Ableism is real. Ableism is painful. Yet, for many of us disabled people, it can be difficult to paint the picture of what ableism looks like, or how it affects our lives, and, as disabled parents, how it affects our children and the way THEY see us.
Going through some old photos I came across several pictures of my early days as a mom. Only now that I am older and able to understand ableism, am I able to identify it not only in day to day experiences, but also in the captured images of myself where ableism is suddenly obvious because I have a way of naming the lived oppression we now know as ableism. I will be writing about each picture as I go through them.
Starting with this picture, I want to paint the face of ableism. I want to yell out to the world that disabled mothers have the right to be mothers just like any other women, but by the time we become mothers, for many of us disabled women, internalized ableism has already bitten off a chunk of our confidence and our ability to believe the non-disabled world does not have the right to decide for our children’s lives.
In this picture, I am wearing a white and blue pattern short sleeve top and matching pants. I sit in the background with “Ugly Betty big glasses and sadness floating on my face — the kind of sadness I think everyone can relate to when we desperately try to disguise our emotions and pretend everything is ok. My hands are placed in front of me while my fingers meet as if making a circle. My entire body language displays a “fish out of water” level of discomfort that makes me feel really sad as I look at this picture now. In front of me is my first son who, in this picture, is about ten months old and just beginning to stand and take a few aided steps. My youngest sister holds my baby’s hand looking like the proud mom I should have been instead of the crippled shadow I felt like while others raised my children.
It took me over two decades to be able to write about being a mother who was disempowered by ableism. It took me all this time to be able to free myself of the suffocating oppression that kept me from speaking up and realizing I had been their mother all along. I know I cannot change the past, but I can use my personal story as a disabled mother so other women…other mothers… can learn to identify the many faces of ableism and break its chains before they cut too deeply.
(For more on Maria’s experience on disabled parenting and ableism, check out her latest publication Bubbles of Ableism now also available in printed form.)