My mother told me that when I was a baby/toddler, I had a fascination with the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I used to script it constantly, singing it at socially inappropriate volumes (i.e. extremely loudly) in public places as well as at home - even when it was nowhere near Christmastime/winter. Another mother would have probably been embarrassed, but she just thought it was cute, and admitted to sometimes joining in with me.
Interestingly enough, today marks twelve days away from a very significant day in my life and my family's lives. In twelve days, the fate of our family will be determined in court. After tens of thousands of dollars spent on legal fees; after over two and a half years of uncertainty; after tense, unfruitful hearings and mediations and motions and extensions. It all comes down to now. It all comes down to that day. What the judge will say. Whether we will continue to be a family as we have been for nearly six years or whether we will be splintered and torn asunder.
Twelve used to seem like such a monumental number when I was a kid. A ruler was 12 inches. A year had 12 months. The clock had 12 hours on it. We learned our multiplication times tables up to 12. People graduated after 12th grade. There was even a popular song (which I have chosen to no longer listen to again in life because its creator is a child molester) called “TwelvePlay.”
But 12 is just an ordinary number. A number like any other number. Not any more significant than any other. It’s just 12. One larger than 11; one smaller than 13. The fact that it is the same number I used to sing about as a toddler is irrelevant. It’s not a sign of anything.
I decided some time back that I wouldn't be scared. That I wouldn't be anxious. That the situation was in God’s hands, and that I needed to be positive and keep an open mind. That these are MY children, and that they are home - and will remain home. That worrying changes nothing.
I want to feel that way. I want to feel that way so badly. To be secure. Not to fear. Not to stress over it. I want to trust that God’s got me and that we will be okay.
And I do feel that way. I do...but not every second, you know? Sometimes doubt creeps in. I'm just being real.
But I'm not going to be consumed with doubt nor let it determine how I live and how I interact with my children. They know me; I can't fool them. So I let them know that it's okay to be scared. It's okay to not know. And it's more than okay to have hope, to dream, and to want to see that dream realized.
Unfortunately, for far too many people, my dream is as unattainable as a trip to Saturn. My simple dream - to be granted the opportunity to parent my kids - is one that a lot of disabled parents won’t have. There was a hashtag a few years ago that caught my eye: #DisabilityIsNotACrime, it declared. I would like to think that’s true. But is it? Because many disabled parents would argue otherwise. In 35 of the the 50 states in the US, the law allows that parental rights can be terminated solely on the basis of disability; in 10 of those states, this can happen even if there is NO suspected abuse or neglect. So essentially, with regard to family law, being disabled IS a crime - it’s reason enough for you to lose custody of your children.
This type of discrimination against disabled parents is not limited to termination of parental rights; it also occurs in custody battles where a disabled parent might not be given the same consideration as a nondisabled parent who is also seeking custody. It is also prevalent in child welfare on the “front end” with regard to public and private agencies; many disabled parents are denied the opportunity to build their families via adoption and/or foster care as well due to ableist notions that assume that such a parent will not be able to adequately meet a child’s needs.
Disabled teens and adults are often denied the opportunity to become prospective parents - and that’s because they are often denied the right to fundamental, basic bodily autonomy including sexual and reproductive rights. More plainly, a lot of people can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that disabled people have sexual urges. Not all disabled people, no - just like not all non-disabled people. Asexuality exists, and there is nothing wrong with it; some people have other, equally valid ways of meeting their needs that are nonsexual. However, just because we are disabled doesn’t mean that we don’t have any interest in sex. Why wouldn’t we?
It isn’t disabled people ourselves who have an issue with us and the idea of sex. It’s all the rest of y’all. People tend to infantilize disabled people; or view us as broken; or deify us as being “too special” to need to be bothered with “that stuff.” It’s the reason why a number of individuals with disabilities are not provided with comprehensive sex ed; it’s the reason why contraception, fertility treatments, and/or family planning options are frequently not recommended to disabled individuals by their medical providers; it’s the reason many disabled people were sterilized against their will for a number of decades in different parts of the world. And it’s ableist - whether it is coming from loving, well-intentioned but ableist caregivers, from restrictive and dehumanizing policies of a facility/institution/residential program, or something else entirely. We enjoy a good orgasm just as much as anyone else; disability doesn’t change that.
So many problems. We’re still fighting to be viewed as people, let alone parents. Sadly. We’re still fighting for basic human rights. The right to live. To vote. To work. To be educated. To access public spaces. To communicate. To access health care. To utilize services. To have adequate representation. To make decisions about where we live, how we spend our money, how we pursue recreation, who we have around us. We’re still fighting not to be perceived, addressed, and treated like we are helpless merely because we are different.
We are fighting for things we shouldn’t have to fight for.
As an individual with a “hidden” disability, I am extremely aware of the privilege I possess. It is ironic sometimes...existing simultaneously as a person with multiple marginalizations and as a person who experiences privilege in a variety of ways - yet still simply being me. However, it is not lost on me that it is only after identifying publicly as a disabled woman and living my life publicly as such that I began to face opposition with regard to my ability to parent my children - never before, when I was perceived as nondisabled. It wasn’t me who changed; it is the manner in which certain individuals perceived me. I was the exact same person; however, seemingly nondisabled me was thought of as perfectly capable of raising my children and meeting their needs while apparently disabled me, the actual me, was suddenly incompetent.
Prayerfully in twelve days I will be triumphant. My family will remain intact. The unjust, ableist, system that attempted to separate us will hopefully find that this time, this one time, it didn’t win. I hope this, earnestly. And I pray this, with every ounce of strength, faith, and hope I possess in me.
But though I might win, it is more likely than not that on that same day, others will lose - other disabled parents. Or on day 11, which is one less than 12. Or on day 13, which is one more than twelve. You see, the statistics, the odds...they’re not in favor of disabled people, disabled parents. It doesn’t look promising for most disabled people when you think about it, when you review and ponder the numbers.
And at the end of the day, no matter how many times you sing it, twelve is just a number. Not a guarantee.
|Image of the word "twelve" and the numeric symbol 12. Photo credit: Twelve Lumion Directors.|