Disability and motherhood: the choice mothers make

This weekend the UK celebrated Mother’s Day, that time of year when motherhood is celebrated and gifts, flowers and special gestures are presented to mothers. But motherhood isn’t easy, especially if you have a disabled child. Should mothers who give up their disabled child be blamed? Raya Al-Jadir explores…

I have read many articles, reports and blogs over the years about the difficulties that mothers with disabled children endure and, while it is also satisfying, the media’s portrayal of the struggles seems to have overshadowed many of the positives.

Such articles only serve to increase a feeling that already exists within many disabled people – guilt and dependency. For years I have carried the guilt of being a heavy load on my mother, an almost ‘burden’ on a woman who has never left my side, accompanied me to every hospital appointment, cared for me 24/7 and stayed by my bedside when I was ill. These images are always in my head and will haunt me – images of her sleeping on a hospital chair next to me, or pulling herself out of bed to care for me. She’s even coped with people’s negative attitudes towards me, all the while never allowing me to know about it.

I am sure I am not the only person living with disability who has these feelings. 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 the media and society as 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 doing an honourable act that not most people couldn’t cope with.

But both images are wrong. Not every mother who gives up her disabled child is selfish as not every mother is equipped to cope with raising a disabled child. Therefore, maybe it is out of love that she sacrifices her motherhood to ensure their child has the best care, away from this feeling of guilt. Such details don’t seem to be important to those people who judge others purely on this 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? In addition, just as the mother is giving her all to her child, she also gains many things from her disabled child, for example, the continuous sense of purpose that mothers receive from having a disabled child.

The irony of both society and the media’s attitudes 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 a disabled child  you will suffer but be admired – they must accept their fate or be labelled as heartless and selfish?

I wonder if people who make such hasty judgements 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. These comments used to make her feel like a ‘failure’, as though all mothers passed a great test of having a healthy child except her, and she was somehow to blame. Not every person is equipped to cope with such attitudes.

My mother has a strong character and support system, but not everyone is as fortunate. I recently come across two newspaper articles that talked about two mothers who have 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 – she would rather aborted him or given him up for adoption had she known the strain and struggle she would endure. She commented: “While I do love my son and am fiercely protective of him, I know our lives would have been happier and far less complicated. 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, even suffering 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 this and feel the strain, the feeling of guilt will grow and nurture within the child, resulting in a miserable situation for all the parties involved.

Giving away a 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 that you may not be able to provide.  We are all born differently, with various abilities and strengths, and not every mother has an instant coping mechanism ready for if the child is disabled, and that is not wrong. It is something you either have or you don’t, similar to being born with a certain feature. Just because we may not all have it, then it does not make us abnormal.

Motherhood is a great thing, 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 and should not be judged just because we are not living their situation or know their full story.

By Raya Al-Jadir

Raya Al-Jadir runs a community of people who share a love for life, equality and human rights. Join the Careless community by visiting the Careless Facebook page, blog, Twitter or Instagram account.

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