Being Blind (and a damn-good Mom)
by Christine Faltz, Merrick, New York
I was born blind, unexplained. My eye condition, congenital microopthalmia is known to be caused by exposure to toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, herpes, TORCH infection, or HIV. I used to be able to distinguish colors and shadows, but no forms. I had a very supportive family and went to ‘regular’ school, but suffered physical and emotional abuse by students and administration. I have used a white can, and a guide dog; I have prosthesis over my eyeballs so it is impossible to tell I am blind.
I was an English undergraduate at Princeton, in my last year, when I met a wonderful man; we married three years ago. I graduated Hofstra School of Law, in ‘94 and was admitted to the bar this past March. I was elected president of the Long Island chapter of the Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, last fall.
My baby was unplanned, and before becoming pregnant, I was certain my maternal instincts, if I had any, were akin to those of a black widow spider. I read all I could beforehand and my birth plan explicitly asked for rooming in, no bottles, no pacifiers, and that she be given to me as soon as possible.
We were so shocked to learn she was blind, that we were thrown for a loop. They took her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for tests, despite the fact that her life was not in danger and nothing indicated there was anything else wrong.
I have big breasts, and didn’t know how to get her latched on at first; luckily I had lots of milk and from the time my milk came in, Sam has never had a drop of formula. I am convinced that me being blind convinced the hospital staff it was better to keep the baby in the hospital longer. I was treated with condescension and rudeness; one of the neonatologists asked me if I was always intelligent! We didn’t have the resources immediately at hand to check doctors’ claims and find out the tests they wanted to do were inconclusive at best. My daughter had to undergo sonograms, fasting, spinal tap for meningitis, and IV antibiotics.
When I nursed her, they would tell me to put her back in her isolette after she fell asleep, otherwise she would ‘get used to being held while she slept.’ As if a mother has something more important to do than hold her newborn child.
Sam didn’t come home until nine days after her birth; a totally unnecessary endurance. I was at the hospital fifteen to eighteen hours every day and up pumping during the night. I have no intention of having subsequent children in the hospital because of what we went through after she was born.
I’d like to write about the “challenge” of being blind, and breastfeeding, but frankly, there is no challenge, except for feeling isolated. Except for a cousin, and internet friends, no one else nurses a toddler or co-sleeps with their babies. Even La Leche League people seem to be uncomfortable with a blind parent. I’m thrilled to say I’ve never had a nursing problem, though she had a nursing strike at 10 months, and didn’t really start eating solids until 15 months. She’s still a picky eater; years ago I would never have believed I would be nursing a child at this age, still for nourishment as well as comfort. Sam has had four colds and one strep throat but nothing else.
My blindness wasn’t supposed to be inheritable, but my daughter has the exact same condition as I have. It is possible, in bright lights, that Sam can discern some forms, but we won’t know until she’s old enough to tell us. Samantha will be two next month. Parenting is certainly the closest subject to my heart; heck it is my heart.
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