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We Are All Beginners Here: Mothering a Visually Impaired Child

Editor’s note: In celebration of Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, we at CVI thought it would be very fitting to have a mother of a visually impaired child share her story. We hope that you enjoy reading this week’s post and happy Mother’s Day to all our moms.

Picture of Christina and JessieI don't often write about my daughter's visual impairment and, when I do, I always find the subject somewhat difficult to address. This is not because the topic is associated with anything negative but because my child's visual impairment is so far from what defines her or my relationship with her. My primary identity is not “the mother of a visually impaired child” any more than my daughter’s is “a visually impaired child.” I am Christina James, mother to Jessica James: a smart, outgoing, energetic, slightly-out-of-the-ordinary girl that just happens to have a visual impairment. Still, she does have a visual impairment and it has shaped our lives from the the best of all possible ways:

When Jessica was born, she didn't open her eyes until we left the bright lights of the hospital three days later. Having no experience with newborn humans but a lot of experience with newborn puppies, I simply assumed that humans were more like puppies than I thought and that this was all normal. Once, when telling this story, I was told that I should somehow be embarrassed of this incorrect assumption I had made. I'm not. I wear my early motherhood ignorance like a badge of honor.

Why? When you have a visually-impaired child (or any child for that matter), every single one of us is a beginner and not only is it ok that we are but it is important to be so. Our children’s vision conditions are each unique as is our parenting experience so there's no way we can know what it is we're getting into. We do not experience motherhood in the same ways as each other or anyone else so we cannot rely solely on the advice of others.

What we all have in common, though, is the fact that our children change us. Our children are born with unique needs and differences that teach us new ways of seeing the world and ourselves. Jessica, for instance, has taught me the importance of seeing the world through all of my senses, not just my sight. She has taught me to be aware of my own ignorance and to use that blank slate as fuel to research and learn about her realize how important it is to say, “I don't know what you're going through but I'm ready to observe and listen and try to understand.” Most importantly, she has taught me that perfection is overrated and there is a special beauty in the process of figuring out what it is you can't see or you don't know with the clues you have available to you.

My experience of motherhood may have been “different” due to Jessica's vision differences but I doubt there is any experience of motherhood that could be considered “normal” and I wouldn't change any of it for the world. Sure, I didn't get to experience breastfeeding because she couldn't see to latch. No, I didn't get to enjoy eye contact until she got her first glasses at 2 years old. Instead, I got to hold my child closer and delight in her joy at being able to see me when I held my forehead up to hers. I watched her learn to lift her head, crawl, and run faster than most children in her excited attempt to get close enough to see the fuzzy images that were just a little bit too far away. As she has gotten older, I've gotten to watch her grow into a supremely practical and self-confident young lady who understands the importance of struggle as only one who has had to surmount obstacles can know.

From her, I have learned a completely different way of seeing motherhood and the world than I had before she came into my life...not because she was visually-impaired but because she taught me the most important lesson of motherhood: We are all beginners here.