1. Introduction

[1] Tiffany Callo, a young woman with cerebral palsy, gave birth to two children.  Both children were placed in foster care

Based on the assumption that this disabled woman could not function competently as a mother. … Ms. Callo went to court to fight for custody, but she wasn’t even allowed to demonstrate the adaptive strategies she had developed to care for her infants. … The babies were eventually adopted, and she is allowed to visit each of them once a year for two hours. (n1)

[2] Struggles like those facing Ms. Callo continue today for many women who are engaged in the art of mothering with disability. As I write this conference paper, the Los Angeles Times reports that Abbie Dorn, a mother of triplets, has not seen her children in two and a half years. Her husband, who has full custody, divorced her after she became disabled as a result of complications during childbirth. He claims “visitation would be too traumatic at [the children’s] young age,” and “the triplets would feel ‘terribly guilty’ if they see Abbie in her current condition and ‘know that their childbirth put her in that position’.” (n2)  In Ms. Dorn’s case, efforts to promote her rights as a mother are complicated by her current mental status; her husband, his attorneys, and a neurologist claim Abbie is in a persistent vegetative state, incapable of any communication or interaction with her children. This claim is disputed by her family and rehabilitation therapists. Whether Ms. Dorn is or is not in such a state, the ability of others to successfully prevent her from any possible interaction with her children raises concerns.

[3] For a long time, people with disabilities have been perceived as incompetent, unable to contribute to society, and lacking in value. Such perceptions are frequently employed to justify the denial of the rights of such persons, rights such as having and parenting offspring. Furthermore, it is argued that that such denial is in disabled persons’ best interests and the best interests of the people with whom they live, love, and work. In Abbie’s case, it is in her best interest as a mother, her husband’s argument implies, not to traumatize her own children by allowing them to see and spend time with her.
[4] The present essay identifies many of the challenges faced by women like Tracy and Abbie, and points to some of the hidden advantages of mothering with disabilities. The essay is informed by feminist standpoint theory and by María Lugones’ notion of playful world-traveling. So informed, it begins with the following assumptions: there are unique knowledges generated by the practices of mothers with disabilities; in not attending to the experiences and knowledges of such mothers, we are failing to love such women; and, the failure to love results in significant erasures and errors in the work of disability and feminist theorists, as well as in the self-understanding and ongoing work of all mothers. To understand how philosophers, disability theorists, and feminist theorists have come to talk about motherhood and disability, it helps to begin with a history of the conversation.

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