Special Needs

What Childbirth Is Like for Mothers with Disabilities in the US (Hint: It’s Not Good)

A sleeping newborn baby girl wrapped in a pink blanket.

Being a parent shouldn’t be dependent on what kind of body someone happens to have–being able-bodied certaubky doesn’t make for better parenting. For many couples who have special needs and disabilities, there is an unfortunate slew and myriad of prejudices they face on the path to parenthood–and it’s wrong in every sense of the word. Cosmopolitan recently interviewed several parents with disabilities. What they said is heartbreaking.

Nikki Villavicencio, who has a daughter, has arthrogryposis, which is a condition that immobilizes some of her joints. Meanwhile, her husband Darrell has cerebral palsy, which affects muscle tone and coordination. Both Nikki and Darrell use wheelchairs. Nikki told Cosmopolitan how it’s been difficult for health professionals to take them seriously–or give them the information they need:

“As a person with a disability and as a woman, I always felt the world didn’t see me as a caretaker, [but rather as] someone who needs to be taken care of.

My parents were told when I was born that I would never have a child.”

When she went to a gynecologist at 22, for instance, she was told, “Is it even possible for you to have intercourse?” When Nikki requested additional help from the state while she was pregnant, she was told, “You won’t get more services for this, because you chose to be pregnant.”

Coincidentally, the New York Times published an op-ed today by a woman with cerebral palsy about pregnancy, abortion and disability that touched upon many of the same issues.

My disability is not genetic and it does not hamper pregnancy. Being pregnant was physically, emotionally and spiritually easy for me, but socially, it was complicated. Moving around in New York City as a pregnant woman with a disability opened me up for constant commentary. I am used to having my body be an object of attention. The real difficulty came from elsewhere — it was dealing with the medical establishment during my pregnancy that I was not prepared for.

Meanwhile, Anastasia Somoza, a 32-year-old New Yorker who spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, told Cosmo:

“I think most physicians assume, when dealing with women with disabilities, that we are asexual unless we say otherwise.”

It doesn’t end there. Kieran Kern, a 40-year-old mother from New Jersey with cerebral palsy explained how a hospital staffer asked, “How are you going to care for a baby?” She went on to say:

“I’m a grown woman. I have a job and two hands — although I know people who change diapers with their teeth.”

Cosmopolitan noted how “more than 6 percent of parents in the U.S. have a disability, but two-thirds of dependency statutes allow courts to decide whether a parent is unfit solely because of a disability.” Having children taken away from their parents because of their disability isn’t a thing of the past either. In 2010, for example, two parents who are blind had their 2-day-old daughter removed from their care, and put in foster care for two months. Why? All because a social worker said the mother’s attempt to breastfeed (which wasn’t seamless, but whose is?) meant the family needed 24-hour care.

Clearly, we need to do better. Not sure how that will be the case under the current administration.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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