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Constructing the (M)other

Narratives of Disability, Motherhood, and the Politics of «Normal»


Edited By Priya Lalvani

Constructing the (M)other is a collection of personal narratives about motherhood in the context of a society in which disability holds a stigmatized position. From multiple vantage points, these autoethnographies reveal how ableist beliefs about disability are institutionally upheld and reified. Collectively they seek to call attention to a patriarchal surveillance of mothering, challenge the trope of the good mother, and dismantle the constructed hierarchy of acceptable children. The stories contained in this volume are counter-narratives of resistance—they are the devices through which mothers push back. Rejecting notions of the otherness of their children, in these essays, mothers negotiate their identities and claim access to the category of normative motherhood. Readers are likely to experience dissonance, have their assumptions about disability challenged, and find their parameters of normalcy transformed.

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Introduction: Mother: The Story (Priya Lalvani)




The Story

Priya Lalvani

In a graduate course I teach entitled Partnerships with Families of Children with Disabilities, I often begin with an introductory activity in which I invite my students to share something they consider unique or interesting about their own families, or to recount a family story. When it’s my turn, I sometimes share a particular family story I’ve inherited. As far as stories go, this one is remarkably short, and I try to recount it in the same way it was narrated to me. I say:

My grandmother had four children. Her sister, who wanted children of her own, did not have any. So, my grandmother gave to her sister one of her own children—a son.

This is usually followed by silence. There are some puzzled looks and expressions of skepticism. Then, inevitably, there are questions and comments such as: What kind of mother would simply give one’s child as if he were a gift to be bestowed? Only a saint would be so selfless! What about the maternal bond she had already established with the child? Did she come to regret her decision? Didn’t she even care? And so on. It seems that my story is perceived by many as being unbelievable or, at the very least, quite odd, and my grandmother’s actions as representing inexplicable, detached, or non-normative maternal behavior.

In my own family, however, this story is...

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