Three blind and partially sighted mums talked to us about their experiences of pregnancy and becoming a new mum
Jane was relieved at how positive her GP and midwife were when she shared her news about being pregnant with William, "I think I was lucky, they were great and did not patronise me in the slightest". But Jane told us that she was very disappointed by the reactions of her friends "I have a sneaky suspicion that friends assumed myself and my husband would not have children; they never brought it up as a possibility and when we announced I was pregnant, assumed William was not a planned baby. As my pregnancy progressed friends became increasingly worried for me which left me feeling sad. We had mixed reactions from our parents, mine were thrilled but my fully sighted husband's parents assumed he would be the main carer of William so would be forced to give up his career. I was very upset by their reaction."
Lynne talked to us when her daughter was six months old, and told us she felt an overwhelming need to prove herself as "up to the challenge" when she found out she was expecting. She told us "I am ashamed to admit this now but I was almost apologetic, as if to protect myself from potential disapproving reactions. I am so grateful to my fully-sighted sister, Mel, for building up my confidence - she was delighted when she found out I was pregnant and so excited that we would both sharing the experience of being a mum. She made me feel so normal and encouraged me to find support in the same places as other new mums and not put up a barrier between myself and other new mums just because I can't see.
"It is important to remember that motherhood is challenging for all new mums and there are a lot of people out there all wanting to reach out to each other. It is tempting to fall into the trap of thinking you are isolated because of disability and I have felt cut off from others because I can't use a car but that is really where the isolation ends. Being blind from birth I am so used to navigating through my life as a blind person, and being a blind mum is much the same - finding solutions to problems that don't require sight to make them work. I feel well supported by the sighted mums I know because emotionally there are far more similarities than differences between us - we are all new to this adventure!"
Jessica, mum to a ten-month-old baby girl encourages blind and partially sighted mums to be as assertive as possible when interacting with health professionals. She says that an open and honest approach helped her during her pregnancy with her baby girl. When Jessica attended her ante natal scans she asked the sonographer to turn up the sound so she could be as involved as possible and requested the sonographer to talk through the positioning of the baby as the scan took place.
Some expectant mums had negative experiences with the ante natal classes offered by the NHS, Jane said "the classes felt negative, focusing on what could go wrong and I was so worried about the hospital taking control of my pregnancy that I looked for an alternative by attending classes offered by the National Childbirth Trust." Jessica also found the support offered by the National Childbirth Trust very useful. She had one-to-one support and told us she was given a tactile model of the birth canal and 10cm ball instead of diagrams to explain dilation and delivery and a birthing ball to familiarise herself with positions during labour.
The mums that talked to us said they would have liked a lot more support with breastfeeding. Lynne said, "I think a lot of women have difficulty breastfeeding, whether they can see or not, but for me it felt like it was a problem due to being blind and I was certainly made to feel that way by the hospital." Lynne said she became so frustrated with breastfeeding she gave up prematurely and said that midwives in the hospital lacked confidence in supporting her. "I felt pressurised into using a bottle because midwives seemed to keep repeating that breastfeeding is a very visual process. I regret this now and wished I had been given more encouragement but nobody seemed to be available in the hospital to give me the time I needed. If I have another baby I will make sure I arrange support from a breast feeding counsellor to visit as soon as the baby is born. Jessica found the support of a knowledgeable breastfeeding consultant invaluable and recommends La Leche League for support with breastfeeding. Jessica went on to successfully feed her baby in spite of initial difficulties.
Jane said one of the things she was particularly daunted by before her baby was born was the logistics of using a cane and a push chair at the same time. After researching her options she decided to have a go using a baby carrier alongside her cane. "I assumed that all baby carriers were fabric slings which would be hard to use but I found one with buckles that was extremely easy to use." Jessica said that she would have liked more information on slings and baby carriers before her baby came along and Lynne agreed saying that midwives and health visitors did not seem to cover mobility issues with her before baby came along. She recommends trying a number of baby carriers out to see what works best, for her a carrier where the baby is worn on the back worked out the best.