Defining Disability: The First Problem

Is pregnancy a disability?

Not too long ago, I found myself brimming with a child who now enjoys round-housing me in the face while nursing. Today, my back aches from cradling her little wiggly body, but nearly 18 months ago my back ached by cradling her in my own body. I found myself being questioned by well-intending family and friends whenever I tried to lift something heavy. I was discouraged by doctors, who warned against participating in high impact activities. I was unable to sleep in certain ways, unable to eat certain foods, unable to maneuver into my car when I found it jammed between two others. I was greatly restricted by my physical state, and unable to participate in day-to-day life without accommodations. But did I have an acute disability?

The answer to that question is–it depends.

Whether or not I identified as having a disability depends on how accommodating my environment was. It depends on whether I had others willing to help me do the heavy lifting. Did I have pillows to help me sleep in other ways? Did I have other foods I could eat?

I could answer yes to all those questions. As a result of the accommodations naturally built into my environment while I was pregnant I did not identify as having a disability. But without those accommodations, the story may have been different.

As many scholars attest to, disability can be a tricky thing to define. While it certainly has political definitions necessary for certain individuals to receive the services and accommodations they require, disability as part of an identity both simultaneously relative and based upon ones environment. A disability is not inherently disadvantageous, but for the surrounding socio-environmental structures. In some respects, using a wheelchair is only a disadvantage if you live in an environment void of ramps. Likewise, being pregnant is only a disadvantage if you have no one to help you do the heavy lifting.

Pregnancy may not be a disability–in the right environment, with the right accommodations. But we must remember that there is no universal answer to this question.pregnant

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