“My children don’t see my visual impairment; I am just mum” – Amrit Dhaliwal
At BAME Vision, we are celebrating Blind and Partially Sighted mothers from ethnic minorities, with the aim of contributing to the diverse representation of the vision-impaired community. In this series, we are looking to shine a light on mothers who work and volunteer, as we find out more about this largely unreported part of society. We will discuss motherhood, culture, mental health, support systems, self-confidence, and everything else in between.
Amrit, our third guest, is a vision-impaired of two teenagers. Amrit has an eye condition called Glaucoma, which she has lived with since childhood.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m severely sight impaired. I started losing my eyesight when I was 5 years old due to a condition known as Glaucoma so I’ve lost my eyesight gradually over my lifetime.
I love life, and always try to see the positive in everything, and just see my glass as half full. I make a conscious effort to challenge myself to experience new things, to create new opportunities and stretch my comfort zone, and instil those values into my children as well.
So, culturally, do you feel that people expect something different from you as a vision impaired mum?
I definitely feel that, one hundred percent! I’ve always been surrounded by so much stigma, and low expectations. Even the fact that I would be able to physically bear a child, and if I was to have a child, then would it have eye problems? Would I be able to look after it. If that wasn’t hard enough, added to that is this absolute concern and fear about whether I would be able to bring my child up safely, they were in danger. That is really undermining to me as a mum, and I feel like I have spent my whole life as a mum trying to prove the opposite, which can be really exhausting and frustrating.
I resent that really, because I feel like why do I need to justify myself because I’m a visually impaired mum? I have always sensed this sense of absolute relief from people, not just my family or community, but from professionals when they realise I’ve got a sighted husband, it’s like “Oh thank God for that!”. It’s a relief you’ve got someone there, because surely as a blind mum you’re not capable and responsible to bring up your own children.
Also, I can’t tell you the amount of times that people have realised I’ve got children, and they’re happy for me, but not because I can enjoy motherhood like millions of mums, the miracle of bringing another human being into this world, nurturing them to be adults who are respectful, enjoy life to the full, and contribute to the world in a positive way. They don’t see it like that. They think I’ve got someone that can care for me. That’s their main concern. That I’ve got the network of support, and that isn’t my reason for wanting children.
It’s just that stereotype, that you’re always being cared for, and you can’t look after anyone else, or nurture and care for a child.
My children don’t really see my visual impairment, that is the last thing they notice about me. I am just purely a mum! A mum that cooks for them, feeds them, helps with their homework, plans holidays, activities, and disciplines them, and tells them off! That’s all I am, and with the vision I have to remind them sometimes, ‘remember mum can’t see’.
However people don’t understand that, they think that 24/7 that is all we are about. Of course they support me, but they have adjusted and adapted to that from when they were babies. They even knew to pack their toys away to keep them out of mum’s pathway because she’s coming! [she laughs] I have still managed to step on some very painful lego pieces, or I would put the baby to sleep, then as I’m walking away I would walk into a noisy toy which would then start a loud song!
What is your favourite blind mum hack?
I have loads, but I would say the most important is to be as organised as possible. Life is hectic enough as a mum! Label everything, have a place for everything, and take full advantage of drawer organisers and storage boxes. They make life so much easier, when it comes to finding things. I always used to make sure that my baby bag is stocked up with a foldable mat, nappies, wipes, a toy, the essentials, just in case I had to quickly go out, I could just pick up the bag and go.
Packing can be really stressful, so if things are organised it saved me the hassle of going through drawers on a hectic day to put things together, and saves a lot of time.
What would you like to say to other blind mums from ethnic minorities out there, and what would your advice be?
If they were experiencing stigma and negative attitudes from others, it might be easier said than done, but try to understand it comes from a lack of education and awareness. It’s not a personal attack on you.
Any mother, vision impaired or not, is bombarded with advice and information. That can be overwhelming, you might get a sense of guilt not taking on someone’s advice, but it’s really important to know what is right for you and your child. Mum knows best. Only you know what’s best for you and your child.
Communicate with the people supporting you with your children, remind them that you need to do things differently, in a way that works for you. I have been shown tasks, and had to let them know that this is the way a sighted person would do it, I need to find my own way.
We will talk about this in more detail in the next interview, so no spoilers! Through your volunteer work, could you briefly tell me what you like most about being a working mum who is also vision impaired?
I made a conscious decision to be a stay at home mum, because I wanted to be as hands-on with my children as possible, and I was in a position to do that financially. I have over the past 7 years done extensive voluntary work, with charities. This has been really positive for me, and my children, because all they ever knew up until that point is that I’m mum at home who takes care of them. So it’s been really eye-opening for them to see the many aspects to me. They get to see as they move along the various stages of their life that you can always keep achieving, and learning. They’re a bit older now, so I’m able to share when I’m a bit nervous about something, and they really get involved, and so encouraging me, when I get it done, saying “Come on mum you can do it!” Like when I started my Youtube channel, they keep up with it, and encourage me to keep going. I’m really proud that they are such lovely children like that.
Be sure to tune in for part two, where Amrit will be joining us to discuss more about her volunteer work, challenges she has faced, and services she has accessed to support her in her work.
Written by Sylvia Chengo – BAME Vision