Disabled motherhood – a category error? The infantilisation of disabled parents

I've got both girls bundled onto my lap, you can see the top of the wheelchair wheel, and the back of a Mainie with her arms round Viola. Viola's wearing a gorgeous merino bonnet and is looking reproachfully at the camera. It's an action shot, I'm looking down and adjusting something. We're all white with light brown hair, which is blowing everywhere. I'm wearing a mustard coloured linen skirt and matching headscarf. We're in the grounds of Blenheim Palace.
Disabled cottage core anyone?

We’ve had our Mothers’ Day already. But the rest of the world probably has a point putting it in gorgeous May instead of chilly March. 

I love this photo – James must have taken it while the girls scrambled into my lap. Viola’s looking reproachfully at the camera because she’s suddenly having to share me.

There’s something so special about this stage – coming to an end for me – when they’re still able to pile onto my lap in the wheelchair. 

Disabled motherhood can be complex. The world habitually infantilises disabled people. So disabled parents become a category error. Because if we’re basically children ourselves, how can we be responsible for children? There’s a skittishness about disabled people being responsible for our own lives, let alone other people’s. 

When I was a (non-disabled) teenager, teenage pregnancy rates were high. Adults would give you a particular look – of warning and suspicion, when pregnancy came up. 

I was in my mid thirties by the time I realised that for most women, things had shifted. To intrusive questions & comments about “not waiting too long”. 

But for me, the warning looks had pretty much stayed the same – as though disability extended teenager status indefinitely. 

When I was 21 or so, and had been disabled for a couple of years, a neighbour casually said – apropos of absolutely nothing – 

“Well you won’t have children then – it wouldn’t be fair.” 

Few other people were as direct, but I never forgot it. 

And when I was finally pregnant, I was surprised anyone was happy for me – and to be clear, plenty of people were. 

Motherhood – and my marriage to James – has simply been the best thing to happen to me. And I say that at the end of a whole year of homeschooling in a pandemic. 

Yes it’s exhausting, but that’s hardly news. It’s also utterly joyous. For all four of us I think. 

Lucy, James, Mainie and Viola are all in the garden, bathed in sunlight. All look happy except Viola, who looks careworn. But is wearing a striking straw boater.
Viola does not exactly look brimming with joy here, to be honest.

Disabled mothers who write with great insight about their experiences on Instagram include:

  • Alex Wegman (@alexwegman on instagram)
  • Nina Tame (@nina_tame)
  • Dani Izzie (@daniizzie)
  • Christa Couture (@christacouture) author of How to Lose Everything
  • Rebekah Taussig (@sitting_pretty) author of Sitting Pretty

Lucy Catchpole

First posted on Instagram 9th May 2021 

[Image descriptions: I’ve got both girls bundled onto my lap, you can see the top of the wheelchair wheel, and the back of a Mainie with her arms round Viola. Viola’s wearing a gorgeous merino bonnet and is looking reproachfully at the camera. It’s an action shot, I’m looking down and adjusting something. We’re all white with light brown hair, which is blowing everywhere. I’m wearing a mustard coloured linen skirt and matching headscarf. We’re in the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

2. Lucy, James, Mainie and Viola are all in the garden, bathed in sunlight & wearing hats. All look happy except Viola, who looks careworn. But is wearing a striking straw boater.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s