Friday, May 01, 2009

Well-meaning Insults

For Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

On April 13th, I posted to alert my readers to the annual Blogging Against Disablism Day event. I was umm-ing and aah-ing over what particular topic I should write about - and then, like a gift from the gods, came this comment:

hi mary--
have been reading your blog for a bit, & this is sort of a response to your wanting to have a kid with steve.

it makes me sad to read your struggles, but i would beg you to leave that idea (or even adoption or fostering behind.)

how on earth could you take care of a child when you spend most of your time seriously broken? you seem like a lovely person & to put a child in that position would be cruel no matter how much you craved being a mommy.

please be careful, stay on birth control & accept that your fate is to not be able to go down a maternal road.

best to you. sandy

My first thought was to write a blogpost (or fifty) explaining exactly how Steve and I intend to deal with some of the challenges posed by parenthood, the potential solutions we've discussed about logistics, equipment, safety, human support and so on. But why? This isn't a parenting blog, and until such time as Steve and I decide to take active steps to make a family, there's no good reason for it to become one. Justifying my life choices to internet strangers seems like a poor way to spend my time and energy.

That's when I started to become angry. Of all the topics covered on my blog, from knitting to job interviews, from Social Services to fun days out, how is it that a stranger feels the need to "respond" solely to the idea of Steve and I having a family together - an issue last mentioned several months previously and in the context of a 99 things blog meme?

Simple answer: Disablism.

This wasn't a personal attack on me, or even a well-meant but blundering remark on my life as an individual. It had very little to do with Mary, Batsgirl, aged 27 and living with a boyfriend and a robot vacuum cleaner.

Sandy wasn't thinking about my personal capabilities, or my personal circumstances, or my personal motivations - how could she? I'm hardly the world's most regular blogger and only a fraction of my life is displayed on here. She was writing about a stereotype of a disabled person, or as she put it, someone "seriously broken". When that stereotype was challenged by my offhand mention of a one-day ambition to have a family, she was so shocked by it that she felt the need to "beg" me not to do it.

Sandy was assuming that, as a couple which includes a disabled person, Steve and I would be unable to raise a child.

Sandy was assuming that Steve and I would be unable to consider our own circumstances and resources and make a sensible decision for ourselves, and that it was therefore perfectly okay for her to tell us what we should and should not do with our lives.

Sandy asked "how on earth could you take care of a child?" as a rhetorical question - she wasn't interested in waiting for (let alone listening to) any response before moving straight on to dictating my "fate" because she had already made up her mind that a disabled person such as myself cannot take care of a child.

Sandy cannot open her mind enough to consider that a child who has a disabled parent could be happy, comfortable, loved and well looked after. She considers disabled parents to be "cruel" for inflicting their horrible crippled selves on an innocent kiddie. I suspect she's thinking of the telethon image of a melancholy 'young carer' gazing soulfully out of the window and begging for their childhood back. This article by Lucy Scholl offers a different perspective, as does this one by Laurence Clark.

Sandy was writing about her own prejudices, her own unsubstantiated views, and her own baseless assumptions. Sandy was writing about her fears, her closed-mindedness, and her negative mental picture of disabled people - and then superimposing all that onto me to pre-emptively accuse me of child abuse.

That's disablism.

What's encouraging, though, is that the tide is turning. After responding to Sandy's horrendous comment, I tweeted about how gobsmacked I was, and within minutes support was arriving in the form of blog comments, tweets, emails and suchlike, much of it from friends who aren't politically- or disability-minded. More and more 'ordinary people' are becoming more and more accepting of the idea that a disabled person is every bit as much a person as one who is not yet disabled. As a civilisation we have a lot of that journey still ahead of us, but I take heart from the knowledge that significant steps have been and will continue to be made.


Damon Lord said...

I am fuming that someone had the insensibility to even think of writing that message to you. Don't let the buggers get you down!

Wheelie Catholic said...

I was out with one of my nephews one day years ago and a stranger passing by said to me something along the lines of how could you have a child when you're in a wheelchair and do that to him?

Your post is an extremely important one to bring to the surface how some feel this way and openly say it to parents with disabilities or prospective parents. I'm so glad you got the support from others when you tweeted about it.

narrator said...

people say amazing things. What is sadder is that this commenter actually thought she was being "protective" - and, of course, we sure do need to defend ourselves against those who "protect" by demeaning.

Thanks for your post

-Ira Socol

lilwatchergirl said...

Good post. I have not the spoons to say too much more, but - very good post.

rachelcreative said...

Oh excellent post! Very eloquent.

Anonymous said...

I'm disabled, and I'm bringing up a child. Sure, it's not easy, but she has a better quality of life than a lot of kids her age because I go above and beyond to make sure she doesnt miss out on ANYTHING. I think she will benefit from having a disabled parent, rather than suffer for it. Wen I found out I was pregnant, I thought long and hard about what kind of life she would have. I'm sure you have done/will be doing the same. Dont let the prejudiced veiws of someone who doesnt even know you affect ANY decision you make. And as for the comment from Wheelie, regards "how could you do that to him?" Did it not even occur to them that you may have ended up in a wheelchair AFTER having the child?! Or as a result of having the child?! People dont think before they open their stupid mouths. *growls*

Haddayr said...

I'm disabled, and raising a disabled child (well, he says he's not disabled as autism and Tourette's aren't disabilities; we could fight about that all day so instead I'll say: raising a very time-consuming child) and his little brother, with their AB dad, my husband.

I became disabled after having kids.

My kids think having a mom with a wheelchair is fun. They think it's cool to zoom around on it. They love to play with my crutches. They are confused, sometimes, by my limitations (my condition fluctuates wildly), but they are learning.

They are smart. They are capable. They are used to stares from strangers. I am tired, a lot. But for that idiot woman to think she was intervening on behalf of the CHILDREN . . .

Well, I'll say this. Every family has their cross to bear. Assuming that woman has children, her kids have to deal with a mom who is a total idiot. Seems a lot worse than what my kids have to deal with.

Attila The Mom said...

How absolutely insulting and close-minded.

And I'm with Haddayr. If that woman has children, I pity them.

Thanks so much for writing today!

seahorse said...

Oh gosh, I get this all the time (but usually in not so many words).
Thing is, just do it. Do it well. Be satisfied you are doing it well. And to hell with the rest of them.

Theresa said...

Great attitude...I think you rock. I can't imagine living with your illness. It is great that you realize that the lady was just attacking due to her beliefs not because she knows you. I know lots of non-disabled people that should not be having families but they are not frowned upon. If you decide to have a family, you will figure out the best way for you. Nannies are a great way of having support for the good and especially the bad days. Keep up the great attitude!!

grace said...

No. Just... no. You will, you will you will be fantastic parent. Please, don't doubt that...

Mary said...

Thanks to everyone who's taken the time and effort to comment.

whirlwitch said...

This sounds a lot like my former guidance counselor, who on learning I was in a same-sex relationship, went into a spiel about selfish it would be for me to have kids, and refused to listen to any mention of how the idea that children of lesbian/gay parents are disadvantaged has been debunked many, many times by solid research. She urged me to "at least adopt, so it will be a kid who's already disadvantaged".

As it turned out, I have fertility issues, and am also disabled, with issues that could affect baby care. My partner and I are thinking of adopting an older child who would be easier for me to parent - but it isn't because I think either of us would be a bad parent, and if we were able to and felt we could manage having a baby, we would!

Gianna said...

okay second try...blogger ate my first comment...

I was looking for an email because I'd like to publish your "Open Letter to those without chronic illness" on my blog.

Our day to day life sounds very similar though the etiologies of our illnesses are most likely different (I haven't read too much of your blog yet)...

I'm also going to start a chronic illness blogroll since when I started my blog two years ago I did not know this was where I was headed. But alas, it is my reality now.

good to meet you.

love the letter and will check out more of the blog.

Mary said...

Hi Gianna,

The "Open Letter To Those Without Chronic Illness" isn't my writing, I just linked to the page it is on. On that page, underneath the letter, are the contact details and usage requests of the person who wrote it, someone called Ricky Buchanan.

sanabituranima said...

Great post.

If someone said on their blog that they had a terrible temper, or were lazy, and mentioned somewhere else that they wanted to (maybe) have kids at some unspecified point in the future I wonder whether Sandy would ave posted a frantic "think of the children" email. Because character flaws are much more severe impedimets to raising kids than disabilities. (And yet EVERYONE has some character flaws, and most parents manage to do a decent job.)

kath-ballantyne said...

Wow. I never understand where people get this sense of entitlement from. I've had to get used to people offering me all sorts of cures I could find if I just tried, and also the 'your Dad's cousin has ME too and she's able to work if she takes it easy so you should be able to too'.

I just don't feel the need to push my views on to everyone else but someone people seem to feel they have to.

I have decided that, right now at least, neither my partner nor I are well enough to deal with children. I also have a lot of conditions that are genetic and my partner also has a strong family history of Autism so there would be a good chance that any kids from either of us would have their own problems.
But that's our choice. It's not something I would ever assume to push on other people.

I think there are many non disabled (or at least what is typically considered disabled) parents who should not have kids.
Or own pets for that matter.

Anonymous said...

finally, some actual disablism to blog about. you must be thrilled. congratulations.

Andrea S. said...

Wheelwitch said:
"This sounds a lot like my former guidance counselor, who on learning I was in a same-sex relationship, went into a spiel about selfish it would be for me to have kids, and refused to listen to any mention of how the idea that children of lesbian/gay parents are disadvantaged has been debunked many, many times by solid research. She urged me to "at least adopt, so it will be a kid who's already disadvantaged"."

Seems to me that's incredibly discriminatory both against GLBT people and also against children who have been placed for adoption. Not only is she assuming that she knows more than all the hundreds and thousands of GLBT parents, their millions of well-adjusted children, and all the dozens (hundreds?) of researchers who have analyzed them to death, but ... a child who has already been "disadvantaged" as she puts it (if she means an older child from an abusive family) needs FIRST rate parents who are capable of handling the tremendous challenges (as well as incredible rewards) they can bring. If she thinks she's recommending the idea to supposedly "second rate" parents then what does that say about her attitudes toward the CHILDREN?

Good luck with your family planning--however you create your family, and whatever the background of the child(ren) who join your family. I'm sure the result will be first rate, all around.

rickismom said...

I must admit that occaisionally, still, it shocks me how STUPID some people are.

Liesl said...

Wow. Just wow. Broken?? Wow.

Ali S. said...

My mom has disabilities, and she is the mother (amazing, patient, loving, perfect mother) to six kids. She was diagnosed with a degenerative disease after our adoption of my two youngest siblings, and it was a hard road for a while. One of the most intensely frustrating, annoying, and hurtful things I was constantly told was "Well, if your mom knew she was going to be so sick, why did she adopt? That doesn't seem fair." For a while, I felt the need to explain ourselves, tell our story about how we adopted and a year later my mom started feeling incredibly ill, and it wasn't the other way around. I explained and explained about how my siblings were from destitute orphanages in a third-world country and came home weighing a third what they should have, with distended bellies, diseases, and disabilities of their own, and how their lives could not have been any where near as good in those orphanages than they are here. At all the "mom and daughter" events I attended with my sister when my mom could not, I got critical eyes and raised brows from most of the moms, who either knew I was there because my mom was sick or just assumed that I was my sister's mom. And then one day I hit that Point. Eff them all. It's none of their business, and no one should have to explain or justify themselves to anyone, leastly to strangers who assume they know better. This post really meant a lot to me. I just happened upon it, I know this is an old post that I'm responding to, but I felt the need to say thank you for writing it. Someday this won't have to be an issue, but until then, thank you for reminding people that it is.