Able mothering for mothers with disability
12 July 2017
By Kgomotso Meso
“Congratulations, you are pregnant!” Those words would bring joy to any woman whose hopes for raising a family had looked slim. Motherhood is one of the most selfless joys that God grant to women. However, it can be a Catch-22 for women with a disability in a society that still sees “disability” as taboo.
Against the odds that are put by society for them, women with disabilities are defying every one of them and prove daily that not only are they able to be exceptional mothers to their children, but they also do it with finesse and grace. But, there are uncertainties and concerns with being a woman with a disability and falling pregnant.
Puleng Moloka, 28, from Katlehong, was seven in 1996, when she was diagnosed with Spinal TB. She then went for spinal repair surgery, and now is a paraplegic, using a wheelchair as means of mobility.
“When I found out I was pregnant in 2013, I was both nervous and happy at the same time,” says Moloka. “My greatest concern was my baby because I confirmed my pregnancy at 17 weeks. I knew I had to do my best to stay healthy so that my baby would have the best chance of being healthy. My other concern was if my disability would affect my unborn child.” Lorraine Mosioua, a paraplegic who uses crutches, had a different worry.
“My concern, more than anything, was how I would tell my mother. I was petrified. I really didn’t think about the physical side of things at that stage, I only got concerned about the actual pregnancy later,” says the Benoni resident. “I was concerned how I would handle it and what if the baby got too big. Luckily I never got big and I never really had hectic morning sickness. My pregnancy was good if I can say so,” says Mosioua, who is in her late 30s.
Socially, the environment within which women with disabilities raise their children is not accommodating and welcoming. They say they often feel discriminated against, especially in social surroundings and engaging with other people.
“I think that all first time mothers face lots of challenges but my ultimate challenge was that I wanted to do everything that new mothers do – like looking after my son on my own, and being totally independent. Another challenge came when I had to travel with my three-year-old alone because kids easily get distracted and I always have to remind him to stay next to me,” says Moloka.
Mosioua, on the other hand, is frustrated by the things she cannot do with her son due to physical restraints.
“I am not able to play soccer with my son, or do some of the things many six year olds do – like flying kites and running around, and I do communicate with him, especially when I can tell that he really wants to engage in a certain activity.
“I think he does not understand why mommy is on crutches, but he has adapted to my disability. I compensate by taking him shopping and going out. At the end of the day I do not sweat the little things that I am not able to do – what matters are the things that we can do
She says another challenge is “people who assume that a disabled person cannot have a child let alone an able-bodied child. Some people will even go to an extent of asking if it really is my child”, Mosioua reflects.
There are moments though, when support is needed, and these women are often grateful for the support that they receive from friends – most importantly from family.
“My mother has been there even before birth and she has been co-parenting with me since day one,” says Mosioua. “I don’t think I would have coped without my mother’s immense support. She has been amazing – I’ll forever be grateful for her support. She is still supporting me even now.”
Being a single parent is a challenge to anyone, and these mothers with disability are no exception. They say although the fathers provide financial support for the children, what is often lacking is the fathers’ availability and emotional support.
“I teach my son that we are all different and that me being in a wheelchair is not a big deal because I can do anything for him, and being different is also unique. He knows I can’t walk and there are other people like me and they have kids that can walk. What matters is that we are mothers and we all love our kids,” Moloka says.
Watching the interaction between these mothers and their children, one is able to see the connection. There is a deep-rooted understanding. It is as though the child understands the mother’s limitations and is able to compensate for them.
Mothers with disabilities provide just as much love, care, nurturing and support to their children, regardless of the societal and environmental barriers that they face on a daily basis. They take things a day at a time and they have built a harmonious relationship that enables their children to thrive.