Nowhere is the difference between attitudes towards able-bodied and disabled women starker than on the subject of motherhood; the big taboo. Having just celebrated my thirty first birthday I’m at a stage in my life where this subject is becoming very relevant to me indeed and I confess, something that plays on my mind is whether or not I will be able to have children; But for now I am trapped in the middle of a heated debate and many unfair assumptions about disability, sexuality and especially motherhood.
Feminists have justly and deservedly contested against the time-old theory that put women at the centre of the family in the role of primary caregiver. Disabled women however are subject to stereotypes in stark contrast to those fixed on our able-bodied counter-parts. For us to be mothers is presumed either impossible or wrong and an opposite assumption to our able-bodied peers but none the less dispowering. Disability is so closely associated with dependence and social isolation that it is hard for people to imagine disabled individuals ultimately raising a family. When partners choose to be with disabled women, they face enormous and continuous obstacles and scrutiny as to whether they will have to be a caregiver to the disabled woman, and/or to be responsible for any children she has.
An intrinsic part of the problem is that disabled people, whether they are mothers or not, are presumed to be asexual. Widely documented and strongly reinforced in society, this belief creates numerous myths with many people presuming that sex and motherhood aren’t even possible, let alone desirable or otherwise. Disabled women are believed not to be, and not to want to be, mothers. Perhaps seen as not quite right for the task of bearing and raising children; thus in turn reinforcing their undesirability as sexual partners.
Parenting has been the last frontier for people with disabilities and researchers have found that these parents experience prejudice about their rights or abilities to do so; with some of the wider population even insisting they should not be parents at all. Is the main concern around the ability to care and support the children adequately or is there a fear that the children will be singled out as different just because their parents are disabled? Rachelle chapman, is a lady who has challenged the strong, cultural notion of who can be an appropriate mother head on. As a newly married quadriplegic lady, doctors told Rachelle her medication would make pregnancy dangerous so Rachelle and her partner decided to opt for surrogacy instead to start a family. The strength and love in her home, a family network willing to help and a strong support system meant she was able to achieve her objective. Through the availability of the internet, that allows disabled parents to exchange information and resources, she found effective solutions such for a crib enabling her to roll her wheelchair under and a desk that serves as a changing table that she can roll right up to. But despite being a young, strong lady in a loving relationship ready and willing to start a family, Rachelle has had to fight off many internet trolls slamming her choice because it confronts the stereotypical notions of motherhood.
However, these individual, heartwarming stories of overcoming adversity are few and far between in my opinion and the deficit of disabled mothers still remains. I would encourage those with disabilities toying with the idea of motherhood to throw aside viewing themselves through any particular constructs. Bond’s can be built in different ways, different but none the less special or unimportant. Playing football or going for a jog can be compensated for by talking, reading, listening, laughing or giving advice and support.