Labour of love: the power of faith

Liz Jackson, a businesswoman and mother from Basingstoke, UK, talks to Shanta Everington about her experience of parenting with a visual impairment, the importance of problem-solving, having confidence in oneself and knowing when to ask for help.

Liz recently appeared on Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire as the founder of the telemarketing company, Great Guns Marketing.

I was quite fearful about becoming a mother, which is probably why I put it off for so long. I worried about how I would cope as a visually impaired parent. I met my husband Ali when I was 26 but we didn’t have Maddy until I was 34.

When I was pregnant, I tried to do some research into parenting with a visual impairment. I looked on the Royal National Institute of Blind People website and found a few tips but there wasn’t a lot of advice or information available. I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it but certain questions did cross my mind, such as how I would deal with changing nappies.

I also feared that I might experience discriminatory attitudes from professionals but the midwives were brilliant. They took extra time to explain things and let me feel things. They didn’t tell me the gender of my child; they let me find out by feel. They also showed me how to change a nappy through feel. One midwife commented that I’d probably be better than most mothers at filling the bath and finding the right temperature because I was used to working by feel.

They were very relaxed about my visual impairment, which in turn made me feel relaxed. I couldn’t have asked for a better team. A lot of them said they hadn’t worked with a visually impaired mother before but if I needed anything, they were there to help. I hadn’t been a mother before so it was a case of learning together.

Confidence

The midwives could see that I was a confident person but, at the same time, I was very open with them about my needs and never defensive, which I think was important. My Christian faith has taught me the importance of grace and forgiveness when dealing with others. Sometimes people do say silly things about disability but you have to forgive. I know that such comments stem from ignorance and I don’t take things personally.

I went home chilled out because of my positive experience in hospital. I always believed that I could be a parent the same as anyone else, but of course, I had some worries too. The first week after Maddy was born, I was petrified of walking down the stairs with her, but I’d never fallen down the stairs by myself, so I had no reason to worry. It’s all about confidence.

I had worried that people around me might have difficulty trusting in me as a parent, and would want to take control, but that didn’t happen. I have cared for Maddy independently from the day she was born. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Maddy is two and a half now and I’ve just finished potty training with her. I do everything that any other mother does.

I found breastfeeding difficult at first but the midwives gave me support in hospital and then I went to a breastfeeding clinic. I’m glad that I persevered with it as it was great for bonding and Maddy has a strong immune system. I gave her one bottle a day as well, to give me a bit of freedom.

Finding solutions

Weaning was a bit of a nightmare – she ended up with food all over her face as I couldn’t see – but there is always a solution to every problem. I bought Ella’s Kitchen organic feeding pouches, which have an easy open lid. Maddy could just suck the contents out rather than me having to feed her with a spoon. I also used ready made milk in cartons to save me having to mess about making up formula.

I learned how to read Braille after Maddy was born. It is quite easy to learn the Braille alphabet and it means that I can read books to her, and I can also read the all important label on baby medicine! I use a syringe instead of having to pour medicine into a spoon.

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make life a bit easier. I use squirty stringy soap in the bath, which is easier for me and fun for Maddy. I have a colour detector gadget that helps with dressing, so that I can check if Maddy’s clothes colour co-ordinate. I want my daughter to look good when she goes out. I don’t want people saying she looks a state because her mum’s blind.

My husband does the visual stuff for Maddy that I can’t do such as cut her nails, but it’s no big deal. There are some things that Mummy does and some things that Daddy does. We do lots of touchy feely activities together, such as play dough and fuzzy felts. Maddy loves baking with me. Yesterday, we made cheese straws.

Maddy isn’t at all fazed by my visual impairment as it is all she’s ever known. When she wants to show me things, she knows that I need to feel them rather than see them. For example, when she wanted to show me that she had her sunglasses on, she put her face in my hands so that I can feel them.

Of course, she has her moments just like any other two and a half year old! She’ll run away at bath time. I use my voice a lot in this type of situation, so she knows what is expected of her. Discipline can be a challenge for any parent. I use a sticker chart to reward good behaviour and we use smiley face raised stickers that I can feel.

Knowing when to ask for help

I have a PA at work but I don’t need assistance at home. I lost my sight when I was 26 and, from that time, I’ve found it difficult to get around by myself. I’ve always coped well at home though as I have my own set ways of doing things and I know where everything is. I’ve never really needed help for everyday tasks as I’ve found my own ways of doing things. Like many other visually impaired people, I’m very good at problem-solving.

At the same time, I’ve never been afraid to ask for help if I do need it. Once, I felt a bit of eczema on Maddy’s head and I asked my dad to take me to the clinic to get it checked out. It’s difficult for me to take Maddy out in a buggy by myself, so I bought a double buggy so that we can go out with my friend and her child.

My husband and I both work a four-day week. I have Wednesdays off with Maddy, and Ali has Fridays off with her. One of my friends looks after her for a few afternoons and her nana has her. She also attends a nursery so she mixes with lots of different people and has great social skills.

Parenting is a labour of love, and of course it can be very tiring and stressful at times. If I find things difficult, I’ll take five minutes out and pray. My faith really helps me as a parent and gives me confidence. Ultimately, I see myself just like any other mother.

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