Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A disabled mom fights to keep her son

There's been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about Kaney O'Neill, which I've had ample time to read because I'm still sitting around with my left leg propped up. The sports medicine doc I saw today isn't convinced my ACL is torn, but my lateral meniscus (a.k.a. cartilage) may be. I am learning lots of knee words. MRI on Thursday at 6:45 a.m. Woo. Hoo.

OK, back to O'Neill. As recounted in a Chicago Tribune article, she is a 31-year-old Navy veteran in Des Plaines, Illinois who's a quadriplegic. She can't walk, move her fingers by herself or feel anything from her chest down; she got hurt ten years ago during Hurricane Floyd. Last December, O'Neill discovered she was pregnant. Her ex disagreed she could handle her child and in September, sued her for full custody of their son, Aidan, who's now five months old. He claimed her disability "greatly limits her ability to care for the minor, or even wake up if the minor is distressed."

O'Neill maintains she always has another adult on hand to help care for Aidan, whether it's her full-time caretaker, live-in-brother or her mother. The custody case is expected to return to court in January.

An attorney quoted in the article, Howard LeVine, said, "Certainly, I sympathize with the mom, but assuming both parties are equal (in other respects), isn't the child better off with the father?" He noted that O'Neill would not be able to teach her son to write, paint or play ball. "What's the effect on the child—feeling sorry for the mother and becoming the parent?"

I am pounding the keys as I type this, all riled up. This is not some knee-jerk reaction from the parent of a kid with disabilities. I wouldn't necessarily trust an adult who had Max's challenges—dexterity issues, balance issues, mobility issues—to handle a baby alone. However, as long as O'Neill has an adult around to help with the physical responsibilities, she is up to the job.

Her mind is not paralyzed. Her common sense is not paralyzed. Her personality is not paralyzed. Her heart is not paralyzed.

What say you?


  1. I completely agree with you. My heart goes out to her. I haven't seen this story yet.

    If she has another adult with her at all times, I think she should be allowed to have her baby. Her heart isn't paralyzed. And mine is breaking for her. :(

  2. Coming at it as a young woman with a disability who will have children one of these days, I think about several things. The first is the thing that has already been stated in that in her condition, she should have another adult around.

    However, over the years, my parents have specifically taught me to care for children and accommodate my needs while doing so in order for me to experience the same bond that everyone else hadd with their children.

    So yes, it is necessary to seek assistance when needed, but it is also necessary to come to the realization that there are many resources available to women with disabilities who wish to care for their children as independently as possible.

    Thanks for the article, Ellen!

  3. Speaking as a 33 year old married women who wants to be a mom someday soon, I must say that this story appauls me.

    While I understand, each situation is different & can only speak for myself, I would never want someone to tell me that I couldn't have or care for a child just bc I have CP & am a full time wheel chair user.

    No one has the right, based on disability, to deny someone to be a parent, if that is what they wish to become.

    Although I had not heard of this story before I read about it here, I have to wonder what these people are thinking? Obviously the father wasn't concerned about her ability to be a mother, while they were sleeping together, why all of the concern now all of a sudden?

    I don't know...I just have to think that the majority of parents out there would not intentionally ever put their children in danger, & it sounds like this mom is no different.

    If she needs aids to help then so be it, but just bc she needs helps to provide care doesn't mean that she cannot be an excellent mom.


  4. The first thing that strikes me as wrong is the way the attorney describes the situation - his argument is not even focused on her inability to care for the child but his seeming pity for the woman (after all, when you grow up with a disabled parent, that is your "norm" - so why would that child feel sorry for her and have to parent her?). And if the five month old has made it this far being cared for by the mother and her support staff, then it proves that they are up to it. I just think its ridiculous that in this era of Steven Hawkings and Christopher Reeves and others who have proven that a disability does not prevent one from being of great value to others that someone could publicly make statements like that attorney did and that others could make assumptions based on one's physical limitations alone. Thanks for bringing the story to our attention!

  5. I just read the Chicago Tribune article and I think Ms. O'Neill is probably capable of parenting her child.

    But the issue has been a thorny one for me personally recently, after I learned about a year ago that my daughter was pregnant. My daughter has severe athetoid/spastic CP and is totally dependent on others for almost all care (feeding, toileting, transferring, dressing, even rolling over). What's more, she has some significant emotional issues. She lives on SSI and has attendant care only part of the day, and is alone at night with a panic button. I thought it was extremely irresponsible and selfish of her to bring a child into the world, knowing she couldn't care for it. I think her attitude on this, as in all things, is "Nobody is going to tell me I can't have a baby!!!" The attendant who has cared for her for several years, who is like a mother to her, agreed to take guardianship of the baby, to prevent it going into foster care, so the baby lives with the attendant and my daughter sees her regularly. But I think it would have been better for the baby to have been placed for adoption, to have a stable, emotionally capable family. When the baby was only a few months old, my daughter said something about moving back to the city where I live. When I said that it seems like she is tied to the town where she now lives, because of the baby, her response was, "I have to think of my needs first. I know the baby will be taken care of, I have to consider my needs." It broke my heart that my grandchild was brought into a life like that.

    Sorry to go on and on...I know the two situations are much different. I guess the lesson is that some people are capable of being good parents and some are not, and it boils down to emotional ability, not physical ability.

  6. I'm pounding away with you. It seems truly archaic, almost Biblical, to not let this mother have her child.

  7. Say what? I think that lawyer needs to pull his head out of his ass, is what I think. And that "ex" needs to do the same.

    The baby has a mommy and a daddy, and there's no reason why custody can't be shared. Further, why can't the daddy help with the child rearing, like teaching the kid to "write, paint or play ball," even if he doesn't have full custody? He doesn't NEED full custody to do these things. You don't need to have full custody (or any custody, really) of children to help raise them--my folks know that (ask them how many therapy appointments they cover for me, for starters). If the daddy cares so much about his baby, then he should know better than to deny the child his mother, and he can step up as needed in a shared custody situation or during visitation.

    Obviously, that scuzzball ex or hers thought she was plenty "capable" enough for him to screw, pardon my plain speaking, even though she couldn't move from the chest down. Gee, he wasn't too worried about her "abilities" while he was participating in the making of that baby, now, was he?

    We have a situation here where the mother wants to raise her child, and has the resources available, to include phsycial assistance from not just a caregiver, but the uncle and grandmama of the baby, to do just that.

    I think the "ex" is a jerk to try for anything more than shared custody, and I think that lawyer is a complete, ambulance-chasing, publicity-seeking, shameless scumbag who ought to be pelted with a turd pie. Or ten!

  8. I agree with you 100% - if she is mentally competent and has a PCA with her at all times, she should have custody of her son. Furthermore, the ex clearly knew about her condition when they conceived the baby - why did he have a child with her if he thought she was incapable of caring for the baby?
    A possibly excellent mother in a wheelchair has to fight for the right to keep the baby she carried for nine months, while some AB parents do absolutely horrible things to their children and still get to keep them. Life really isn't fair sometimes.

  9. Hmmm…I don’t know all the facts here, but while I may be in the minority, I will try to express my thoughts. I don’t know what the situation is between this mother and the father. I don’t know the circumstances that led to her pregnancy or her separation from the father. I will assume for the sake of my thoughts that both parents were equally engaged in the pregnancy and birth and that both parents have at all times wanted custody of the child.

    I don’t think that the fact of or existence of a disability should ever be a reason to deny custody. But if all things are equal – that both parents are mature, responsible adults that love their child and want what is best for him – at that point you are having to make a tough decision as to which parent gets custody. And although it pains me somewhat to say it, I can see where a judge might decide that the parent (whether mother or father) who is best able to care for the child independently and with the least dependence on outside caregivers might be the one best qualified to provide care for the child on a day-to-day basis. Hope I articulated that properly.

    I was the child of divorced parents and it is the hardest thing in the world to be torn between 2 parents that are fighting, even if both parents have the best of intentions. More than anything, my heart goes out to Aiden here. I hope that all works out for him and both of his parents and that his parents are able to come to an arrangement where they are able to both parent him to the best of their ability. That is what a child truly needs.

  10. I agree with u I want to be a mother some day and I hope that no one would take a kid away from me.

    sorry about your foot

  11. I think its sad people can't work together for the child's sake. Just like many divorces I see. Same with the child the father just got back after that long battle. I am naive but just wish people would work together so everyone that loves the child can all be a part of their life without all the horrible legal hassle that makes the child's life miserable!

  12. Amen to that. I think the tough part is that they seem completely focused on the idea that living with a disabled person is somehow repugnant or disatisfactory. Wether the child will be cared for seems completely irrelevant.

  13. Now this is where you and I can really have a discussion, since I think about this often. (So we can email with our feet up :) )

    Personally if it were me I would have never gotten pregnant in the first place. That's my decision, as of today anyway.

    If she has a home health aid (from an agency) with her at all times then I think the ex has a point. It's not in the aids contract to take care of her and her kid (Is it?). If a family member is with her and they don't mind taking care of the kid then go for it.

    I think they should work out a joint custody agreement regardless.

    Does that make sense?

  14. Hi -- This is a very important issue.

    A number of years ago I did a role model column in BLOOM on an amazing woman with CP who chose to have children as a single mom and was in the midst of raising two beautiful girls.

    She had quite significant physical disability and I believe had attendant and other assistance early on, but her kids were also remarkably independent --not in a bad way, she'd been able to teach them so much. She'd learned how to coach them through things.

    We have a support group here in Toronto for parents who have disabilities and people with disabilities who want to parent.

    I'm going to look up that story when I'm back on Monday.

    I realize there are also stories where things don't work out (thank you for sharing your experiences, Galen!)

    Thanks Ellen so much for your comment on my blog! :) Hope your leg is better soon!

  15. It Takes a Village to Raise a Child - and under these circumstances what feeling human being would not be honored to assist in helping this woman's offspring to ride a bike, toss a ball, ...Also how about kids being raised by single mothers - they learn to perform tasks "assigned" to both genders in the absence of a male parent around the house.
    I am not familiar with this woman's story either. I am assuming that she is tied in to her area resources and sources of

  16. In a divorce case, if the parents won't agree to work together, the judge can't force shared parenting, so he/she has to choose the "better" parent for custody and the other for visitation. Even small matters (seatbelt tickets) can be used to tip the scales, so major disability would be a huge factor. The only balancing factor back in her favor would be some better emotional health than the father, if she can point to something like that. Otherwise, I could totally see him getting custody and her getting visitation. One parent only has to be slightly better than the other to "win" custody. Of course, the fact that the non-custodial parent has to pay support causes many otherwise uninterested parents to fight for custody solely to save themselves money. Splitting families is always sad.

  17. This story hits close to home for a couple reasons. Like many posters, my heart is breaking for this woman. After Bennett was born, I was unable to care for him myself - my husband took 3 months off, our family helped and I had a personal support worker who took care of me and and my baby. Although I'm in a much better physical situation now, I still rely on others for help with Bennett. It scares me to think that I could lose the privilege of parenting because of physical limitations.

  18. So the mom and the home health aid are going to raise the child? That seems wrong. Why can't the parents go for joint custody, with the father having primary physical custody? Otherwise, the state is paying for another caretaker to take care of the baby--how is that better?

  19. Anonymous, you need to reread the article. She already has a caregiver, who is supplemented by her own mother and her own brother. There won't be an "extra" caregiver in the picture--the baby is physically tended by the woman's caregiver and grandmother and uncle.

  20. It seems she is emotionally competent, which I agree is the most important factor in being a parent. There is no doubt that the physical challenges this mom faces are significant. Which is why the father should either a) volunteer to help her and their child out on a daily basis or b) pay for additional care to do so. I would be comfortable allowing him shared custody assuming that he is emotionally competent and participates per the above. The idea that all of a sudden he gets full custody is despicable.

  21. I think it is crazy that she might lose her child because of her disability. Everyone should have certain natural rights, and the right to raise your own child should be one of those unquestionable rights until you prove that you are too cruel or irresponsible to raise him. Giving birth to a child addicted to crack proves that you're not ready to raise a child. Hurting or in any way abusing a child proves that you are not ready to raise a child. Having a disability DOES NOT prove that you cannot raise your child!!!

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  23. Hi Ellen,

    this really makes me mad. I don't have children, but so many time people think that because you have a disability you can't do anything. I can almost guaraantee to you that if I did, people would look at me funny and wonder how I am doing it. I don't think that the father should have total custody of this kid. (I wonder if he did?)
    Does anyone know?

  24. I wouldn't trust an adult who had Max's challenges—dexterity issues, balance issues, mobility issues—to handle a baby alone. Emm by saying that, you are doubting Max. Max could do it if someone assisted him. And it goes against your dont doubt kids with extra needs campaign.


Thanks for sharing!