It’s safe to say most people think that parenting blind must be challenging—even impossible. I totally understand this reaction, but as a mom who has lost my eyesight, I believe I’m able to teach my children to view the world in a unique way.
A CHALLENGING VISION
I haven’t always been blind. At age three I was diagnosed with a chronic degenerative eye condition called uveitis as part of an overall diagnosis of juvenile arthritis. Until 2008 I had very limited eyesight in only my left eye. I could see light, color, and some very blurred movement if it was in front of my face. All of that ended in 2008 when the disease finally took what was left of my eyesight.
That year I would suffer the complete loss of my remaining eyesight and light perception. If that was not enough, within months of me losing my eyesight, both of my girls, Isabella and Georgianna, would be diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, the same disease that had ultimately claimed my sight. During that season my youngest, just 3 at the time and newly diagnosed, ask me the question, "Mommy, will I go blind like you?" Nothing prepares you for that, much less breaks your heart into pieces.
Today I have no eyesight, not even light perception. I wear prosthetic scleral shells on top of my natural eyes to make them appear healthy. I do not see the blackness you would imagine, more of a grayish white haze.
Over the years I have gotten plenty of questions about raising my children: How do I keep them safe? How do I feed, bathe, change diapers, get them dressed, know when they are sick? How do I take them on outings by myself? Some questions like 'How will you see your children grow?' trigger some sadness.
All of these are legitimate curiosities. I can guarantee you that at the beginning of this journey I had the same ones. There were no books I knew of on the topic, I knew no other blind mommies to run to for advice, and, at that time, there were hardly any resources on the internet.
In those first few years of motherhood when I had some very limited eyesight, I felt I only had two options, retreat or just dive in. I opted to dive in head first. There was a lot of trial and error, a record number of baby wipes to make sure my little one was clean, and the satisfaction of knowing that with each challenge I conquered, the next one would be just a little easier. I experienced excitement, fear, setbacks, and victories as I worked my way through all of those questions. But as my daughters grew so did my confidence in my parenting abilities.
SEEING THE LIGHT
When I lost my eyesight completely in 2008, all that newfound confidence disappeared with it. I won't sugarcoat it: It was a long and hard road reclaiming a clear perspective. I battled depression, chronic pain that was a byproduct of my eyes failing, and was hospitalized numerous times with life-threatening infections since my immune system was actively working against me. But I still had to be the mommy to my baby girls who now were also facing their own challenges as they learned to cope with the pain of this disease. My husband had to become a caregiver to all. At one point, he was giving us multiple injections each week and ensuring everyone was at all of the appointments that come with managing a chronic condition.
Today, my family is stronger than ever and we are happy. Our journey to get here was not a smooth one, but one that has revealed our true characters. We learned that feeling joy is a choice. No matter the challenges we faced, we chose joy and found the light in the midst of the darkness. If it were not for this, our strong faith in God, and our family’s love, we would not have coped, nor would we have been able to keep moving forward with hope for a brighter future. I remember the moment when I first found joy and hope again—the first day I was home with my now-retired guide dog Antonia after guide dog school training. For so long my daughters would have to hold my hand and lead me down the street. With Antonia, we could go outside as a family and I’d say, “come on girls, let’s go this way,” and be the one taking their hands and leading them on our way.
The outside world may look at me with my children and feel as if I am missing out on so much, but they couldn’t be more wrong. When I look at my children I see them. I have watched them grow with my hands from baby girls into these beautiful young women they are today. I touch their hair, their faces, their outfits, to know what they look like each day. At 15 and 13, Isabella and Georgianna are my best friends, they’re never ashamed or embarrassed of their blind mommy, to my girls I am just mommy.
I love mine and my girls’ special and unique relationship. I love the way they help me see things through their descriptions and by taking my hands in their hands. Though I may not be able to see exactly what they see, together we have learned the most important and positive life lesson: to see the world through eyes of unconditional love. Parenting without eyesight has truly opened the eyes of my heart to view this world in the most beautiful light.
My girls and I talk all the time about how cruel, judgmental, and hateful this world can be. I’m judged by strangers on a daily basis, so my experience has taught my girls from a very young age to be nothing like the world when it comes to judging a book by its cover. If we want this world to change, we need to show love to everyone we meet.
My girls see that we all have disabilities, we all face challenges—some are visible, some are hidden—but inside we are all the same. When you take away the book cover, the façade, and truly see the heart of the world, you can see the beauty that makes each one of us special and unique. At the end of the day, through the eyes of love, my Isabella and Georgianna see that challenges come and go, but the one thing that remains, and will always remain, is love.
Joy Ross lives with her husband, two daughters, guide dog, Arabella, retired guide dog, Antonia, and rescue dog Lily in Portland, Oregon. She shares her story on her YouTube channel, “Joy Ross,” and her Facebook page, “Through the Eyes of Joy.”