Back in September 2019 I wrote this short piece about Alison Lapper for the Instagram account @makemotherhooddiverse.
In terms of media representation, disabled mothers are thin on the ground. So Alison Lapper, naked, pregnant, very definitely disabled, and on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was a beacon for me in the Noughties. I’ve just heard that Alison Lapper’s son Parys has died, aged 19, and feel knocked sideways with the sadness of it.
Very few disabled mothers are heard, and she’s a glorious exception. As a young, newly disabled woman, watching her pregnancy and motherhood in the BBC documentary Child of Our Time gave me hope that motherhood might be possible for me. I pored over her book, and the few times I saw her on tv talking about parenting as a disabled person affected me profoundly. She was so confident in her mothering.
My sadness about this is selfish, I don’t know Alison or her son. Like most people when it comes to disability, I wanted to see a happy ending so badly. I wanted her strength to be enough.
Because if her strength wasn’t enough, then what does that say? It says that perhaps it just isn’t possible. That perhaps without extra resources, privilege, support structures, it is not possible to be severely disabled and bring up a child as a single mother.
Alison has said in interviews that Parys was bullied at secondary school, that the bullies focused on her disability. That he asked her to stop coming to Parents’ Evenings at school. For me this is the fear, that the uncomplicated love our children feel for us will give way to something else when they grow up and see us through the eyes of others. That they will feel shame. As disabled mothers there’s very little we can do about that – this one is on all the able-bodied people around us, and that is scary.