I recently sat down to watch, “Don’t take my baby”, a factual drama which tells of a disabled couple’s fight to keep their newborn baby daughter. It’s a subject close to my heart as a disabled parent myself.
The mother had a physical, life-limiting disability whilst the father was partially sighted and his condition was expected to deteriorate. As soon as their daughter was born, social services began accessing their capabilities as parents and their every move was scrutinised. Rather than being supported in their new role as parents, they were automatically assumed incapable and put under the enormous pressure of having to proof that they could look after their little girl. Any parent, disabled or not, would struggle to cope whilst their every move was being observed and their every little mistake noted down.
After four months of cruelling assessment and observation, the couple were eventually deemed capable parents and they were allowed to keep their little one. The programme brought me back to the early days of my pregnancy, when I used to fret that I could be deemed an unsuitable parent and that “someone” might try and take my baby away from me.
I remember voicing my concerns to my midwife during my first appointment. Even though I had a supportive family and an able bodied husband, I worried that my disability would raise concerns. My midwife assured me that nobody would be taking my baby from me and that everything possible would be done to enable me to look after my baby. I felt reassured and I was confident that once my baby was born, I’d find my own ways of caring for him and that my disability wouldn’t prevent me from being a good mum.
Although I had a lot of support during my pregnancy and special arrangements were made for the birth, this is where the support stopped. My husband Dean and I went home with Jack and as a family, we found the best and safest ways for me to care for Jack. It wasn’t easy to begin with but Dean took time out from work to be with me so that I could gradually build my confidence in doing things for Jack.
Nobody offered us any help or an assessment for things which may make life easier. It was just assumed that we were OK and although this was true, I am left wondering who makes the decisions about who should be assessed and who is left to get on with it.
I am grateful that nobody thought it necessary to interfere; my baby is now 2 years old so I think I’ve proved that I am very capable of being a mum. But I am also saddened and angry that other disabled people are being presumed incapable just because they have a disability and are being put under such intense scrutiny.
Disabled people have just as much right as anybody else to become parents. As a society, we should be providing as much support as possible and enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential; not automatically and naively judging them based on nothing more than assumptions.