Pregnancy, Childbirth and Disability
Heather Kuttai had always loved music, although as a wheelchair user, she never expected to be able to dance with her son. But when Kuttai’s son Patrick was just a toddler, she got her wish.
“All of a sudden, a lullaby that I regularly sang to him called Visit the Moon began to play,” Kuttai writes in her book, Maternity Rolls: Pregnancy, Childbirth and Disability.
“Patrick froze… . He walked over to me, stepped on the footrest of my wheelchair, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Mommy, this is our song. Will you dance with me?’ Time, as I knew it, was paused. With tears in my eyes, I told him I’d love to. He put his arms around my waist and lay his head against my chest and we slowly danced to the entire song.”
Kuttai had assumed only certain experiences would make her a real mother but she learned there are many kinds of experiences and many kinds of wonder.
Kuttai wrote her book in order to tell her own story. She also places that story in context by including snippets of research and theory on social issues. The form weaves autobiography with cultural analysis and is called autoethnography. It doesn’t sound like the smoothest of reads, but Kuttai makes it work.
“Autoethnography is how I reached out to the larger social world,” she explained by phone during her recent book tour. “I didn’t want it to be just about me.”
She believes her book is the first to fully explore disability, pregnancy and mothering. Most spinal cord injuries happen to young men and a lot of research money goes into their rehabilitation. Less is known about women and their reproductive health.
Kuttai was only six when a car accident left her with a spinal cord injury and without the use of her legs. She refused to let the accident take her life. She married and became a three-time Paralympic medallist in the sport of target shooting, then a provincial and national team coach. Sport taught her to be strong and have confidence in her body’s abilities. She pioneered disability services for students at the University of Saskatchewan. And she wanted to be a mom.
Her first pregnancy amazed her as she didn’t believe her wounded body could do something so natural and healthy.
Other people were amazed too. “Because I was more aware of my body’s femininity and sexuality during pregnancy, I became more sensitive to the way other people perceived my changing body,” she writes. “I realized that I looked like a living contradiction - disabled and pregnant - and that contradiction was pushing others to reconsider and confront their ideas of whom and what I should be.”
After her second pregnancy, she needed spinal surgeries to repair the damaged rods in her back. Her recovery wasn’t helped by the attitudes of some medical staff who viewed her as a drain on time and money.
At times, life threatened to become overwhelming, but the processes of recovering from surgery and writing about her experiences propelled her forward. She came to believe that an understanding of disability is essential to understanding all bodies. It is all part of the human condition.
Kuttai hopes her book will lead to change – in awareness, attitudes and accessibility, and that her story may help others living with disability, particularly disabled women who long to become mothers.
Throughout her life, Kuttai has needed strength to pursue her goals. With her book, she feels she is once again breaking new ground.”I feel like a pioneer,” she said.
-Carol Moreira is a freelance writer who lives in Glen Haven.