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The Challenge of Motherhood as a Disabled Woman

Happy Mother's Day

March 15 is Mother’s Day in the U.K.; that time of year when motherhood is celebrated and gifts, flowers and special gestures are presented. For the disabled, motherhood is not always straightforward. For some, it is a dream that may never be fulfilled. For others, it is a challenge to be overcome in whatever way possible.

Whether you have a disability or not, motherhood is a choice and not suited/desired by all. Just because a woman is disabled does not mean she will be “banned” from the circle of mothers, nor need it turn her into a person desperate to be one.

I, for one, never felt that urge to be a mother though I adore children and love my niece and nephew. But it is not something I consider. It simply does not suit my lifestyle. Yet I have met a few people who have always dreamed of being a mother and have gone on to achieve that dream by overcoming all sorts of prejudice and discrimination.

I have read many articles, reports and blogs over the years about the difficulties that mothers with disabled children endure. While motherhood can be self-satisfying, the struggles seem to overshadow many of the stories I have read.

A Disabled Mother?

Clearly, such readings only serve to increase a feeling that already exists among many disabled people: one of guilt and dependency. Rarely do we find the media focusing on disabled mothers. It is almost as if they are seen to be less motherly than their counterparts or that perhaps they don’t deserve the same recognition.

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Sadly, for a segment of society, a prejudiced attitude seems to exist, implying that a mother should not be disabled because she will not be able to fully care for her child. In other words, perhaps she is not a “complete” mother.

Banane is a disabled Muslim mother of an eight-year-old girl. She has endured various struggles and discrimination for choosing what millions of women choose: to be a mother.  It is ironic that if you are not disabled and don’t want to have children, you might be labeled by some as being selfish. But if you are disabled and want children, you are also deemed as selfish. The judgement that society passes on women is baffling.

Born with Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy and a heart condition, Benane knew that the idea of motherhood would be slightly daunting, but it was what she had always wanted. And after a few months of marriage, the happy news of her pregnancy changed everything.

Banane was 31-years-old when she got pregnant. Five months into the pregnancy her condition suddenly deteriorated rapidly and she found herself confined to a wheelchair having completely lost the ability to stand or walk. But Banane is a person with a positive attitude, who believes that “as a Muslim believer, I accept whatever Allah decrees for me. For what Allah wills comes into being in the time and manner He wills it, with neither addition nor loss, neither sooner nor later.”

Most people with disabilities suspect that their offspring may also inherit their condition, but Banane was not worried of such a thing because, “as a Muslim believer, I believe with God’s help, burdens are eased. A disabled child can certainly be a bless rather than a burden. After all, it is a creation created by the Creator.”

When I asked Banane about people’s reactions to her becoming a mother, she said that, much to her surprise, everyone was extremely happy and delighted to know about it.

“My parents were abroad at that time, but my husband was quite supportive as well as my good Muslim and non-Muslim friends. My carer used to come to the ward and help me, as well as my friends.”

Unfortunately, the same did not apply to the medical professionals. As Banane goes on to explain, “Unfortunately most nurses’ attitudes at [the] hospital were unpleasant, at least this is the feeling I got. They were not happy [after giving birth] that I was carrying my daughter – rested on pillows – securely on my lap, as they said it is against health and safety [regulations]. On various occasions, the nurses wanted to detach my daughter to put her in her cot. Even when she was awake.”

Banane had to stay in hospital for ten days. In normal circumstances it would have less. “They didn’t want to discharge me initially. I had a very difficult time at the ward, which was not even accessible for my needs. I felt that the nurses were monitoring every action I was doing in order to misjudge my ability to look after my daughter.”

Banane understands that it is the nurses’ job to make sure the baby would get proper care but she wished if they could show more kindness and respect while dealing with her as a mother.

Banane explains that after several discussions, it was finally agreed that she could go home with her daughter, but just as Banane was leaving the ward, the nurse told her in a sarcastic tone, “Don’t worry if it all turns out to be a complete failure.”

“Though I cried at that time because of the harsh words and attitude, I however gave no attention to this as I put my whole trust in my Creator, most high in knowledge,” Banane said.

Doctors were generally more supportive though anxious, while social workers were extremely unhelpful as they were constantly questioning Banane’s ability to look after her daughter in the short and long term. Social services were even threatening to take the baby away from Banane.

Disabled, But I Can15-3-15_The-Challenge-of-Motherhood-as-a-Disabled-Woman_1

Motherhood can be physically and emotionally draining, but so far for Banane it is a mixture of delight and some challenges. “I feel the joy that I am a mother. My daughter is a trust that I need to look after properly and she offers me a lot of support too. She is a blessing. Allah is our Helper, upon Him we depend. You get what you sow in life and the next.”

I have always thought that the image society has of disabled women, especially in the Islamic/Arab worlds, makes it harder for them to be a wife and a mother. But Banane has a different view.

“If it is a practicing sincere Muslim society/community, then surely it would not pose a problem. We have had so many disabled mothers/fathers throughout the Muslim history who were forward thinking and have achieved their goals in life. Being a disabled person, doesn’t mean that you have no role to play in life. Allah creates us in different shapes and colors to know one another and help one another. It is a sign of His power. Prophet Ayub was praised and rewarded for his forbearance and endurance despite he was tested immensely with tremendous impairment as well as other trials.”

As human beings, we all have limitations in one way or another. We are all able in some aspects and disabled in others. Hence, a sense of solidarity should prevail amongst us. We should see that the idea that a disabled mother is less likely to be a fully active mother is far from reality.

I asked Banane what advice she would give to any disabled woman seeking motherhood but scared of not fulfilling the role due to disability. Her reply was simple:

“Don’t let fear overpower you. Don’t be engulfed in the sphere of society’s negative influence. Re-kindle your heart and mind.” Then she added, “For the Muslim sisters I add: reliance on Allah has the striking effect of helping the individual to accomplish difficult work, bear fatigue, and endure fear and difficult experience.”