A common theme we heard in regards to parenting as a person with disabilities was frustration with intervening authorities. We heard several stories of women having their children apprehended because Child and Family Services (CFS) identified their disability as a barrier preventing successful parenting. Some women were even told that having a disability meant they were unable to care for a child with a disability. Economic status was often an initiating factor in CFS involvement, as many of the women we spoke with relied solely on AISH or child support payments for income. Nonetheless, we also heard from many women who wished to become mothers; here, a major challenge was finding information and supports as a parent with disabilities. The stories below describe some of the common challenges we heard from women with children and women hoping to start families.
Carly is a 43-year-old woman who was diagnosed with a learning disability when she was in her thirties. She is a single mom, and has a 19-year-old daughter who is also disabled. Carly is her own guardian, and lives with her daughter in a large city in Alberta. Growing up, Carly went to regular school; although she faced many difficulties in her classes, she never received any support. Carly and her parents never discussed birth control or sex, and she learned about sex from Sex Ed classes. She got pregnant at the age of 23, and her parents accepted her pregnancy quite well. Her ex-partner was diagnosed with ADHD, and also had problems with substance abuse. He was violent towards Carly for years, and the couple often split up and got back together during their daughter’s early childhood. Child and Family Services (CFS) took Carly’s daughter when she was 8-years-old, because they believed that Carly was not able to take care of her since they both have disabilities. She was not allowed to see her daughter for three months, and during the next two years she was only allowed to have supervised visits. Carly fought the government to get her child back, and had to prove her competency by changing her living conditions. Most of the complaints CFS had about her parenting referred to her economic status. Her disability was only discovered through one of the many assessments she was ordered to undergo. Her daughter lived with many different foster families as well as in a group home, and was put on medication without Carly’s permission. Carly was eventually able to regain custody of her daughter when she was 12-years-old. Today, she and her ex-partner are friends, and have a cooperative relationship when it comes to raising their daughter. Carly is trying to keep her daughter informed about birth control and other sexuality-related issues, and they have an open and supportive relationship.
Amy is a 37-year-old woman who has ADHD and neurofibromatosis. She lives in a large city in Alberta with her parents and brother, and is her own guardian. Amy attended Catholic school, and was in special education classes from grade three on. She attended sex education classes, but she did not find them very useful, as she was already familiar with birth control and other basic information about relationships and sexuality through discussions with her mother. Amy dated her first boyfriend during high school. After graduating high school she met her future husband, whom she was married to for 5 years. Amy’s husband did not have disabilities, though he experienced problems with alcohol and substance abuse. Amy and her husband were not often intimate because, as she states, he had difficulty engaging in sex. While she was married, Amy was accused of sexually assaulting a child she babysat. The charges were dropped shortly after. This was a stressful event for her, and Amy did not receive much support from her husband. After they divorced, she had several relationships, but none of them lasted very long. Amy is quite out-going and she is involved in the community, but she is also shy and she finds it difficult to meet potential partners. Amy would like to have children, but is medically unable carry a child. She is aware that it would be difficult for her to adopt, given her disabilities. Amy is unsure if she will get married again, but she hopes to find a good man and have a serious relationship.
Alesha is a 30-year-old woman who has cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and ADHD. She is her own guardian, and lives alone in mid-size city in Alberta. She works as a support worker and has vast experience in the field of disability. Alesha’s family includes her parents, two brothers, and one sister. She attended Christian elementary and middle school, where she was included in regular classrooms. In high school she attended boarding school. Sex Ed classes were not offered at her schools, and she did not discuss sex with her parents. Alesha learned about sex and sexuality from teen magazines, older friends, and from her first boyfriend, who she was with when she was 22. In her twenties, Alesha had a boyfriend who was violent, and harassed and stalked her. At the time, Alesha did not know how to handle the situation, but once she reported it, the police were very helpful and issued a restraining order against her former boyfriend. Alesha is currently is engaged to an man who does not have any disabilities, and they have a stable relationship. They hope to have a biological child in the near future, and to be foster parents to a child with disabilities. Alesha is interested in learning more about mothers with disabilities, and she is exploring sources on the internet and talking to people to learn more about the parenting practices of persons who use wheelchairs. Although she is aware of possible barriers to motherhood, she is a resourceful person who knows where to seek support and how to overcome challenges.
Jodi is a 23-year-old woman with learning disabilities who lives in a large Alberta city with her 4 year old son. Jodi works as a full-time mother caring for her son and her current boyfriend’s 7 year old son, and receives AISH, a child tax benefit, and sporadic child support payments from her ex-boyfriend. Jodi dropped out of high school because of bullying, and did not receive any sexual education. Her first exposure to information about STIs was when her girlfriend got herpes and the doctor at the clinic explained STIs to her. Jodi met the father of her son when she was 18, and soon became pregnant. She survived an armed home invasion when she was 9 months pregnant, which prompted Child and Family Services (CFS) involvement. CFS tried to apprehend her son shortly after birth, and has constrained Jodi’s dating life by placing visitation restrictions on her boyfriends. Recently Jodi had the negative experience of being drugged and sexually assaulted by her friend. She is also in the midst of a stressful court case with the paternal grandmother of her son, who is trying to obtain custody by emphasizing Jodi’s disability. The most difficult challenge for Jodi is being in public with her son, because she faces harsh ridicule and judgement for her youthful appearance. Jodi is so negatively affected by this ridicule that she is scared to go out with her son, and as a result is very socially isolated.
Mandy is a 43-year-old mother of five who has learning disabilities and is 80% blind in one eye. She lives with her partner and two of her children in a three bedroom rental in a large city. Mandy is a stay at home mother and receives AISH. She grew up in foster care, and was frequently relocated. When she was 19, a gynecologist told Mandy that she could not bear children, so she did not use birth control with her first boyfriend. However, she soon became pregnant, and because neither she nor her boyfriend were prepared to start a family, her son was put up for adoption. Mandy married her second boyfriend after an unexpected pregnancy. Together they have a daughter, who is now 21, and a son who is now 17 and has special needs. Mandy’s now ex-husband was emotionally abusive, and during their divorce used Mandy’s disabilities to convince authorities that she was an unfit parent and incapable of caring for a child with a disability. As a result, both of their children were placed in foster care. Mandy was homeless for a brief time following her divorce and the apprehension of her children. She met her current partner after transitioning into affordable housing, and after two years was able to regain custody of her daughter with the help of a parenting support agency. Mandy and her current partner have been together for 11 years, and have a 10 year old daughter and a 5 year old son with special needs. Mandy hopes to reconnect with her 17 year old son when he turns 18 and ages out of the foster system.