Being a parent with a disability comes with its fair share of challenges, one of which is people frequently assuming what I am capable of. I’ve been disabled since birth so you can imagine what 35 years of assumptions look like but as a parent, it strikes a different chord. Whether it be people assuming I am not the father, that we had to go through fertility treatments, that I can’t take care of our baby, or many other things, it doesn’t feel good and shouldn’t happen.
Once, when Ashley and I took Cora to the ER, one of the staff members asked Ashley who Cora’s father was…as I was sitting right next to her, as I had been for 45 minutes. As Cora grows and begins to understand more about the world and what people are saying, I can’t help but worry about how we will handle it all.
I want to talk about something that happened to Ashley and me a few weeks ago. Something that has probably happened to a lot of parents with disabilities. Something that really shouldn’t be taking place in 2017.
It was a Sunday. Ashley was with Cora, shopping in town. Normally, you have to tear me away from my wife and baby girl on a weekend, but on this particular Sunday, I was working, because it was Ithaca College’s Commencement, and in my office, that means it’s all hands on deck.
After I was finished for the day, I drove to meet my girls and met them in the parking lot of one of Ithaca’s fine stores. It was then that Ashley told me what had happened just a few minutes earlier. Someone in the store, who had known me for a long time, and who recognized Ashley and Cora from the hundreds of photos I post of them went up to them to say hello.
The conversation started normally. Pleasantries. Compliments. Then, this person turned to Cora and said the following:
“And you must be the miracle baby!”
Now, in a former life, I was a professor. So, before we continue, let’s pause for a lesson. If you know me, and you’ve read this blog, you know two of my favorite things in the world (besides Ashley, Cora, and Banjo) are Ithaca College Football and Julio Jones. So I’m going to use those two things to teach you about miracles using two videos.
In the final seconds on the 2014 Cortaca Jug, the annual rivalry game between Ithaca and Cortland State, Ithaca was clinging to a three-point lead. Cortland was out of timeouts, so they had to rush their field goal unit on to the field.
There was chaos. There was confusion. There were people frantically running everywhere. There was a fumble. In short, lots of stuff went wrong for Cortland on this play. But somehow, despite all this, the Red Dragons turned disaster into triumph, and a game-winning touchdown. That is a miracle (or a nightmare, if you’re a Bombers fan).
In the second half of the 2016 NFC Championship Game, the Atlanta Falcons had the Green Bay Packers on the ropes. They were up 24-0 when league MVP Matt Ryan dropped back to pass. He threw to Julio Jones. This was the result. That, dear readers, is not a miracle. That’s someone combining size, strength, and speed to achieve a goal. In a word, that is awesome.
When my wife heard this person call Cora a miracle baby she was nearly speechless. Sure, there were a lot of moving parts to the whole thing, but the end result didn’t surprise us any more than Julio surprised the 74,000 people in the Georgia Dome.
It gets worse. Rather than just politely walking away, this person then asked my wife if we were afraid of passing my Cerebral Palsy on to Cora.
My wife, to her credit, handled this second question with a lot of grace. She politely explained that CP isn’t hereditary, and that it had never crossed our minds about Cora having a disability.
Look, I understand there’s a lot of things that people don’t understand about disability. This makes sense. Disability is complicated. Heck, there are things I don’t understand about my disability. But one of the things that disabled parents face is the misconception of others, that we’re somehow less able to be parents, or that everything relating to parenthood is a struggle for us.
And don’t get me wrong. There are certain things that are a struggle. There are legitimate fears I had before Cora was born. But these comments struck a nerve with me and my wife. This was 2017. Al Gore invented the Internet like, 25 years ago. How could this person have such a lack of understanding about, not just how disability works, but also what’s are acceptable questions to ask about people with disabilities.
A quick primer: No, CP is not hereditary. And don’t ever call a disabled person’s baby a miracle baby (unless they’ve given you some prior indication that it’s okay to do so.)
Much like anyone else in the world, we are all different and have different capabilities. You can’t and shouldn’t assume that because someone has a disability, that they are infertile, unable to conceive a child, unable to live independently, unhappy, uneducated, or anything else for that matter. I could write about book about the assumptions that have been thrust upon myself personally. (For the record, I can walk, talk, I’m educated, I am married, independent, happy, successful, employed, hilarious, good looking, incredibly humble… the list goes on and on.)
I started this blog to educate people about the major challenges of being a parent with a disability. But I also started it to share my personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions about being a parent.
And the words of this person have stuck with me for weeks. Thankfully, Cora is too young to understand what people are saying. She also has no idea that I’m disabled. To her, all daddies have wheels.
One day, that’s going to change. Cora’s going to hear the things people say, and we’re going to have to have difficult conversations with her. I have no idea how those conversations are going to go.
But I do know that Ashley and I don’t ever want Cora to think that she’s somehow different just because her daddy uses a wheelchair. We want her to know that, from the second we decided we wanted to have a child, we never doubted it was going to happen, and that our child would be amazing. And my CP wasn’t going to stop that.
Cora is awesome. She is not a miracle.