Having a Disability Shouldn’t Mean You Can’t Have a Baby

Published: 
Monday, January 29, 2018
Ivanova is a Washington disability rights activist. She is Chair of Self Advocates in Leadership (SAIL) and Advocate Faculty at the University of Washington Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program.
 
On October 20, I gave birth to my daughter Alexandra. In that moment, my life changed forever. I became a mom. But not just any mom – as an Autistic person with an intellectual disability- I became a parent with a disability. And, despite what anyone else may say, no part of my disability changes how much I truly love and care for my little Alexandra.
 
Many people with disabilities never get to experience the joy of having a child. During the eugenics era, in the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of people with disabilities, especially people with intellectual disabilities like me, were sterilized against their will.
 
Today parents with disabilities continue to face prejudice. Right now, in my home state of Washington, the state government is considering a proposal that would create a new form to obtain a guardian’s permission to sterilize people with disabilities in hospitals. As an activist and a parent with a developmental disability, this is extremely troubling and unfair.
 
It is not ethical to give guardians the power to alter the bodies of the people under their care to prevent them from reproducing. People with disabilities should have the right to decide whether to have a family. It is not right that my friends who are under guardianship could have these rights taken away.
 
Parents with disabilities are more common than you think. The National Council on Disability, in its Rocking the Cradle report, found that there are 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States, representing over 6 percent of all American parents.
 
Challenges for parents with disabilities include facing the possibility of having their kids taken from them, often due to unfounded and unreasonable prejudices about what parents with disabilities are capable of.
 
It is true that as a person with disabilities, having Alexandra has brought new challenges into my life. One of these challenges is that I struggle to multitask. I see other parents being able to do all sorts of things while holding their babies. It was hard for me to come to terms that I can’t do that. I have to put her down in order to grab diaper wipes or other things she needs. One of my Autistic traits is that I have sensory issues, which means I’m overly sensitive to smells, making changing diapers difficult.
 
But there are positives about being an autistic parent too. One of the symptoms of my disability is that I fidget and rock my body a lot. Funny thing is that Alexandra really likes that, it’s soothing to her.
 
It makes me sad that people define me for my disability but not the love I have for my child. With the right support, people with disabilities can be great parents just like any other parents. I’m blessed that I have my family’s support in raising Alexandra.
 
Knowing the joys and the possibilities of being a disabled parent, I believe making the process easier for guardians to sterilize disabled people is wrong. It takes away our autonomy. It takes away our right to decide what we do with our own bodies. It robs us of the great blessing of having a little one.
 
You can write to the Washington State Pattern Forms Committee Chair Commissioner Rebekah Zinn and ask her to stop this effort to allow the sterilization of people with disabilities through a form. Her e-mail is zinnr@co.thurston.wa.us. Subject line of your e-mail should read “Comments RE: Forms for Sterilization of Wards.” The deadline for comments is January 31.