***Blogger’s note: It was kindly pointed out to me that a previous edit of this post identified certain individuals and situations. This was not and never has been my intent, so I have removed any identifying information. Thank you for reading and commenting.
One day last week, all conversation stopped when an infant was brought into the room. Four women cooed, passed around and fussed over the baby. I was about to open my mouth and ask if I could hold her when I was asked, “Would you like to touch the baby while someone else holds her?” My heart sank. I wanted more than anything to ask if I could hold the baby, but words just wouldn’t come out. Even thinking about it now, nearly a week later, I regret not asking the question, even as I realize that a large piece of me feared that the answer would be no.
I have friends with children, some of whom I have known since they were infants and who are now approaching double digits in age. Looking back, I doubt I have ever initiated a baby-holding experience; I would be asked if I wanted to hold the baby or, in one memorable instance, had a baby unceremoniously plunked in my lap. I don’t have an exact reason why this is, but I know a piece of me feels like the world would end if I were to ask to hold a baby and was told no, that’s OK, or – perhaps even worse – miss the horrified or awkward or mistrustful glance that would accompany a hesitant, “OK.”
And yet, one day, I wish to be a mother. It’s been my dream for as long as I could remember. Several jobs ago, I thought I would stay at that job until I became pregnant and went on maternity leave, but life had other plans. Over the past few months, through all the changes that have gone on in my life, I have thought more about motherhood. What about being pregnant? Would I have to respond graciously to such insensitive questions like “Where’s the father in all this?” or “Are you allowed to have a baby?” or “Are you going to keep it?” And that’s BEFORE giving birth! My biggest fear is having social workers involved in my parenting because of a perception that a disabled parent can’t take care of an infant (think that won’t happen? Think again).
Even a basic call-out to blind friends has produced heartbreaking fear and misconception of childcare capabilities expressed by family members, friends of friends, and strangers. More than one blind father has had store employees thank their 4-year-old for “taking Daddy to the store”. One friend (the go-to “Cool” babysitter of the neighborhood) had one family refuse to have her look after their children unless a sighted (read: capable) person was with her. Another was told that his child was invited to a birthday party… only if a sighted parent brought them. And those were just the stories I heard in the span of about thirty minutes, with more comments of “Don’t get me started; I’m talked to like I can’t POSSIBLY take care of myself, much less a child.” My heart grieves for a world where this is so.
So for those who have children, I don’t wish to come across awkward and uncertain, but in fact I really am. My arms ache to hold that newborn, and I’d LOVE to get down on the floor and play dolls with your six-year-old. But I want to respect your autonomy as a parent to decide who watches, cuddles and holds your wonderful bundle of joy. but every piece of me is screaming that it’s something I would love. But I can not ask. I don’t think I could handle even a hesitant yes, and I know I couldn’t handle a no. So please, ask me, because right now I’m not strong enough to take those first toddling steps myself.