The challenges of visually impaired moms

Being a woman, together with having visual disability, doubly discriminates against those who wish to become a mother.

For several years, visually impaired women have been denied motherhood and have been criticized out of ignorance.

In fact, there are women who suppress the desire to have a baby and let themselves be carried away by negative comments from people close to them or health professionals.

Although having visual impairment does not directly affect pregnancy, there are still those who consider that a woman with visual impairment should not be a mother.

The main challenges faced by a visually impaired woman who decides to become a mother are:

  1. Experiencing rejection from her own mother upon hearing the news. This is very painful since all women want to share such an important moment with our mother.
  2. Listening to all kinds of opinions from family and friends aimed at choosing not to have a baby.
  3. Having to impose her opinion so that people understand that it is her right and that they acknowledge her autonomy and independence.
  4. Setting limits so that they respect her space and do not try to do everything for her.
  5. Becoming visible to a society that does not take them into account and prefers to address their companion.
  6. Enduring questions such as: Don't you think you're reckless in wanting to take care of a child when you're not capable of taking care of yourself? Do you think you'll have the money to adapt the whole house? And what if your son is also born blind? Etc.
  7. Having to constantly ask the doctor to explain what is seen on the echo screen or in the studies.
  8. Getting doctors and nurses to treat them in a normal but inclusive way throughout gestational care and in subsequent consultations, just to mention a few points.

All of the above aside, mothers-to-be also have fears about how to raise and interact with their children upon arrival.

Doubts and questions pile up in their minds and this generates stress that does not allow them to fully enjoy their pregnancy.

Unfortunately, there is not yet much adapted literature or programs to teach them everything they need before and after the baby arrives.

And although there are some institutions and associations that have taken on the task of implementing courses for mothers-to-be with visual disabilities, the best advice will always come from another mother who has already gone through that stage.

Thus, in the following paragraphs we will try to give you useful and practical advice that other mothers with visual disabilities have shared with us so that raising and interacting with your child does not become something daunting.

  • The first thing you should do is go to the doctor and tell him whether your visual impairment is genetic or acquired after an accident or another type of disease so he can make a specific assessment and give you specific instructions to help you prevent any risk.
  • Enjoy your pregnancy and read all kinds of educational materials or join a group of mothers with visual disabilities on social networks that support you in the process.
  • Consider the option of a prophylactic course.
  • Organize the baby's room in advance so that when you have it in your arms you know perfectly where the furniture, clothes and accessories are located.
  • Practice changing diapers, clothes and bath time with a doll. It is advisable to ask for the support of a mother without visual impairment for her to guide you better.
  • When you have your child, you must learn to trust your instincts and use your other senses to get used to him. Use your hearing to learn to distinguish when their crying is due to pain, sleep, hunger, anger, etc. Your sense of smell will help you know if he needs a diaper change or a bath and your sense of touch to feed him and check for a fever or allergies, just to mention a few examples.
  • If you use a white cane or guide dog and want to go for a walk with the baby, it is best to carry it on your chest with a sling or shawl that allows you to keep an eye on him and also allow for freedom of movement. By the time he is able stay in an upright position on his own, it is better that someone without visual impairment accompanies you when you want to take your baby out in a stroller.
  • When he starts walking, don't panic, on the contrary, you just have to adapt some things for his safety and your peace of mind. For example, baby-proof all power outlets, put baby gates in spaces or dangerous rooms such as the kitchen or the dining room. If you have glass tables or items, put them out of his reach. Put bells or small rattles on his feet so you can hear where he is walking and install beeping devices on the doors leading to the street or backyard. It is also important not to leave objects or food that can he can put in his mouth to avoid suffocation.
  • As for playtime, if you are in a park or public place, try to be accompanied by someone else to help you go get your child if he walks away; and if you are in your backyard, it is important to check that there are no objects he could bump against, cut or do any damage to himself.
  • Make technology work for you and acquire devices that make your life easier, such as: talking thermometers, bottles with the exact measurements for milk, syringes with tactile reliefs that mark the millimeters for medication, download apps on your cell phone to read back text in different boxes or containers etc.
  • Build support networks with your neighbors, friends or close relatives who can quickly respond in a situation and put emergency numbers on speed-dial in your cell phone.
  • Discuss your visual impairment with your child at all times so that he understands and thinks of it as something normal over time and in that way he will be able to express it to others.
  • Work on mutual trust, so that he is able to tell you everything, especially those that involve using his eyesight. A very simple and effective way to deal with the above is to ask him for his opinion on certain things that you need to do, such as choosing an outfit, the color of a room, ordering a dish for you or reading a message you have received. All those little actions will let him know that you trust him and that he can trust you too.
  • You must understand that this will be a process of adaptation for both in which each one will learn the best way to communicate effectively; but keep in mind that being a mother with visual impairment does not imply that he will treat you differently or that you need to isolate from his school or social events, on the contrary, allowing everything to flow naturally will make you feel more attuned.

If all of the above was not enough, here are some mothers with visual impairments who can inspire you:

  1. Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes. Blind from birth, a lawyer and human rights activist, she was born in Chile and is the mother of three children. She has been a UN Special Envoy for her work on behalf of people with disabilities. She was chair for the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. National Prize for Human Rights of Chile laureate in 2014. She is a published author, with several works on the subject of legal modifications, rehabilitation and inclusion of people with visual disabilities. Founder and president of COPRADEV, a corporation that helps the visually impaired. Creator of the legal program on disability at the Diego Portales University Law School.
  2. Marla Lee Runyan. American track and field athlete, road and marathon runner who is legally blind and mother of one son. 5000 meter champion. Winner of 4 gold medals at the 1992 Summer Paralympic Games, in long jump and 100, 200 and 400m. races. In Atlanta, she won the silver medal in in shot put and a gold medal in pentathlon. She has also competed in the Pan American games for people without disabilities snatching more medals. She has written books on her life story and has won several national championships and marathons.
  3. Fanny Crosby . She has been the foremost North American Gospel composer with a catalog of approximately 9,000 songs that are still played in churches even after her death. A few weeks after she was born, she suffered an eye infection that was treated with hot mustard poultices that damaged her optic nerve, rendering her blind for life. Religion had such an influence on his family that she started to memorize the Bible and playing the piano, organ, harp and guitar to sing in church. She was the first woman to speak in front of  the US Senate and Congress to present and defend her proposals for educational reforms in favor of people with visual disabilities. She was the mother of two children together with her husband who was also blind, although the youngest died shortly after birth. She was a missionary, a lay preacher and an active member of the Church of Christ. During the cholera epidemic in New York in 1849, she dedicate cared for the sick. In closing, we hope that this article will help you dispel doubts and enjoy the whole process of motherhood.

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