No woman asks (generally) whether or not she has the right to be a mother. In any case, it is asked whether it wants to be or not. We have that freedom. And yet, there is a group of women for whom this supposed free choice is called into question and goes unnoticed. That of women with physical or mental disabilities. More specifically: what barriers does a mother with a disability have to overcome?
According to data from the United Nations (UN), one in 5 women in the world lives with a disability. Almost 20% of the disabled population is female. In Australia, however, a judge can decide the forced sterilization of these people if it is considered that they do not have sufficient capacity to decide for themselves. The psychological impact, social pressure and our own doubts can ruin one of the most important decisions of our lives.
Can a woman with a disability freely decide to be a mother?
The group of people with disabilities still has many battles to fight. The unemployment rate is around 25% (Employment of Persons with Disabilities. INE Report. December 2019); and only 35% of people of working age do so. It is 33.6% in the case of women. In other words, out of every 100 women with disabilities, only 33 work. When I asked the heads of the organizations that help and support these people about this, the statement is always the same and it is devastating: they suffer double discrimination, for being women and for having a disability.
To this must be added the psychological pressure they face when embarking on the path of motherhood: “Will my baby be okay or will he also have a disability? Will it develop normally? Can I take care of it? Can I breastfeed? In general, you have to be brave to even make the decision and move on. And then there is the external pressure: it is possible that the family itself does not understand that this person wants to have children and even questions their ability to do so (not to mention their environment).
There is a false belief that women with disabilities are "incapable" of being mothers, even though there are already many who are and successfully. In addition, there are "few objective criteria" to judge the competence or incompetence of these people, according to Disability Maternity Care. Unfortunately, a subjective idea of what is right or wrong often predominates.
Forced sterilization: another form of discrimination
The forced sterilization is another example of the special gender discrimination suffered by this group. And perhaps the most painful.
When the person suffers from a “serious mental deficiency” and the practice has been authorized by a judge who dictates his incapacity. But how is this serious deficiency determined?
The importance of the tribe for the disabled mother
For a mother with a disability to move forward, it is very
important that she receive support from her immediate environment. From her
partner, from her family ... but also from the society that surrounds her,
because she has the same dignity and value as any other person. A woman will
have no doubts about whether she can take care of her baby if she has the full
support of her partner (if she has it) and her family.
Fortunately, the organizations and associations that are dedicated to this group have experience and a wide network to accompany them on the adventure. There are support groups for all mothers; groups that allow them to receive the necessary psycho-social support and the collective and solidarity support of other people with the same daily difficulties.
But we must move forward, say the organizations that defend this group, so that they and their families can receive more counseling and support services in relation to reproductive, as well as sexual, health. And also provide them with spaces for reflection.
Other barriers in motherhood with disabilities
The mere recognition of freedom to decide is not the only disadvantage. There are other demands that must be analyzed in depth. Just to list a few: accessibility in maternity areas in monitoring pregnancy and childbirth; the inadequacy of some consultations to their needs in the case of women with reduced mobility; difficulty in monitoring pregnancy (for example, when controlling weight); or the type of delivery, because, according to Disability Maternity Care, in many cases a scheduled cesarean section is proposed, closing the door to natural childbirth.