Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog | Week 16

Excited to share the next installment of my pregnancy journey! This week, I talk about baby’s development so far, my blind parenting tip of the week, symptoms (including one that might be TMI, so feel free to skip those few moments of the video), plus some of my thoughts at the time on parenting fears etc.

Check out my newest video here

And come back next week for more updates!

Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog | Week 10

Enjoy my second update in my Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog series! A similar set up as my first video, detailing symptoms, things I was thinking about, and my prayers at the time.

Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog | Week 10

Be sure to check back for more updates next week!

Have any questions about life as a blind person, guide dog user, or blind parent-to-be? Feel free to comment here or on Youtube! Are you a blind parent yourself and want to help inform others about the capabilities of blind and vision impaired people? Share this video, and drop me a comment to let me know what might be good topics to discuss here and on my channel.

Until next time…

Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog | Week 8

I’ve had a few false starts with publishing youtube videos, but it’s mostly because I feel a bit uncomfortable with the vulnerability of filming. Somehow it feels much less personal to publish written posts on my blog, rather than record something with audio and visuals, but I have felt for a long time that I have a responsibility at some level to share my experiences as a blind person, and now particularly as a blind parent, in order to inform others about the capabilities of blind people.

I’ve always enjoyed watching pregnancy updates on youtube, but have never seen one by a blind content creator. I thought making my own might therefore be a great way to reflect on my experiences throughout pregnancy, while also sharing about blind parenting techniques. More than anything, I hope the thing people take away from this video is the utter “ordinariness” of my experiences, despite my unusual perspective as someone with a visual impairment.

In this first video, enjoy hearing how we found out about our precious little one, plus symptoms and the equipment/products we’ve acquired so far.

Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog Week 8

**Keep in mind this is a pregnancy update, and naturally will contain info that might be a bit TMI for some.

For more updates, be sure to check back here or on my youtube channel next week, or find more blog posts on blind parenting here.

The Stroller Struggle | What to Keep in Mind When Searching for a Buggy as a Blind Parent

Working out which buggy/pram/stroller to get was one of the first challenges that came to mind after finding out we were expecting. As a blind mama, I won’t be pushing a stroller, but pulling it behind me. The problem is most strollers are not designed for this sort of functionality. For that reason, I plan to use a baby-carrier in most situations, but more on that in another post. Back to buggies.

The Problem with Pulling a Stroller that’s Designed for Pushing

Wheels-

In most cases, strollers are designed with swivel wheels in the front that move easily in the direction you desire to travel, if you are pushing from the back, that is. If you are pulling it, the swivel wheels become a nuisance because they fishtail every time you try to turn. In addition, the fixed wheels in the back of the stroller make it difficult to turn because they do not move in accordance with your direction of travel. This means that the only way to turn while pulling is to lift the stroller slightly or allow the stroller to tip somewhat to one side. Obviously, this isn’t ideal.

Handle-

Many strollers have two vertical handles to push the chair along. These models are virtually impossible to pull comfortably as you have to choose a side, left or right, that you will use, leaving your control of the contraption quite lopsided.

Handle-Height-

Another problem with prams is that the handle is often too high to comfortably grasp from behind. If you think about a pull suitcase, one can hold the handle easily at the resting length of one’s own arm, but often times a stroller handle is waste height or higher (at least for anyone like me who’s a few inches below average height).

Direction of Chair or Carry Cot 

Some buggies have a fixed facing position for the chair or carry cot and do not allow the user to reverse their original positioning. This means that while your child may have been facing the most desirable direction when pushing the buggy, they may not be facing the direction you or your child would like when pulling it.

Price-

There are strollers with features that ameliorate some or all of these issues, but in my experience so far, they are often much more expensive.

So, What Are the Solutions?

1 Wheels that can be adjusted from swivel to fixed in both the front and back of the stroller. If this is not possible, a reversible handle may also be a functional option. If the stroller is a model which has fixed wheels in the back when pushing, and swivel wheels in the front, a reversible handle allows the user to place the swivel wheels nearest the handle, that is toward the front when pulling, and the fixed wheels furthest from the handle, or in the back when pulling.

2 A horizontal push bar. This allows the user to pull from the center of the handle, rather than only from the left or right side.

3 A low, hip-high handle (or lower if possible) that can be adjusted to be higher/longer only if need-be 

4 Reversable chair or carry cot. This allows the user to switch the facing direction of the chair or cot independent of the stroller handle.

5 Buy used! I knew this could be one of the priciest items on our baby must-haves list, so I decided to research which stroller I needed as early as possible so that I could be looking out for a suitable model on second-hand websites. I’m SO GLAD I did! Our chosen model, the Bugaboo Chameleon, retails online for around 800 euro. We were blessed to find an older version of the stroller and several handy excessories online for a grand total of 50 euro.

Another option you might consider is to purchase a travel wagon. They do tend to be bulkier than your typical stroller, but they definitely seem more practical when you have multiple children to cart around, and, of course the best thing about them is that they are designed specifically to be pulled. Keep in mind, though, that many of them have limitations when it comes to traveling with a newborn.

In every case, don’t forget to consider which carseat you plan to purchase and whether it will be compatible with the stroller or wagon you choose.

I hope this post was helpful! Please subscribe for more content, and click here to read more posts from my parenting blind series. Until next time, happy trails to you and your family.

Learning to Be a Mother

I’m a mother!

Pregnancy test. Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.comPregnancy test.

That might not be a shocking statement to anyone who doesn’t know me, but it’s still a surprise to me. I’ve had lots of defining moments in my life—graduations, baptism, international travel, engagement, wedding. They have all been profound times, but all of them somewhat different from that morning I waited, with bated breath and shaking hands, for my husband to read the result shown on the tiny digital screen of the pregnancy test.

“Yep, we’re pregnant.” my husband had said from the bathroom.

Pregnant… I thought in utter joy and disbelief. A new person existed now that hadn’t before, and God had chosen to make their first home within me?!

How can anything be the same after such a realization? My mind raced with all the implications… job, diet, health, money, the skills we would have to learn, the things we would have to purchase, everything, it seemed, had to be reconsidered in light of this new, precious life that had been entrusted to us.

I think this must be true for any parent, but especially for parents who don’t fit into what you might call the “typical mold”. As a blind mom, the world won’t look at me as normal. Often,, as already happens in other situations, they will probably see me as less capable, but with the right tools and techniques, I can be a perfectly successful mama. This may not be obvious to the ignorant bystander, but it is to me, particularly when I observe my blind friends who are parents. They breastfeed, bottle-feed, and change diapers, they get their kids to and from practices and events, they help with homework or even homeschool, they play games, they administer medication, they keep their children safe when out on the road. So, not your normal parent? Only in the sense that they do all of it without looking.

Still, just like any other new mom, I do have a lot to learn. I hope that by sharing the information I gather here, it can be an opportunity for others to learn as well, both about the capabilities of blind people in general, and about specific techniques that might help you or someone you know in their parenting journey.

So, if you’d like to learn along with me, click here for any future articles in this series, or find the “Parenting” category in the navigation bar.

How Can Music Therapy Help Those Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired?

It was always interesting to participate in discussions about music therapy for adults with disabilities in my master’s program, because even as I thought about how I could be of assistance to that population, I had to recognize that I could actually be considered a part of that population. What could music therapy do, or have done, for me as a blind person? 

 

Early intervention 

 

For children who are born blind, or lose their sight at an early age, music therapy can be a powerful tool for teaching valuable skills and redirecting negative behaviors before they become ingrained.

Common “blindisms”, such as eye-pressing or rocking, may be reduced. Social skills, such as directing one’s gaze, learning to hear body language, and developing one’s own gestural communication can be improved. It may also aid blind or visually impaired children in developing motor skills, learning to identify and discriminate between sounds, and learning to use auditory cues for orientation and navigation. 

 

Social Engagement 

 

Blindness can often be associated with isolation and social exclusion. In addition to teaching essential social cues, music therapy provides an opportunity for quality social interaction. This is true regardless of age or ability level.

 

Confidence building 

 

Whether working with a child at 7, or an adult of 50, confidence in one’s skills as a blind person is hugely important, and could be the difference between a fulfilling, independent life, and an empty existence trapped at home. Participation in music therapy has been shown to develop confidence in other populations, and could certainly be applied in this context as well.

 

Creativity and adaptability 

 

Disability in general always brings challenges, but it’s the way that one responds to those challenges that makes all the difference. An ability to problem solve, find new ways to do old things is an invaluable skill. Musical improvisation and collaboration may be one way to improve in this.

 

Coping with grief, depression, and anxiety as the result of vision loss 

 

Losing one’s sight is traumatic in and of itself, and depending on the cause of vision loss, can also be associated with other traumas that need to be addressed. Music therapy offers an opportunity for creative self-expression and a healthy option for working through difficult emotions in a safe space.

 

Looking back, I know I could have benefited greatly from music therapy in the ways I’ve mentioned. Indeed, I think I have benefited in some of those ways even just from participating in music therapy as a student and practitioner.

 

If you or your child are blind or visually impaired and would like to explore music therapy further, feel free to get in touch by emailing:

Contact.OpportunityUnleashed@gmail.com

Visiting our facebook page, or contacting another music therapist in your area.

Also check out:

Why We Love Music Therapy for Our Blind Son

A Safety-Conscious Canine

A little story I wrote for a blog I contributed to. The blog is no longer running so I decided to republish it here. Enjoy.

Prim has consistently been rather stubborn about going to church. When I asked my trainer about it, she suggested that perhaps Prim simply wasn’t religious. I laughed at that, but it wasn’t a sufficient explanation, especially when I realized that Prim was somewhat unwilling to walk the route from church, as well as to church. Today I figured out why. 

Our walk to church includes traversing several sets of steps, the top level of a parking garage, and a long, side-walkless driveway, one that is consistently populated by church-goers’ vehicles leaving and entering our parking lot. Because there is no sidewalk, we are forced to stick as close as we can to the edge of the road. Prim is trained to do this. It’s a technique called “shore-lining”, but she is still not satisfied. She often stops in the parking lot or veers to the grass when she sees an idoling car, as I think she recognizes it as a threat. Well, one day on our way out of church, Prim decided to take matters into her own paws. Despite my direction to walk straight, across the parking lot and along the driveway, Prim insisted upon turning left. Curious, I trusted her and followed.

“Let’s go home.” 

I said, hopefully, even though I didn’t actually know whether we could get back to our appartment this way. She led me along a brief strip of parkinglot, then pulled me strongly to the right to step onto a sidewalk. I couldn’t help but laugh. We stuck to the sidewalk, made a right, then walked another good distance, until Prim pulled right again and I recognized the slant of our leasing office parking lot beneath my feet, and a minute later reached out to feel the gate that would take us into our complex. 

We had never walked that route before, but somehow Prim knew we could get home that way, and knew it was safer with side walks. She won’t let us walk any other way now. I love my safety conscious canine.

The Symbiosis of the Guide Dog Team

I am often asked questions about the nature of my relationship with my guide dog.  A topic we frequently touch on is the interdependence of it.  I like to point this out to people, because no one is surprised that I depend on my guide dog.  After all, she is my eyes, in a sense… but they usually don’t think  about the fact that my dog depends on me, too.

My guide dog does have a lot of responsibility, especially for a dog.  Prim protects me.  She keeps me from walking into traffic, or stepping off the edge of a platform or stage.  She navigates me smoothly around things in our path, and shows me when there is an obstacle like a parked car or construction barrier obstructing our way entirely.  Prim provides for me.  She helps me find landmarks like doors, steps, trashcans, and chairs, and is a source of ever-present laughter and comfort besides.

But like with any other dog, I have a great deal of responsibility as Prim’s partner and handler.  I protect Prim.  I make intelligent decisions about when to cross the street, and think about Prim’s physical and emotional safety in any given environment.  There are some places I simply do not take my guide dog due to risk of injury or discomfort.  Crowded bars and loud concerts are just two examples of places where paws could be too easily trampled and ears too easily overwhelmed.  There have also been situations where I had to physically protect my guide dog when she was in danger of being attacked by another canine.  I provide for Prim.  I feed her, groom her, take her outside, take her to the vet for medical care, and of course have the enormous pleasure of being her primary playmate and cuddle buddy.

It’s a relationship of giving, not 50/50, but 100/100.  Of course, we both fail, but the beauty is that not only do we both provide and protect, but we also persevere.  There are days I am convinced I have a two-year-old child on a leash, and there are days that Prim is convinced she will starve to death because we get home late and I forgot to throw her dinner in my backpack, but I keep loving her even after she throws tantrums about not being able to eat the cat, and she keeps loving me after I feed her an hour or two later than our schedule dictates.  In that way, it is undoubtedly a symbiosis of sorts, but not a symbiosis of chance, rather one of choice.  Primie, I’m so glad I get to choose you.

Thankful for Accessible Technology

Sometimes, it’s fun to envision what life would have been like a hundred or more years ago.  Imagine a life without digital media, for example, or consider how different transportation was when cars had only just been invented.  What interests me, though, is how life must have been different for the blind.

Some blind people did live independently, had children, and held jobs, like the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby.  But what was it like?

On the one hand, I’m a bit jealous.  Any society before the invention of cars must have been a great deal more pedestrian friendly, and therefore, blind-friendly, even in the absence of modern infrastructure.  On the other hand, I wonder how blind people managed without ways to independently access printed materials around them, or easily produce them on their own.

I’ve written a few songs in my time—it’s hard to avoid when you live in music city—but Fanny Crosby had over 8000 hymns published!  Then, she would have had to memorize all of her texts and music, written it down in braille and had it transcribed, dictated it to a sighted person to pen them, or penned them herself.  Of course, the only way she could have accessed them again would be through her memory, braille, or a sighted reader.  Evidently, her memory was impeccable.  According to the website I referenced earlier, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week.

I definitely do not exercise my memory quite that often or to that extent, so perhaps that’s another advantage that antiquity has over modernity for blind folk.  Otherwise, I’m thankful that now a days, accessible technology means that I can easily record music (even as I write it) on my phone, type the lyrics into my computer, review what I have written, and share them with sighted friends, all independently and with very little extra effort on my part.

I am especially thankful for the way assistive tech has made the bible available to the blind in a way it never has been before.  I don’t have to carry volumes and volumes of braille bibles around with me to have constant access to the word of God, nor do I have to have it read to me and memorize five chapters a week, though there’s no doubt that would be a profitable exercise.  But no.  All I have to do is have a charged iPhone with a wifi connection, safari or a bible app, and voila.  The whole word of God is at my fingertips…

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

He has made his word known to us, and not only known, but accessible for study, teaching, comfort, evangelism, truth.  Accessible technology means I, along with other blind people, get to behold the wondrous things of his law by myself, on my own time, in essentially whatever format I choose, and whichever book or verse I prefer to study.  I do not think there is any more valuable gift.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

Eight Things I Will Miss About Being A Full-Time White Cane User

I admit it. Me and the white stick have a bit of a rough history. Stories of losing them in rivers and storm drains aside, the canes of my youth were mostly abused in the fact that they were neglected.  I did not often use it as a child and teenager, and when I did it was only in preparation for getting a guide dog as soon as I turned 16. I hated the cane in those days… in fact, I can honestly say I had a healthy disdain for it until quite recently. Throughout my college years, I grew to accept my cane as a useful piece of equipment, but it was still one that I preferred never to use unless forced by circumstance.

Over the last several months though, since I essentially hung up the harness in the spring, my grudging respect for my cane has developed into an all out appreciation, even love.  Yes, I know. People who know me will be falling on the floor in shock at this, but there are things I will actually miss about being a full time white cane user.  Here are a few of them.

1. Sprinting everywhere I go

As a cane user, I get to choose exactly how fast I walk and the fashion in which I walk. I don’t need to worry about paws being stepped on or convince my guide dog that it is more fun to run everywhere. I love being able to grab my cane and take off at high speeds, all while hopping, skipping, dancing, and generally doing something relatively” productive with my sometimes excessive amounts of energy. If you are concerned that this is not safe you are probably correct and will be happy to know that I am picking up the harness handle again in one day’s time. (although when I get that urge to burn off some Shea craziness, the cane is coming out)

2. My Cane Doesn’t Get Distracted

Guide dogs are amazing creatures, but at the end of the day, they are dogs, and they sometimes get sidetracked on the job (squirrel!). My cane, on the other hand, never barks at dogs, lunges after a cat, or goes for food on the ground, and I’ve gotta say, that makes a walk in the park much more like a walk in the park, and less like a rollercoaster ride.

3. My Cane is A Cheap Date

I don’t have to feed, groom, pick-up after, buy toys for, or pay the medical expenses of my cane.  Of course, I am absolutely willing and love to do those things for my guide dog, because it is the least I can do to repay her for the work and affection she gives me, but it *has* been an inexpensive several weeks.  Thanks cane.

4. No dog hair

Man I love having a guide dog, and I love having a dog in general, but it is awfully nice not to have to constantly lint roll and swiffer every inch of my existence to keep myself and my living space looking presentable… my clothes will be covered in yellow or black hair again in a matter of days though, so I obviously don’t care all *THAT* much.

5. No Muddy Paws

My dog goes everywhere with me in all sorts of weather and all sorts of environments… that means muddy paws in wet weather, and paws full of cement dust when we walk through construction sites… neither of which I love when tracked into my apartment.  Easily solved with a damp towel at the door, but not something I have to fool with at all with my cane.

6. Not having to worry about being denied from restaurants and ubers because of my guide dog

Our society has made a great deal of progress with public access for guide and service dog users, but it is still not uncommon for me to experience discrimination because of the presence of my guide dog. That, for me, is not something that outweighs the benefits of having a guide, but it is nice to travel without that worry in the back of my mind. No one is going to stop me from entering a business or Lyft with the proclamation that “no white canes” are allowed, or that they are “deathly afraid” of white canes… at least, it hasn’t happened to me yet.

7. If My Cane Get’s Stepped On, It’s Okay

Public transit, restaurants, concerts, church services, crowded, narrow spaces often mean that paws, tail, and nose are in danger of being stepped on.  Fortunately this only happened a couple of times to Oleta, mostly her paws, but the only reason it didn’t happen more often than that was because I was always hovering over her with my feet and sometimes hands strategically placed to guard her from harm.  My cane doesn’t have nerve endings, so as long as it doesn’t get actually snapped in half, we’re good.

8. Hitting things

Honestly, it’s kind of satisfying to hit things with a 58 inch pole all day.  The tapping and occasional clanging of a cane used to bother me a great deal, but I’ve learned to embrace the aggression and the noise, and sometimes be a bit more noisy and aggressive than strictly necessary, just because:

A. it’s fun,

B. I was a music major and find different sounds interesting, and

C. It makes a particular person in my life really mad, which is hilarious. 🙂

Good news is I don’t have to kiss every one of these things goodbye forever on Wednesday.  The cane, like the dog guide, is a tool in a tool box, and if I feel the need to hang up the harness for a few hours and pick up the cane, I get to do that, and I am glad I appreciate that option now.