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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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Chapter One: Standard Deviation: Stigma, Surveillance, and the Good Mother Daughter (Tammy Bachrach)


chapter 1

Standard Deviation

Stigma, Surveillance, and the Good Mother Daughter

Tammy Bachrach

One’s identity as a mother is shaped by a multitude of influences including culture, socio-economic status, religion, and one’s experiences with their own mother. What it means to be a “good mother” is heavily influenced by dominant societal narratives around motherhood (Carpenter & Austin, 2007), and those who deviate from these can be judged harshly as inadequate, negligent, or a “bad mother.” In most people’s minds, disability disrupts what is considered “good” or “normal.” As a result, mothers with disabilities as well as mothers of children with disabilities find themselves under high levels of surveillance (Booth & Booth, 1994, 2005; Hayman, 1990; Ryan & Runswick-Cole, 2008). My experiences around motherhood deviate significantly from the norm in both of these ways; I am a daughter of a mother with an intellectual disability and a mother of a daughter who experienced mental illness. These deviations, while fraught with stigmatization from those outside the immediate family, have provided me with a means of examining and challenging our cultural narratives of disability and motherhood.

Even though I did not have a disability, I shared in the stigma of my mother’s disability, and because of it, my decision to become a mother was subjected to scrutiny. Social workers, genetic counselors, and even some members of my extended family expressed concern (even anxiety) that existing within my womb lurked the potential, or the...

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