I Couldn’t Find Any Disability Maternity Photos, So I Made My Own
Apr 11, 2018
You know the picture: the pregnant woman with one hand on top and one on the bottom of her round belly, eyes gazing either lovingly at the baby bump or straight at the camera, aglow with budding maternal wisdom and happiness.
I have rolled my eyes at the cliché of maternity photos — but, I must admit, I have also longed for the opportunity to have them taken. I’ve viewed that kind of photoshoot as a cultural rite of passage; the opportunity to celebrate a turning point and its anticipation.
The trouble is, I struggled to imagine my own maternity photos when I couldn’t find any examples of them with a body like mine.
I only have one leg.
There aren't a ton of one-legged people out there, true, but it wasn’t just that I didn’t see any amputees in maternity photos — I didn’t see any kind of disability. At all. Or really any other body differences. It turns out maternity photo shoots, like the rest of the depictions of women readily available, abound with thin, white bodies. And there’s nothing wrong with those beautiful bodies, but they don’t look like mine.
We all know the power of representation — how important it is to see ourselves in order to aspire. And I wanted to know that it’s possible; that other woman have done this before.
This: being pregnant. Being a parent. (And of course, disabled women as parents are as hard a story to find as them being pregnant. In recent months I have clung to a Humans of New York photo and a CBC News story that showed disability and motherhood. I need more!)
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So faced with this lack of pregnancy and disability photos, I decided to make my own.
I asked photographer Jen Squires to work with me. Her self-portrait series Vitiligo was an inspiration — she captured her own body difference so beautifully. I was emboldened and struck: seeing any kind of difference made me want to share my own even more so.
I’m a performer and have had hundreds of photos taken of me over the years. I wasn’t always comfortable in front of the camera, and it took time to get used to seeing myself. In the last few years, I’ve felt more at ease, and I’ve started to enjoy photoshoots and to trust that I’m just one part of the result, in tandem with the photographer.
But even with these experiences, on the day I was nervous. It wouldn’t be my first time getting practically naked for the camera — that’s no problem. It wouldn’t be the first time I showcased my prosthetic leg; its floral features have become my favourite accessory. But it would be the first time I’ve ever taken the prosthesis off for photos.
The longing for seeing disability in media is entangled with my own self-acceptance. I have seen mirror reflections of one my one-legged body and thought “that looks weird.” And that’s an improvement from years ago when I would have thought “that looks awful.”
Jen and I started our photoshoot with me wearing my prosthesis, and when it came time for me to take it off, I held my breath. I waited for the little voice to tell me there was something wrong with how I looked.
Your difference is powerful, beautiful. And being a parent? You can do it.
And I waited. And I saw the preview on Jen’s laptop of the photos she was taking and that voice didn’t come at all. Instead I heard:
That looks incredible.
That is what I’ve wanted so badly to see.
That is a celebration of an almost full-term pregnant belly carrying an enormously wanted baby that I can’t wait to meet.
And that is a strong, lovely and, yes, different body. A body that survived cancer — that was cured of cancer by losing its leg. A body that is exceptional in its experience — walking and moving through this world in a way few people know.
I hope that the next person to do an image search for “disability and pregnancy” finds these photos and feels empowered by them. I hope they know: your difference is powerful, beautiful. And being a parent? You can do it. Go get all glowy with your pregnant self, whatever body you’re in.
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