Tiffany Grzankowski, of Asheville, NC, lives with a lot of pain daily. She is affected by a group of hereditary conditions called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects connective tissue. Grzankowski’s EDS means that, in addition to chronic pain, her blood pressure and heart rate increase and decrease without warning, she breaks bones easily, and she feels sick frequently due to Gastroparesis. The condition disrupts the natural, spontaneous movement of your stomach muscles, which causes frequent vomiting and nausea. When she became pregnant, all of these symptoms worsened.
Willie Horner-Johnson, an Oregon Health and Science University professor of public health, co-authored a new study on health disparities for pregnant persons with disabilities. Horner-Johnson and her colleagues discovered that over 20% of all people who give birth in the United States identify as having a disability.
Having a disability doesn’t automatically mean a woman is unfit for motherhood. Grzankowski said that several doctors encouraged her to have an abortion during her second pregnancy after she realized her daughter would be born with Down syndrome. In another case, Kaney O’Neill, who is quadriplegic, had to prove that she was fit for the duties of motherhood to have custody of her child.
As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, I’ve often considered having children later in life. I wonder if society would consider me unfit for motherhood because of my Cerebral Palsy. My physical disability would make parenting more challenging, but it wouldn’t stop me from being a mother.
My greatest concern is that my child would resent having a disabled mother. I wouldn’t be able to go sledding with them in the winter or pick them up if they fell. Caring for a child entails much more than just meeting their physical needs. I would do my best to raise my child to be a happy, well-adjusted, and caring person.
Cerebral Palsy does not preclude me from having a child if I choose. I might have to develop creative parenting strategies, but that is fine. Various products are available for parents with disabilities. They can include custom strollers and lower cribs.
I hope that if I have a child in the future, they will grow up knowing that their mother loves them and does the best she can. Regardless of whether society thinks I am fit to be a mother, all that would matter to me is that my child knows that they are loved unconditionally.
Arrache, Stephanie. “Wheelchair Accessible Tips and Tricks I Learned as a First-Time Parent.” New Mobility, United Spinal Association, 1 Dec. 2016, https://newmobility.com/wheelchair-accessible-tips-first-time-parent/.
Brownstein, Joseph. “Quadriplegic Mother Fights for Custody of Son.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 22 Dec. 2009, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/quadraplegic-mother-fights-maintain-custody-son/story?id=9403163.
Donnelly-DeRoven, Clarissa. “1 In 5 Births Nationwide Are to People with Disabilities, But These Patients Don’t Always Get the Care They Need.” North Carolina Health News, North Carolina Press Association, 25 Oct. 2022, https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2022/10/25/1-in-5-births-nationwide-are-to-people-with-disabilities/.
Usai-Satta, Paolo et al. “Gastroparesis: New insights into an old disease.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 26,19 (2020): 2333-2348. doi:10.3748/wjg.v26.i19.2333