Welcome to our second series of blog posts about what it is like to be a blind parent. In this post I give an overview of the past 3 years of being a dad, and some circumstances which my wife and I have experienced.
When my wife was pregnant we had a series of meetings with her midwife, who introduced us to social services who were very positive, and put our fears at rest. It is still the case that some professionals believe that blind people cannot be good parents. I know this from speaking to other blind parents who have told us of their experiences, and we were initially getting ready for a fight about what we can do, and what we may or may not need support with. Thankfully we couldn’t have been more wrong, our midwife and social services representative were focused on helping us to be the best we could be, and being as independent as we could while having the option to ask for support if we needed it. Like many parents we ask questions of the health visitor sometimes, and we have had nothing but great support and advice when it’s required. I can honestly say that we have needed limited support, and mainly rely on our family network which is at a minimum rather than a maximum.
Being a blind dad is a mix of emotions ranging from frightening, exciting and rewarding; I have learned so many things, and I learn something new every day. My wife and I are both classed as blind, however this doesn’t stop us from doing our best for our little girl. At the time of writing she is 3-years-old, but in the early months I did the bottle washing, and much of the formula preparation during the night, as my wife was primary carer during the day. Nappies were one of the duties we shared, while bath time became my job, and we still share the bed time stories. Like my colleagues I can adapt many stories and even make up my own some times, but my memory of the ‘3 little pigs’, and ‘goldilocks and the 3 bares’ have come in useful as these are her favourites.
Audio-based toys really help, as I can fully interact with what she is playing with at that particular time, at the moment we are doing a lot of drawing though which is interesting yet really enjoyable, as I am asked to draw all sorts of animals. This is fun as it requires my interpretation of what the shape of a dog would look like on paper, leading to much laughter from my daughter, I don’t mind though as it’s time with her that is priceless. I remember the layout of our house so when it comes to daddy playing a horse, and my little one sitting on my back as I crawl around the house, I know which areas are safe enough should she decide to climb off and then swiftly move on to hide and seek. Now that she is learning the alphabet we have some print letters which have a braille label attached, this helps us to get her familiar with the few letters she is still getting to grips with, which isn’t many as she is doing great at nursery and school.
My daughter knows that mum and dad’s eyes don’t work properly, but of course she won’t attach any name to it right now, this will come, and at the moment she is amazingly perceptive. If she wants to show me something she will take my hand and show me the item, and while walking she now even tells me if there is a car on the pavement. I should add here that my daughter is not a small version of a carer, my wife and I want her to be the best she can be, inevitably there will be things she wants to help us with though; and sometimes I have had a tantrum on my hands when I wanted to do something myself so it’s all a matter of getting the balance right.
When administering medicine we found that using a teaspoon for very small measurements is ideal, and the 5 ML syringe is another option. We make a tactile mark where the half-way point is if administering a 2.5 dosage, so we know exactly the amount to give if required. To keep track of times in between doses I use my iPhone to set reminders, actually the reminder app has never been used so much since I became a dad.
When it comes to dressing, we make sure that all clothes are already colour co-ordinated so that we don’t dress our daughter in colours which clash. When my wife and I shop for clothes or shoes ETC, we always take a sighted relative so we can get items which match her wardrobe until she is old enough to do it herself. Because we have been told the colours of her clothes from recent purchases, we can tell a member of staff what we need if doing this ourselves.
Before I became a dad, I was unsure how to respond to the question of having my sight back if I could. At the time of writing my eye condition cannot be cured, and I have been blind since birth as my blindness is a result of being born 3 months early. I would need to learn to read and write all over again if I had sight, as I would need to recognise print as well as other things and I would require support while this happens. In all honesty I would have thought this to be more of a hindrance than a help. Since being a dad though I would love to see my daughter, I would go through the process of training and some kind of rehabilitation if the support was offered, and in the event that my eyes could be repaired. Although this isn’t possible at the moment, I get the interaction in other ways. My little girl loves to show me her dress and shoes when she is off to school, and there will of course be a time when she won’t want to do this, so the memories again are something to keep hold of as much as possible. I do have some pictures on my iPhone so that I can keep them with me, although I sometimes record the odd nursery rhyme so I have some audio memories as well.
When we are out and about I have to say that the response is mixed. While the majority of people are great and treat us like parents, some have been very hurtful in their comments. Questions like ‘Why are you parents’? Or ‘Shouldn’t you have someone with you’? to statements like ‘well at least she will look after you’ are simply strange to put it politely. In general though I think the majority of people are genuinely interested, which is why I would encourage people to ask questions as assumptions are equally not nice to deal with, and learning through talking is the best option. I am happy to answer any question, I think that some questions which wouldn’t be asked of a sighted parent though such as ‘how did you become parents’ is one for the ‘simply strange’ category I mentioned above. The opposite to all this is when 1 person said ‘I think your both brilliant, she is happy and you can clearly see that’. While it is not necessary for people to say we are brilliant, let’s face it all compliments are gratefully received so I will be more than happy with the positive and ignore the negative. I will remember this person and the lovely comment she made for the rest of my life, and as long as my daughter is happy and healthy, that really is all that matters.