This will be published in an upcoming issue of the DVIQ.
“Erika Johnson and Blake Sinnett’s daughter, Mikaela Sinnett, was returned to them after 57 days in foster care,” begins an article on Parent Dish, which describes the horrifying tragedy in detail. And the Kansas City Star comments further on this travesty that, “Now breast-feeding is a lost option.”
Many of us hear stories about how blind people are barred from access to events or opportunities, but how can one even begin to talk about parents being barred from access to their own child; about blind people being excluded from parental love?
This author can empathize—but then again, can’t even imagine—what nearly two months without one’s own baby must feel like. It is unimaginable to picture the mother, who has known her baby for months, not having the opportunity to get to know her at all. Or to think of the father, who tries and tries to keep his partner hopeful as she grieves, perhaps needing to mask his own grief at times. In fact, both of them might have felt the need to hide their grief somewhat behind courage, and later behind gratitude. Johnson even said she felt forgiveness. But then again, can we really fathom the horror of working and planning and saving for a baby, only to have her gone, knowing she is alive somewhere, but remaining unable to participate in her life.
The ramifications of such a story are also frightening in the world of new blind parents. After reading such a story, the thought of having the baby unassisted seems infinitely easier, when prevailing thoughts are that the assistance could turn out to swoop in, raptor-like, to remove the baby. Hospitals all over the country offer services for new parents, services which parents who are blind would feel cautious to take advantage of with stories such as these permeating their consciousness. As Erika Johnson explained, “I needed help as a new parent, not as a blind parent.” The thought of parenting becomes less terrifying than the thought of making a mistake in front of someone, a luxury which new sighted parents can’t fully appreciate. Since parenting, whether the parents are sighted or blind, is a human and not a mechanized endeavor, mistakes can and do happen. As a wise friend told me, “Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have read them.”
Perhaps some sighted workers in positions of power in hospitals and in the community can’t imagine feeding, diapering and caring for a baby without seeing. Or perhaps they don’t even try to imagine it and simply deem it impossible. After all, the social worker asked Erika Johnson questions about caring for her newborn, but she was not really listening to her answers. If she had been listening, and not just staring, maybe she would have realized that Johnson and Sinnett both had forethought, a necessary qualification for all parents.
This is the sort of story about parenting which makes the news, because the media is often about page-turners. It’s much more difficult to find a story entitled: “Blind Couple Brings Child Home from Hospital and Everything Is Fine.” But that’s the sort of story the general public, especially hospital personnel, needs to read.