Cruel & Unusual

[Trigger warning for disablism.]

I'm not even sure where to begin with this story of a father who refuses to let his triplets see their mother, who was paralyzed while giving birth to them, because, he argues, spending "lengthy periods of time with a woman who can only lay motionless will traumatize them." I have a couple of immediate thoughts, though.

1. There's a long history of arguing that parents who don't fit the alleged ideal of two married, opposite-sex, hetero, cis, thin, able-bodied parents of the same race will traumatize children. Single mothers will traumatize children. Same-sex parents will traumatize children. Parents of different races (or religions, or nationalities) will traumatize children. Trans parents will traumatize children. Fat parents will traumatize children. Dwarf parents will traumatize children. Neuto-atypical parents will traumatize children. Physically disabled parents will traumatize children.

Despite the prevalence of this "conventional wisdom," there is precious little evidence of its alleged veracity. There is evidence that prejudice against nontraditional parenting can effect (not "traumatize") children of marginalized parents, but not that parenting by marginalized people does.

If anything stands to harm these children, it's the stigma against their disabled mother being cruelly perpetrated by their own father. (Who, by the way, divorced her once it was determined her paralysis was likely permanent.)

2. Being suddenly exposed to disability or injury, without explanation, can be upsetting for young children for whom disability is an unfamiliar concept; it can be the first time they're exposed to the idea that bodies can change or be different, which can be frightening for some children, while others might just be curious. In either case, children may have questions that need answers. (Like, ya know, everything else.)

Navigating those questions may be more difficult when there's a possibility the child/ren could wrongly assume blame for the injury by virtue of its having happened in the course of childbirth. But that's not even this father's concern. His concern is that his children merely spending time with a disabled person—who is their mother—will somehow inevitably traumatize them.

That's just naked disablism, right there. And shielding children from disabled people, treating disabled people as if they're something to be traumatized by, will instill disablism in those children. Call me kooky, but I have to imagine that breeding bias against their own mother while simultaneously keeping them away from her is infinitely more likely to cause trauma to those kids than letting them see their mother and giving them an empathic understanding of disability ever would.

3. The claim that their mother "can only lay motionless" is a lie.
[Abbie Dorn's mother, who is her primary caretaker] says her daughter expresses her emotions when she smiles or cries and that she communicates with others by blinking her eyes. One long blink means yes. No response to a question means no.

When a Los Angeles Times reporter visited her last year and asked if she wanted to see her children, Dorn responded with a long, firm blink.

Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote an entire book by blinking using partner-assisted scanning. Just because someone is (nearly) motionless does not mean they cannot communicate, cannot interact. The claim that Abbie Dorn can do nothing but lay motionless may well be a profound underestimation of her capacity, and, if it is, her children's father should be ashamed of his deliberate misrepresentation, in service of his own prejudice.

[H/T to Shaker Azzy.]

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