***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.
Sean Moore said:
I can understand that, I still think my mom does’t think I’lll be a good parent and it doesn’t help when I’m both blind and gay. So no idea how the public would reaction when me and my partner choose to have kids, and look at me more weirdly because I have to have a blind child, I would prefer a boy, of course.
do hope I’ve made sense half asleep .
Thanks for stopping by.
Why do you believe you would have to have a blind child? Is that something you believe yourself, or something that has been told to you?
I can’t imagine the perceptions that you may face as a blind gay parent, though I do know of other couples (admittedly not many) who have traveled this route ahead of you.
Bryan McMurray said:
I loved your post, but also was so sad! I have been blind all my life, and my sweet sighted wife and I had 3 kids, all of them at holme with midwives! Our youngest just had her first, 4 weeks ago, and, I would for sure, let you, push you, to hold our babies, and her baby. And, my wife is a Canadian from Prince George, so, dear would be Momn, keep trusting and looking up and praying and believing! You will be a great Mom, if that is in God’s plan for you!
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I’ve never ever asked to hold somebody’s baby nor to feel a pregnant woman’s tummy. the lator in my view is often by invitation only and more so if you’re somewhat familiar with that woman and have been for a number of years. with that said, I would like to give a bit of background as to why this post really jumped out at me. over the years I’ve come into contact with people who have had babies and who have been pregnant. sometimes I’ve been invited to touch the baby while somebody is holding it sometimes I’ve been allowed to hold the baby while somebody is supporting the baby and assisting me in how to hold the baby. in relation to feeling a pregnant woman’s tummy to me it’s a boundary that must never be crossed if it were me I often prefer to be invited to do that more so than asking permission. having said that a recent incident at my local hairdressing salon made me question how women who are pregnant may feel and what other people who may also be present may or may not have seen. somebody told me I made a wise move when I told them thus. one of the hairdressors was pregnant when I last went for a hair cut and this hairdresser is the boss’s daughter and I’ve been going to this particular hairdresser for about 9 or 10 years although the boss had worked under another hairdresser previously. this hairdresser had sat down to have a bit of a rest and I congratulated her on being pregnant and asked how far along she was. I didn’t exactly ask if I could feel her tummy but when I made to move a little closer she said “have a feel” I wasn’t sure exactly whether she meant that or whether her tone of voice suggested that me moving closer implied that I wanted to feel her tummy. there were other people in the salon at the time and I decided I wouldn’t take the risk in case it wasn’t really permission as I couldn’t really make out what her tone of voice was trying to convey to me so I retreated thinking that if I did feel her tummy there was going to be something I was going to miss that was non-verbal that I wouldn’t see which is why to me I would prefer if I was given consent to touch I would rather be more discrete one time when I was actually in hospital many years ago one of the nurses invited me to feel her pregnant tummy as at the time I was about to have an IV needle in for fluids and medication. think at that time feeling the nurse’s pregnant tummy was probably used as a diversion. just thought I’d leave this comment here and give you my thoughts on your post and feel free to correct me on anything if you must.
I have always felt incredibly obtrusive when being asked to touch a woman’s “baby bump”. Years ago, a friend of mine was pregnant with her first child, and after a late night of games and snacks (it was likt 3:00 in the morning), she gave me a hug as I was leaving the house, then put my hand on her baby bump and says “Here’s my belly!” It was amusing and awkward and glorious at the same time 🙂
not sure how you will take what I’m about to relate so here goes. I was at a friend’s wedding recently and it was at the wedding reception that my mother happened to notice that our friend’s friend or one of his friends his daughter in law was pregnant. the question of “how far along now” came as a bolt out of the blue to me so tossed up whether to ask for confirmation or just remember everything I said in my previous comment on this post and why I was thinking the way I was and why I continue to think this way. as I’ve said before it would have been easy for me to ask for consent to feel this lady’s baby bump but there was just one problem. for starters, I didn’t know this lady although she knows a long time friend of our family. I wasn’t annoyed that I didn’t know said woman was pregnant but was a little taken aback at how the subject was even broached in the first place and you know my stance about personal boundaries and personal autonomy.
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Sean Randall said:
I have a sighted daughter, and both my partner and I have no vision. People are often surprised by this, the assumption is of course that one of us can see. The reactions and questions when they hear otherwise range from “how brave you are”, “how brilliant you are” or “how bad it must be for you/your child”.
Only the latter is truly a problem, I feel. The other two responses are not meant to hurt, but simply made in ignorance. Judging by your blog post above I sense that ignorance would hurt you and that of course is unfortunate and difficult, but the intent behind the sentiment expressed is one of bafflement and confusion all stemming, I believe, from fear.
People are afraid of blind people or, more accurately I suppose, afraid of blindness. They fear that which they do not understand or cannot comprehend. So the fact that I can do my job, or dress myself, or read a book to my daughter, or make her a hot drink and watch a movie when they can do none of these things without relying on their eyes scares them. And so they decide that it’s a bad thing to live that way, or a brave thing to fight through what they perceive as something difficult. None of this hurts me. I am bothered, yes, I am saddened that public perception falls so quickly into this pattern. But I also know that the vast majority of people say these things not in spite, but in an attempt to speak on something they know nothing about. I wouldn’t expect my local postman to diagnose a medical complaint, or my train conductor to forecast changes in the stock market. Those aren’t the fields in which they work. So when a sighted person has a view on how my blindness impacts my life I am neither obliged nor expected to hold it in any special regard.
And I don’t. I am polite, I answer questions, I am a huge proponent of education and will happily stop in the street if it will help someone to learn something or teach their children etc. But when I walk away from a sighted person who’s told me how sorry they are for me, how wonderful I am to do what I do, or how they have a myopic grandmother so they understand what things are like for me, I’m afraid that part of the conversation gets left behind with the person I was talking to rather than taken along to impact the rest of my life.
Now there are people, and I have met perhaps three or four in the whole four and a half years of my daughter’s life, who honestly and intensely believe that either I cannot parent or that I had a sighted child to help me because of my blindness. Those people do hurt me. Not so that you’d notice, because I am not the sort to weep on a street corner, but their views are bigoted and deeply etched, often mired in religion it is sad to say and I have not successfully argued any of them out of their views yet. Frequently, they are not even willing to listen, and trying to change the views of a closed mind is an exercise in futility and I have learned with age and experience to pick my battles and make a difference where I can, not where I’d want.
I find that many of my blind friends are extremely sensitive to slights upon their abilities. Defenciveness is, I suppose, only natural, but belligerence and bluster solves little. SO do I think I am a good parent? Well I am getting there. Does my blindness impact that? Yes, of course; there are things I am slower at, or less involved with visually because of it. But I look around at other families, I see how other children are brought up. I hear good things from my daughter’s educators and people in authority about her behaviour, and I know with surety that how she behaves and is perceived in public compares extremely favourably to her peers.
So I have a choice on how to live my life. DO I choose to let comments made because people feel obliged to say something, are scared, or occasionally very angry decide how I am going to feel? Or do I take the scientific approach and use my own observations, coupled with thoughts of those people who judge others behaviour every day (teachers, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, drivers) influence my own feelings?
Obviously, I choose the second one. It’s the most logical approach. By any metric, we are a happy, successful, productive coping family. A dearth of vision in our household simply necessitates a rise in ingenuity, adaptability and creativity – all praiseworthy skills in themselves.
So I will ask to hold your baby. I like babies. I enjoyed holding my daughter when she was a baby, I will enjoy holding our next baby and if there’s a baby being passed around, I’m not going to miss out on the fun. And if I am refused, or greeted with a response couched in fear or anger or loathing or worry, perhaps I can change that mind or perhaps I cannot. But if I don’t offer to hold that baby, there is not even a perhaps. That’s an opportunity I have thrown away. And we all know that the more opportunities one throws away, the less opportunities one gets.
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Thanks for stopping by and being rational and articulate.
You have definitely given me much food for thought, and I think I need to carefully consider this before I have a coherent response.
I definitely will respond to this, but wished to thank you for reading and giving me much to ponder.
Sean, I agree with every word you say here. I have been denied the possibility of ever becoming a mother because of health issues. I have also been blessed with little cousins and many relatives and the babies of friends to hold in my life. Sometimes I have asked to hold them, sometimes it has been offered, I have never had a problem or ever had it suggested that I, as a totally blind person would not be safe with a baby. I might say I also went through more than six years of intensive fertility treatment and at no time was it ever suggested then that I would not be a fit person to bring up a baby.
This is the one thing I fear about being blind (not holding the baby, but having the baby, and by that I mean others reactions). I have wanted to be a mother since well as long as I could say the word.
I don’t worry about as much as my ability to raise a child (a friend of mine blind, and raising his son as a single father, who has heard all if not more, because he has been rather open that his son inherited his condition RP, but as Ushers) so I know it is not about not being able to, but what others will say to me.
My relatives aren’t speaking to me, so they don’t count. But everybody else does. I remind them what caused my blindness is not genetic, and even if it was that would be mine and my future’s partners choice. Surely not theirs.
The only young child I have been around is my friend’s who is blind son, so I don’t think he has and worry about me holding him, or playing with him.
Though I have noticed with the little I can see people pull their children away from even when I am sitting still. Something I find heart breaking. But instead of saying something, I say nothing.
Thank you for sharing this experience. Ouch! I would be so confused to hear someone say that. As a blind woman I have never desired children of my own but I have been thankful when family members and friends have offered to let me hold their babies. I am continually surprised at how many misconceptions people have about the blind. would
As a blind uncle to a couple of adorable nephews, I’ve been profoundly lucky as far as this question goes. I’ve occasionally received tips on how to hold a baby, but never felt that I wasn’t welcome to do so. I wish I could say i was surprised to see this isn’t always the case, but I’m not.
As far as parenting myself is concerned, I’m not in any sort of steady relationship where it’s even a possibility, so don’t think I have much to add on that front. I’m sorry you had such an awkward encounter, and wish people were more understanding of the blind in general. Being the ambassador does become tiring day in and day out.
Thanks for this! I hope your posts are helping make me more sensitive to the needs of blind people or others whose lives are different than my own in some significant sense….!
I am fascinated by this post. While I cannot argue with your experiences or interpretations of social situations, I as a totally blind man have never experienced the awkwardness you speak of. Dating as far back as my late teens, and in some cases even earlier, I’ve rarely if ever been given objections to holding someone’s baby. A couple of years back, a good friend of mine and his wife had a baby, and they were totally fine placing her into the arms of their blind friend, until she started fussing and crying, and they thought it was best she was handed back to Mommy! A few weeks back, one of my co-workers on mat leave came to visit the office with her newborn. I didn’t get to hold the little one, but only because by the time it was my turn she’d already been passed around the office, and was starting to get restless. Nothing to do with blindness, that’s how babies are. As for “awkward or mistrustful” glances when I pose the question? I have no clue, and really I could care less if they do occur. After all, most guys are generally clueless as to how to hold an infant. Along with that, I also just happen to be blind!
Pamela Berman said:
On Thanksgiving night my niece put her 18 month old son in my arms to say good night. As I loved on my precious baby nephew my niece & sister-in-law gathered their belongings & then I thought they’d take the little guy (LG) from me, but they didn’t. We stood there chatting for a few moments as the night was done & they were obviously ready to leave, but still neither one of them took LG from me. I’m standing there, feeling awkwardly, thinking OMG! How am I going to get from the kitchen, through the dining room, the hall way & to the front door where LG’s daddy would take him out the door to their waiting car without looking blind? Don’t they realize I’m BLIND?!! The way I saw it I had 2 choices, #1- ask them to take him or #2- just do it! Well, I did it! I was able to use my hand minimally to feel the wall as I navigated us safely to the front of my house. As I was doing this & even since, I wonder to myself, what were they thinking (my niece & her mom, aka: grandma)? Were they worried that I might walk into a wall holding this precious baby boy; did they even think about the fact that I’m blind, or was that all in my own head?! I often worry how I am perceived as a blind woman making my way through the day. I never want anyone to feel sorry for me nor think me in capable, helpless or hopeless. Then I realize that it’s my own perceptions about myself that is my biggest battle. I am my own worst critic & when I lift my head high & walk with confidence the confidence comes.
I am also a lesbian & feel that my own
Inner Homophobia has struck me at times in this same way. Of course there are people’s ignorant misconceptions of what a gay person is about, but it is my own perception of who I am as a lesbian that really impacts me the most.
Being a lesbian has been way easier for me to cope with as I’m out of the closet & proud to say that my partner of 27 years (sighted just in case you were wondering) & I are very proud of our 2 (sighted, just in case you were wondering) sons that I gave birth to more then 15 years ago. Being gay has become very fashionable said my mom years ago when she was trying to come to terms with her 1 & only baby girl being a lesbian. The blindness thing on the other hand was difficult for her to swallow & therefore a huge hurdle for me.
I wasn’t born blind. I have RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa) which has taken more then 40 years to rob me of my eyesight. It’s been a hard thing for me to adjust to, because it’s always changing & wasn’t really talked about when I was a kid. As a woman who is blind & gay I was nervous, concerned, apprehensive& yet also wanting to have children. It was a decision that I didn’t make lightly. My boys inspire me to be the very best I can & sometimes that means pushing myself a little harder. I always want them to do their best & make me proud and I owe it to them to do the same. Sometimes I forget myself & get a little stuck, so I’m so happy to have friends like Beth who led me to read your blog which inspired me to take a deeper look at who I am. Thank You Blindbeader & Sean R!
I love this. Watch out, Pam Burman — I may be hitting you up soon to come up with a guest post I can publish on the Safe & Sound blog!