In Constructing the (M)other: Narratives of Disability, Motherhood, and the Politics of Normal, the editor, Priya Lalvani, compiled the narratives of mothers making meaning of their life stories. Lalvani's purpose in collecting stories of mothers raising children with dis/abilities was to reject the dominant narrative, which sees dis/ability from a deficit viewpoint. Instead, Lalvani offers counter-narratives through mothers' voices that "push back'' against the dominant medicalized narrative about dis/ability, which regards the dis/ability as something negative that needs to be cured or fixed (Goodley, 2011).

This book has 15 autoethnographic stories of mothers seen through a disability studies lens. Working out of Vygotsky's sociocultural psychology, Lalvani adhered to the concept of identity construction through social relationships with others. This was combined with positioning theory, which similarly examines the self in terms of relationships but with the goal of examining master-narratives and counter-narratives (p. 5), and narrative identity, which uses storytelling to make sense of experiences.

Five major themes emerge across the 15 stories. These themes include: (1) ableism, (2) recognizing privilege, (3) the socio-cultural contextualization of stories, (4) judgement, and (5) loving a child.

The critique of ableism, which is the valuing of an idealized "able" body, runs throughout; every narrator identified ways that society favors the able bodied and perpetuates the hegemony of normalcy (Davis, 2010). For example, encouraging prenatal testing pushes the dominant narrative by implying that life is of no value if it is not "perfect" and free from dis/ability. Another example that emerged is how Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) teams pushed for individuals with dis/abilities to be placed in self-contained classrooms instead of providing more inclusive environments. These teams perpetuated a divisive mentality resulting in alienation and separation.

The theme of recognizing privilege is woven throughout the text, including both recognition of having privilege and of lacking privilege. Having privilege meant, for some mothers, that they could change schools, change locations, and refrain from signing initial evaluation paperwork that could lead to negatively labeling their child. Other mothers recognized their lack of privilege, which meant they did not have support systems. Instead, these mothers experienced marginalization and stigmatization.

The socio-cultural contextualization of narratives is important because the stories that mothers tell do not exist in a vacuum (Lalvani, 2019). True to Lalvani's focus on identity and self-construction through relationships with others, these stories were all socially and culturally situated, reflecting each mother's unique cultural values. In this plethora of voices from multiple cultural and ethnic backgrounds, some qualities emerged across cultures. The greatest universal experience was dealing with ableism and the medical model, both of which defined their child as different or in need of a "cure." Whether cultural or medical, attempts were made to "fix" their child.

For others, there were major differences specific to certain cultures. For example, Indian culture attributed dis/ability to a mother's karma. Other cultures hid the individual with a dis/ability due to the affiliated stigma family members faced (Goffman, 1963). However, some mothers resisted this cultural norm, and one mother introduced her son to Iranian society and his peers.

The theme of judgment looks at how mothers are constantly evaluated within a patriarchal society. The patriarchal surveillance results in mothers being judged for the decisions they make about their children in every aspect of raising a child. For a mother raising a child with a dis/ability, this can start with prenatal testing, the choice to give birth, medical and education choices, IEP meetings, and even the choice to have additional children. This is further complicated when culture and ethnicity are taken into consideration. For Black families, the experience of being judged is paired with experiences of racism and ableism.

Furthermore, the dichotomy of the good/bad mother and the desirable/undesirable child is especially problematic. This binary is its own problem, which Lalvani seeks to debunk. Problematic cultural discourses minimize mothering to two binaries that cannot encapsulate the complexity of motherhood.

The final theme, loving a child, is true for every mother. Each mother focused on loving her child for who they are. Furthermore, stories from siblings supported a similar recognition and unconditional love.

Overall, this is an emotional book to read. The stories are raw and, as real-life stories, offer authentic insight. The book is heartfelt and personal while also deeply moving and emotional. Each chapter is unique and has its own story and structure. This book calls our attention to the fact that heteronormative and ableist expectations rarely go unquestioned. These expectations range from eugenics and ableism to genetic testing and prenatal testing, all of which continue to neglect the existence of individuals with dis/abilities. The only critique is that, being such a culturally rich completion of stories, a Dis/Crit framework, which combines critical race theory with disability studies (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2013, 2016), could have offered a richer layer than disability studies alone.

For mothers or siblings of individuals with dis/abilities, this is a book of heartfelt stories that are relatable while offering a new perspective. Ultimately, this would be an ideal read for future educators who are taking courses about dis/ability and families. These voices give an opportunity for educators to learn about the lived experiences of (m)others.

References

  • Annamma, S. A., Connor, D. J., & Ferri, B. A. (2013). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): Theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 1-31. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2012.730511
  • Annamma, S. A., Connor, D. J., & Ferri, B. A. (2016). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit). In D. J. Connor, B. A. Ferri, & S. A. Annamma (Eds.), DisCrit Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Davis, L. J. (2010). Constructing normalcy. In L. Davis (Ed.), The disability studies reader (pp. 4-19). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  • Goodley, D. (2011). Disability studies: An interdisciplinary introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Lalvani, P. (2019). Constructing the (M)other: Narratives of Disability, Motherhood, and the Politics of "Normal". New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing. https://doi.org/10.3726/b15664
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