Christine Mifsud – Parenting with Disability
The gift of hindsight
When she was 20 years old, Christine Mifsud gave birth to twins and lost her eyesight. Two decades later, she feels that she would never have given up on the chance of bringing up her two children – not even if she could have got her eyesight back.
I became visually impaired, at the age of 20, when I also became a mother.
I wish I could say that we found all the necessary support services, but the truth is that, most of the time, we did not. Since I was not married to my husband at the time, doctors treated me as an irresponsible person and passed comments about my age, my lack of experience and preparation to become a parent. During my medical visits, they used to address my mother. My husband, who was my boyfriend back then, was not welcome to these visits, as I was still living with my parents at the time.
I am still sorry that I was so young and did not rebel and stand up for our rights as parents, as a couple, to be able to live and enjoy this precious time together. My consolation is that we are still together and we have had the chance to raise our twin daughters together, through thick and thin.
After having the twins, I was told by doctors to be very careful and not to repeat the same mistake – as if conceiving a child could be seen as such! I still recall the mixed feelings that rose up inside me. We were offered no support at all and we were never referred to a therapist for guidance. This also took its toll on our relationship, even after we got married, and we did seek counselling after some years.
Shortly after giving birth, I started losing my eyesight, due to uncontrolled diabetes during my pregnancy. As the children grew up and started school, I found little support to help with the children’s homework and studies, as I could not see printed and written text.
I always tried my very best and even gave up job-seeking, even though we were going through a hard financial period when we decided to apply for a loan to find a decent place to live in. I could not work and stay with the twins during their homework hours, as it would have been impossible to concentrate on two tasks which needed all my energy and full attention.
Some of the help I was offered was limited. I had Sixth Form students who had community service hours. These were 15-or 16-year-olds trying to do the job of trained professionals so, although they were really very sweet, they had no experience with children, especially those with concentration and attention deficit disorders. Once I was offered the possibility of taking my children to a person’s house so he could help with their homework. When I replied to the government agency offering the service, saying that I preferred if the person could come home so that I could keep my children under my supervision, I was told that it would be improper for a married man to come and spend time at our house when his wife was not present! Yet the same service provider did not have an answer as to who would be responsible if my daughters were abused in someone else’s home.
We tried different services, both public and private organizations, but we were not lucky enough to find someone who could understand the situation at home. Few were experienced enough to interact with the children in an appropriate manner and some even had no idea of disability etiquette when they spoke with me.
My husband and I did our very best and gave our suggestions, but many times these were not taken seriously. Instead, the situation at home was blamed and our parenting skills were called into question. This put a lot of stress on our relationship as a couple and with our daughters, as the main focus always seemed to be concentrated on their academic progress and success, instead of their holistic wellbeing and self-development skills.
Sometimes I still look back at my daughters’ school days and dwell on what I could have done better. They also speak of their school days with sadness, despite the best efforts of their LSEs, the system itself was not flexible enough to adapt to their situation and their needs.
Looking back, I see that having children was one of the biggest blessings and achievements of my life. Now I am 41, married, and the children are young adults and we have become more friends than a mother/daughter bond. I work with the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) as a Disability Equality Trainer, and I do my very best to promote awareness about all types of disability and conditions, in all aspects of life in general. My experiences have fed directly into this so I know exactly how it feels like.
Apart from the material and emotional needs, together with my husband, we have passed on the value of empathy to my daughters, who do not look at persons from the outside, but can recognize the true value of a person from within. We talk openly together and we accept each other’s diversity. I would never have given up this chance of bringing up my two children, not even had I been given the choice of getting my eyesight back. What we have shared is extraordinary and immense. No person should be denied the opportunity to become a parent. We need proper support structures to have a good network of professional and specialised services providers on board to cater for the needs of both parents and children who have any kind of disability. Follow-ups and monitoring on the progress of this service are crucial.
Through the hard times, we were lucky enough to have love, encouragement and support from our families as well as from each other. That is what kept me going when no help was forthcoming from elsewhere. But this is not the case for everyone. Putting in place the required services might help ensure that those who do not have the support from family or friends, do not have to give up on their dreams – their rights – to become parents.