I read a book recently that focused on mothering with a disability, which included an essay written by a woman with one arm–just like me. (I should note, though, that she lost her arm as an adult, which I imagine is quite different from my congenital deficiency.) She wrote that caring for a baby one-handedly was very difficult for her. Her husband admitted that he had never thought of his wife as disabled until he saw her struggling with the baby. That comment made me pause. I didn’t feel disabled as the mother of a baby. I changed diapers, breastfed, bottle-fed, and everything else all with just one and a half arms without feeling like I was missing anything. But occasionally I would see pictures of me holding my daughter that would make me double take. Is that really how it looks? How do I do it?
Now that my baby isn’t a baby anymore, we have new challenges to navigate. Like this: We were baby-sitting a little girl, two-years-old, who was a little afraid of my little arm sans prosthesis. She backed away if I sat next to her and wouldn’t come close. My daughter noticed right away. She said, “I know it seems like an owie, but it isn’t. It’s just regular.” She grabbed my little arm affectionately to mark her point. It seemed to set our little friend at ease, but it caught me by surprise.
I suppose all kids end up explaining their parents to other kids at some point, but there was something off-putting to me to see my daughter be my interpreter of sorts at such a young age.
I tend to like to think of the experience of having a parent who is physically different in an idealistic way. The picture book Mama Zooms is a lovely glimpse of a mother and son playing happily despite her wheelchair. I love the book, and I recommend it often for its look at the possibilities with a positive focus.
There are times, though, that I worry about the potential negatives my daughter will face as she finds herself explaining me probably almost as much as I end up explaining myself. How will she adapt to a world in which many of her peers will be curious or fearful of her mother’s difference?
I know what it is like to be me, but I wonder what it will be like to be her.
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