A Mom Like Any Other…Just a Little Different by Stacy Neely
As long as I can remember I’ve loved children. Initially, I was positive I’d be an elementary school teacher.
Once I entered middle school, and realized the pathetic monetary-worth society associates with teachers, I swiftly changed my career goals toward pediatric medicine. Unfortunately, our best laid plans are often sent astray. At age nineteen I was in a crippling accident that left me semi-paralyzed on my left side. My dream was as crushed as my body—there was no way I could take care of a baby from a
chair, much less perform the duties of a pediatrician. Thankfully, life again revealed how little I knew. Within three years I married, divorced, and became a disabled-single-mother of a three-month-old. With little choice, I simply had to do what needed to be done.
It didn’t take long to discover that bathing him in the sink was easier than trying to use the bathtub and I struggled through changing diapers one handed until I became a pro. I re-learned how to take careof an infant, while accommodating my new limitations. My child was happy and healthy, affirming my new confidence in my evolving abilities. Surprisingly, despite the mobility limitations, the mechanics of “being mom” was not my most difficult challenge in raising my son—it was community reaction.
In his early years, every time there was a change in staff at the medical clinic, a large portion of our limited time with the doctor was spent re-answering questions such as: “Who takes care of him?” “How do you change his diaper? Can you show me?” Reactions from community support and social service programs were similar. When meeting new individuals, it was not uncommon to hear things like: “You’re his mom—really? That’s amazing” Although, I must acknowledge that not all of these reactions were negative. People in my neighborhood have stopped me to say, “I’ve watched you and your son years! You are doing a fabulous job with him.”
My biggest concern is the lack of communication between agencies, or even within one office. You’d expect the professional who first asked me to show I could take care of my child safely would make notes to that fact. Repetition is not only a waste of time but its
humiliating and degrading. Furthermore, lack of support available to disabled mothers in San Luis Obispo County is a grave concern. When I divorced, the only resource available to me was through medical referrals to a physical therapist. The only way to troubleshoot problems was to obtain a prescription, and make an appointment for “physical therapy” or, figure it out myself. Isolation and loneliness, due to the lack of support, was more daunting than any adaption I attempted on my own.
And I know I am not alone. Just from activities around town, I can think of two other disabled mothers in the community. To combat the presumption that disabled women cannot effectively be mothers, education and public intervention are needed. The community must develop resources that empower disabled women in ways that provide the skills needed for parenting. Perhaps then, society will accept what life has taught me—a disabled mother can take care of her child from a chair.
StacyNeely moved to San Luis Obispo County in 1997. She is the single, disabled mother of one boy and a 2012 graduate from California Polytechnic StateUniversity, receiving a BA in English and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies.