There are many things in life that shape our identity. These can be ordinary things, such as where we grow up, the education we receive and the careers we choose, or extraordinary events beyond our control, such as having a disability or illness. All of these things may define who we are, but they should not determine what we are capable of.
I have a disability which in Ireland, seems to mean that I am perceived to be an object of care. Living with Cerebral Palsy has meant that over the years, I have had to allow many medical experts into my personal space, patiently enduring their prodding and poking, their testing my muscle tones in their relentless quest to determine my abilities and disabilities.
Never in a million years did these so-called ‘experts’ expect to be lost for words when I announced that I was pregnant in June 2011. Firstly, they were intrigued and made it clear that they intended to use my pregnancy and Caesarean section as some sort of case study. Secondly, they were baffled (there are seemingly few parents with disabilities in Ireland) at how somebody, who would be traditionally perceived to be an object of care, could in turn fulfil the physical and emotional demands of a small baby.
I am a stubborn and single-minded woman, and throughout my pregnancy I arranged meetings with Primary Care Support Workers, physio- and Occupational Therapists, and even the Public Health Nurse, whose initial expectations of our parenting abilities were depressingly low. However, by the time the big day arrived on the 9th February 2012, I was confident that at least these professionals were on our side.
After my daughter Alison was born, however, it did not feel as if we were all working together. Instead, it felt like the time my husband and I had spent appeasing the ‘professionals’ had been wasted. There was concerns that I would pose a safety risk to my daughter, without substantial grounds for this. On the day that my beautiful daughter and I were meant to be discharged from hospital, I was told that the hospital would need to be satisfied that there was enough practical support at home to help me with Alison, and insinuated that I would not be allowed home until they were satisfied. They recommended the use of a wheelchair and a cloth sling for transporting Alison around the house, and I had to buy this sling before they would discharge me from hospital. Incidentally, I have never used the sling, choosing instead to push Alison around the house in a sturdy buggy. I have never let her fall.
If someone were to ask me how I define myself, I would answer an aspiring journalist, a devoted wife and a dedicated mother. However, having Alison in m y life has transformed how I perceive myself as a person. Watching her grow into a beautiful, intelligent and opinionated young lady has made me realise that a person’s identity cannot truly be defined by her appearance or by her disabilities, but instead by a willingness to continuously challenge the stereotypes forced upon them by society and to live one’s life in spite of the perceptions of others.