Having guest bloggers honour me by allowing me to post their brilliance on my blog is a dream I had as a novice blogger. And now, while I still feel entirely new at this blogging gig, I’m over the moon to welcome my first guest blogger.
I met Anneliese several months ago and found instant connection. Through our shared experiences of blindness, service dog use, and our faith in God, I’ve found a treasured friend and fellow writer. She is an artful communicator and her words have left me both awed, understood, and breathless, you know, that feeling when something punches you in the stomach because it’s so good! Yes, that’s Anneliese.
I invite you to read this post, follow her blog, Look On The Dark Side, and welcome her as she shares something intimate and rarely talked about in the disability community—the question of whether disabled women want to, or should, become mothers.
And after you’ve read her post–and ONLY after–check out the post I wrote for Anneliese’s blog where I tell the story of my first guide dog, Cricket’s retirement, From First Pet to Last Snuggle.
Before I get into today’s topic I’d like to thank my hostess for lending me her platform. We’re doing a blog swap, so if you really miss her you can find her work posted on my blog at Look On The Dark Side.
I have some pretty thick mental armor. I’m pretty hard to offend, I rarely respond when insulted or patronized because of my disability because I have better things to do with my time. And for a while I thought the first time I’d experienced discrimination was a store manager yelling at me because of my service dog back in college.
Another version of this biography is that I’m naïve and didn’t realize until halfway through college that people in almost every church I’d attended or visited had been discriminating against me since I hit puberty.
I’d like to share with you my story of subtle exclusion on the basis of disability, how it affected me, and how I deal with it.
I recently read Beth Allison Barr’s controversial new book The Making of Biblical Womanhood; How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth so I can now tell you that it was the transition from medieval maidenhood to Protestant family values that produced the phenomenon of every church lady you’ve ever known asking “so what about kids? How many do you want? Have you thought about how you’re going to balance work and kids/ What kind of schooling options have you thought about?”
These questions started for most of my friends in early middle school, presented as jokes, but began to show up in earnest as we began to talk about careers and college, nearing the end of our high school years. Aunts, grandmothers, Sunday school teachers and youth leaders all had their own personal versions of the interrogation. Several of my friends complained about it a lot, but I never really understood why.
“Just tell them you’re focused on your career, or you’re not planning to have kids, or whatever,” I told them. “They’ll listen. It’s the 21st century, and our church is pretty up-to-date. It’s not like we’re in the sticks somewhere.”
They didn’t seem to grasp how easy it was to defuse the pestering, I thought.
In college I spent a lot of Sundays visiting different friends’ churches. I went with whoever would give me a ride, whoever was going “regularly” that semester, trying to find a church home. I visited SBC, UMC, PCA, PCUSA, non-denominational, Episcopalian, and a handful of others, even something called Reformed Baptist.
It was at that last church where my roommate drew my attention to something. She was angry at a woman who had spent a few minutes talking to us after the service. The woman had been talking to my roommate because they knew each other. I just hung onto the edge of the conversation, not really listening. But my roommate was angry on my behalf.
“Can you believe her?” she asked. “Does that happen to you a lot?”
“Does what happen?” I asked blankly.
“People just assuming you won’t have kids because you’re blind.”
I didn’t remember any mention of my blindness coming up in my roommate’s conversation. Just like people find they can hear their names or interests in a conversation they’re not listening to, I know when people are talking about my disability even if I’m mostly ignoring them. What was she talking about?
“The way she kept asking me about boyfriends and marriage and kids and stuff, and she completely ignored you,” my roommate explained. “She wasn’t acting like you weren’t there, she said hi to you and all the niceties, invited both of us to the small group on Wednesday, and then shut you out of the kids conversation. It’s bad enough we get harassed about it the minute we start wearing bras, but it’s even worse that they just assume you won’t have them just because you’re blind!”
I’ll be honest, my first thought was “you mean people were patronizing me instead of admiring and respecting my forthright and confident attitude about my future career?” I felt like a failure because people had treated me differently, whereas previously I thought I’d won them over to my way of thinking by simply being clear about my goals in life.
But she was right; I couldn’t think of a single time anyone had asked me, except my mom. When I told Mom I had other plans for my future she said she hoped I’d change her mind, but that it was perfectly fine if I didn’t and she’d be super proud of me regardless. Thanks for that, Mom. I wish everyone had been as understanding and supportive as you. I thought they had been.
My then-future mother-in-law asked me, too. She had the same response as my mother. God bless those women!
But both those conversations stand out as the only times people asked me about having kids – well, except other women I know with disabilities. They ask, because to them it’s normal, not shocking that a disabled woman would have kids.
I’m married with no kids. My husband and I don’t plan to have them. SO why is this such a big deal? Shouldn’t I just be grateful that nobody’s judging me a feminine failure for choosing not to grand my husband an heir?
Yes, but no, not really.
I’m happy not to have to deal with it because I have plenty of other obstacles to deal with, like trying to order off menu boards, use photos I can’t see in my blog, read labels on canned food, or see arrival boards at airports. Having a disability is a lot of work.
But disrespect makes that work harder, and whether or not they meant to – I choose to believe they didn’t mean to – these women in my past who assumed I couldn’t, shouldn’t, or wouldn’t have kids because I’m blind sent out the message “you’re incapable of succeeding at biblical womanhood as we understand it.”
With the child-free movement gaining support and more egalitarian concepts of Godly womanhood seeping into the Church from all directions a man or a mother might argue that it’s not as bad as it used to be for childless women in the church. They’d be wrong. Even those who spout less Victorian beliefs about Christian femininity still instinctively behave in ways that signal a woman’s value to society is her skill at parenting.
Without this badge of honor women my age at churches avoid me. Older women attempt to mentor me as a daughter in ways they don’t other young women because if I’m not a parent I must still be a child.
To some degree this is amusing. I have a master’s, I’m a licensed counselor, a home-owner, a martial artist, and more. It feels a little like a kindly old sheepdog trying to warn the top mouser that there are rodents in the barn. But if I had a shortage of confidence in my relationship with God, it could be devastating.
I could write a book on why this concept, that disabled women are not equal in Christ because they can’t have children, is wrong and harmful, where it came from, and how to stop it. Maybe someday I will. But for now I leave you with this thought.
It is sinful – and pointless and harmful – to place limits on how we think God can use any given person.
Both you and Anneliese are skilled, heart- felt, clear-eyed writers, who need and deserve to be heard, read, known far and wide. I’m so glad you found each other. You are a force to be reckoned with individually and together. It’s always a good heart- check for me. Have I been inconsiderate? Ignorant? Patronizing? I want to do my part well, really well. You’ve already made me a better person.