motherhood so the child can receive the love and care which you may not be able to provide.   We are all born differently with various abilities and strength therefore not every mother has an instant coping mechanism that is born with the child and that is not wrong. It is something you either have or you don’t, similar to being born with a certain feature and just because we may not all have it then it does not make us abnormal.

Motherhood is a great thing – as I am told by friends but it is not for everyone and certainly not in the same fashion, I for one have never felt that maternal instinct or wanted a child although I love my niece and nephew but I know motherhood is not for me, that does not make me selfish it is just a choice that I feel is more suited to my lifestyle. In a similar manner mothers who bring up their disabled child are as free as the ones who give them up neither are wrong nor should not be judged because we are not living their situation or know their full story.

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