I subscribe to a podcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) called Ouch. It features BBC journalists with disabilities who bring their personal experiences to the table, and it can be downright charming to hear them talk about disability in their lovely British and Irish accents. It’s intriguing, too, to hear how British and Irish laws regarding disability sometimes differ from ours here in the United States.
As you might imagine, I was all ears when reporter Emma Tracey checked in from maternity leave by phone to talk to Ouch about what it’s been like to be a blind mum. I am blind, too, but it’s been so long since our son Gus was an infant that I was curious to hear about any new techniques for 21st century parents taking care of infants they can’t see.
When Gus was little I took care of other infants during the day to make some pocket money on the side. Because infants don’t move much, they are easy to keep track of. When it came time to pick them up, I’d place my hands palms down on their mattress and feel around until I found a little body. I’d feel up and down to determine whether I had arms or legs, then lift the baby to my shoulder, one hand always under the head for support.
I walked backwards with babies to get us from room to room. That way if we bumped into door frames or walls, it’d be my well-padded bottom that took the impact rather than the baby’s head.
Diapering was easy: remove the baby’s clothes and wipe their bottoms clean. Without being able to see where the mess was, I just wiped everything. The infants I took care of had the cleanest bottoms in town.
If the babies wanted to stretch out, I’d put them on a blanket on the floor and make a rule for myself to never ever step on that blanket whether a baby is on it or not. That way I could keep toys out all the time and not worry about tripping over them — or stepping on the baby!
Most parents supplied pre-made bottles that I simply put in the microwave when the baby got hungry. And yes, I always shook the bottle afterward and checked to make sure the formula wasn’t too hot. This is one aspect of baby care where BBC’s Emma Tracey had a different approach than mine: she is breastfeeding.
“The most challenging thing about feeding for me is based on my own hang-ups, and it’s feeding in public and doing it so that I don’t flash…” she said on the podcast, explaining she always brings a little cover along to use. “I think if I were sighted I’d be a lot more brazen about it.”
She said people look at her enough anyway,. “They look at me as a person with my dog, feeling around a table at a café for my tea or whatever I happen to be doin’, so actually, in fairness, breastfeeding shouldn’t bother me, but I think I am a little bit concerned about flashing!” Emma said she doesn’t let that concern stop her from breastfeeding in public, though. “I still do it and it’s fine, it’s absolutely fine.”
Other than that, Emma Tracey uses pretty much the same tricks I used back in the late 1980s when caring for Gus and other infants. We didn’t have smart phones back then, though, so one thing new is…texting.
Emma’s baby’s name is Tadhg, which is an Irish name that sounds like the first syllable in the word Tiger. “And the interesting thing about that is, I dictate all my messages and correspondence with Siri on my iPhone, and it is the least easy name to dictate in the world!” She says every time she gets to Tadhg’s name when she’s sending a text she has to stop what she’s saying, type t-a-d-h-g on to her smartphone, and then go back to dictating. “So he gets called ‘the baby’ a lot.”