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Uphill Battles: The Challenges of a Blind Mother

Cathy Smorang is Diabetic, Hypertensive and a remarkable single mom! She is also totally blind.

She was told by her Doctors that, due to health conditions, she would not be able to have any children. So in 1998, at age 31, when her daughter, Kyla, was born, she was ecstatic about her Miracle Baby coming into the world. Since then she has faced many uphill battles, including separating from her husband, who is also blind, after ten years of marriage. She faces each new challenge with success, not letting the fact that she is blind slow her down.

I spoke with Cathy recently, and I asked her some questions about her life from the time she knew about her pregnancy up until today, and a peek into what she feels the future might hold, raising a sighted daughter. Following is our discussion:

Geoff: What obstacles did you face when you first decided to have Kyla?

Cathy: The only things that I knew to be a problem were my health issues. The Doctors had cautioned me that there could be complications with both my health and that of my baby. But I decided to go ahead anyway.

Geoff: What kind of responses did you get from others when you told them you were pregnant?

Cathy: I got the same thing from almost everyone but my immediate family in that they were all incredulous. They had doubts about my ability to raise and care for a child. Before Kyla was born, I had some fears that maybe they would try to take her away from me; and after she was born, the hospital staff was convinced that I wouldn't be able to care for her. They even insisted that I see someone from the Family Centre for Support where I was given full thumbs-up to raise Kyla on my own.

Geoff: As Kyla started to crawl, walk, and climb, how did you deal with each new challenge with which even a sighted parent would have difficulty coping?

Cathy: It was difficult, and I learned just as any new parent does. I had to take precautions that other Mothers might not need to use, some of which may seem a little extreme, but you do what you have to in order to keep your child safe. I used to have a Lazy Susan beside my stove in the kitchen, and one day at about 18 months old, Kyla climbed up on the Lazy Susan and onto the middle of the stove. I had a pot of water boiling which, had she sat on, touched or spilled, would have given her a bad burn and possibly scarred her for life. The only way I could teach her not to do this again was to quickly touch her hand to the outside of the pot, just long enough to make her realize that it was hot and not safe to be near. It worked!

Geoff: What other things did you have to do differently to be able to manage the care of your new baby?

Cathy: When I brought Kyla home from the hospital, she was on a liquid medication that I had to administer. The nurses gave me an oral syringe, and one of the workers from CNIB worked out a guide that would allow me to know that I was giving her the correct dose. When we would go outside, as Kyla started to walk, I used a Velcro wrist strap attached to both our wrists as a precaution in case she let go of my hand. This way I could pull her back to me if

I heard or sensed any danger. I still to this day hold her hand in busy traffic areas and in places that I feel may be unsafe.

Geoff: How did you deal with other safety issues around your home?

Cathy: I bought Appliance Locks for all the cupboards, drawers, doors, the fridge and even the toilet. I still keep one of these on the medicine cabinet in the bathroom where all my medications are stored. Like most children, Kyla has a great sense of adventure and wants to discover new things. After she decided to feed her giant stuffed polar bear a tub of margarine and also spilled orange juice all over the house, I made the decision that I had to lock things away. There are some things she has to learn on her own still, but I do try to keep the home as safe as possible, not only for her benefit but also my peace of mind.

Geoff: As Kyla grows, what problems to you foresee in the future?

Cathy: As she gets older, Kyla wants more and more freedom. She doesn't like the fact that other mothers don't hold their children's hands while outside, and she has already started to not communicate with me on things that she knows I can't see, and thinks maybe she can get away with when she has done something she knows is wrong. I feel that this will continue and she will want more freedom and become less communicative as she gets older. I will have to deal with these issues the same as any other parent would, learning as I go and doing the things necessary to keep Kyla safe, and at the same time allowing her to become responsible for her own actions.