Mothering at the intersection: My experience as an immigrant woman with a physical disability (Part 2)

by Luanjiao Aggie Hu

Part 2 of 2

Quotation from Luanjiao Aggie Hu, "Mothering at the intersection": "The challenge of caring for an infant with postpartum bodily pain deterred me from taking on additional prosthetics appointments on top of my existing medical appointments."

Mothering as both an immigrant and a disabled woman has unique challenges but brings opportunities for new insight as well as great empathy.

My partner and I knew that being immigrants could limit childcare support and other options. While researching childcare, I learned that my partner and I are not eligible to host an au-pair (a cultural exchange program that helps U.S. families with childcare) because we are not permanent residents or citizens. Needless to say, childcare support from our extended families is not easily accessible. As immigrants, my husband’s and my family all reside overseas, and our parents are the only family members who have a U.S. visa, which is required documentation to enter the U.S.

Acquiring a U.S. visa is costly and difficult. I have close friends whose parents’ or siblings’ visa applications were denied multiple times and, still today, their families do not have a visa, let alone have met their families in the U.S.

I gave birth during a time when COVID-19 measures in international travel between China and the U.S. were still strict and it was almost impossible for my parents to travel and support me in person. My partner and I were privileged (though it should be the norm) that we had jobs with paid m/paternity leave and supportive work environments. We shared the childcare responsibilities without any sitters or nannies. Our parents were able to fly in later to stay with us and provided additional support for a time. Yet none could stay with us for a long time because they do have their lives overseas to return to. Geographic distances and language barriers make our aging parents’ U.S. visits not an easy endeavor.

As a small family, my partner and I started to look to buy a property after our son was born. We learned in a hard way that immigration status greatly jeopardizes one’s probability of securing a mortgage loan, and interest rates can be even higher for immigrants. This situation caused significant stress on us in the homebuying process while caring for our infant son. Our loan application was either denied or treated with uncertainties by different mortgage brokers due to our immigration status at that specific time. While my partner wanted to withdraw from buying after encountering these unexpected barriers, I was determined not to have our immigration status limit our financial decision. In the end, our mortgage broker was able to find a lender who accepted our application, and we agreed to a higher interest rate. We were fortunate to have enough savings and income to achieve homeownership. In the process, my partner and I not only had to navigate the unknown territory of homeownership, but also deal with setbacks and uncertainties given our immigration status.

Meanwhile, mothering competes with my self-care needs such as pain management or prosthetics care, for which I have not had an appointment for more than a year.

Like many other new mothers after childbirth, I had to adjust to a new postpartum body with both expected and unexpected changes including bodily pain resulting from De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (also known as mommy wrist). I have been privileged to be able exclusively to breastfeed my son and I refuse any medication that may alleviate pain symptoms but conflicts with breastfeeding.

The challenge of caring for an infant with postpartum bodily pain deterred me from taking on additional prosthetics appointments on top of my existing medical appointments. My prosthetic leg has been mostly functional, with a few episodes during which I could not wear it without feeling pain, as holding a growing child puts a burden on my postpartum body, including my leg. At different points, I used crutches for additional support. Yet breastfeeding does not go well with traditional crutch use, especially when dealing with clogged milk ducts. In the end, my solution is to carry my son less frequently or extensively, so I do not irritate or exacerbate any pain.

Mothering has also, on the one hand, led to reduction of my time and energy invested in my previous disability community work for a time but, on the other, allowed me to reflect on new topics such as parenting with a disability and to better relate with other parents (disabled and non-disabled). As a new mom, I search and gather information or resources that I may need to support my own parenting needs and when possible, extend my knowledge and support to other parents with or without disabilities. I joined multiple moms’ and parents’ groups online, from which I have benefited greatly.

Identifying a support and information gap for disabled parents, I also initiated a niche support group for Chinese disabled mothers including those with immigrant identities. However, this is but a tiny effort in a giant bucket of unmet needs for disabled parents in our societies. As a disability researcher and advocate taking on a new parental role, I am slowly seeing that there’s a lot more to be done to make disabled parents’ life easier.

As I strive to find more balance and ease in having multiple identities and responsibilities (if such a balance is possible), I hope it gets easier for other disabled women and parents in similar situations and that my sharing could bring some new understanding and insight to the world.

Luanjiao Aggie Hu

Luanjiao Aggie Hu is a postdoctoral fellow at the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy.

Access Aggie’s Tedx Talk, “What Does Freedom Mean to Me?

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