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Those of us born with female reproductive organs are constantly reminded that we have the potential of having children. In my experience, the pressure is usually to have children, regardless of risk to our health or life, but the picture changes when disability enters the picture.
Parents of Kids With Disabilities Face Unique Pressures
Birth defects run in my family, and a close family member had an unexpected pregnancy after having a child with numerous disabilities. When she went for prenatal care, the doctor advised her to terminate the pregnancy in case this new baby also had problems.
She decided to continue with the pregnancy, and gave birth to a child with no visible defects or disabilities. I don’t think the doctor pressured her, but the fact he brought up termination makes me wonder if he would have done the same if she had never had a child with disabilities before.
I didn’t think much about that story until my friends started having kids. Over time, I started witnessing similar conversations happening between those who had special needs kids and those who did not.
Thankfully, I didn’t see a huge amount of vitriol being tossed around, but there was almost always an undercurrent of judgementalism. The consensus was usually that if you have a kid with disabilities, you shouldn’t have another. If you do, you’re being selfish.
While this attitude may come from a place of concern for the family as a whole, those who voice it rarely have any place in the decision making process. In reality, the choice of whether or not to have more children is entirely up to the parents, as it should be.
By the way, I’m writing this from the point of view as someone with siblings who have different forms of disability.
Pressured to Have a Family
Not everyone wants to have kids. Many forms of mental and chronic illness are hereditary, which can make the idea of having children frightening. Neurodiversity is also usually hereditary, and I don’t think being neurodiverse is a bad thing, not everyone agrees.
When you’ve suffered your entire life with something you could possibly pass on to your children, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to subject anyone else to what you’ve gone through.
Part of the issue here is that invisible disability and illness are just that – invisible. Observers can’t tell we may be struggling just by looking at us, so they assume everything is alright. By extension, if nothing’s “wrong” with us, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t want kids.
For whatever reason, unless you can demonstrate concrete reasons behind not wanting to have children, there are always people who think everyone should become parents.
Rape and Abuse Survivors
People with all sorts of disabilities and perceived disabilities are at a greater risk of abuse. While statistics are hard to find, at least one survey found that 7 in 10 people with disabilities stated that they had suffered abuse, and 40 percent had suffered sexual abuse.
I’m of the school of thought that if conception happens during the course of abuse or assault, it should be the pregnant person’s choice of what to do about the pregnancy. No one should have pregnancy forced upon them, especially if they can’t safely carry it to term.
I’m not saying all survivors should terminate resulting pregnancies, but they should have the choice of what to do at the very least.
Another part of the problem is that adults with disability are erased form the conversation, unless they’re elderly. Here’s what came up when I first started researching for this entry:
Other than that initial Wikipedia result, everything for the next page or two was only about child abuse. While this is an important topic, and it must be addressed thoroughly, adult abuse victims must also have access to help.
Sterilization – Forced or Voluntary
The US and other countries have ugly histories of forcing sterilization upon disabled people – primarily women.
In the USA, more than 30 states had forced sterilization laws in place for those who were disabled or mentally ill, and some continued with the practice up until the 1970s. Since women were far more likely to be seen as mentally ill for speaking up or challenging gender roles, many who were forced to go through the procedure were neither ill nor disabled.
Although it’s tempting to think it’s no longer a problem, it still happens all over the world today, including here in the US. (See links below)
On the other hand, I’ve met several women who tried for years to get a sterilization or hysterectomy done, often with no success.
Some of them simply knew they never wanted children, or having children was too dangerous to them on a physical and psychological level. Others had medical problems with their reproductive organs which didn’t respond to other, less invasive, medical treatments.
Women in general face the additional hurdle of not being taken seriously in the medical field, but when any sort of disability is introduced, that’s compounded.
The core of the matter is a question of choice. Like disability and neurodiversity, each individual situation is different. In some cases, perhaps sterilization is appropriate, but in others, it’s not.
In all cases, though, the individual facing sterilization should be able to understand what’s going on and why it’s happening.
As with all reproductive issues, there should always be consent involved.
Links to Current Forced Sterilization Stories
Disabled People Are Still Being Forcibly Sterilized-So Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About It?
Forced Sterilization of the Disabled in Australia Doesn’t Seem to be Going Anywhere
Tennessee Prosecutor Insisted Woman Undergo Sterilization As Part Of Plea Deal