Ukraine: Women With Disabilities Talk About Pregnancy, Birth, and Raising Children

“I Always Knew That I Would Have A Family”: Women With Disabilities Talk About Pregnancy, Birth, and Raising Children

Published by Hromadske, September 7, 2020 

Author: Olesa Bida and Anastasia Vlasova

Everyone has the right to be a mother or a father, according to Ukraine’s family laws. But problems can arise when people with disabilities try to realize their rights. Mostly, this concerns discrimination from doctors, the unfriendly architecture of hospitals, and societal stereotypes – such as assumed risks that women would give birth to an unhealthy child and then not be able to care or raise them.

Similar problems exist in many post-Soviet countries, where people with disabilities usually find it difficult to fit into the wider society. For example, in 2015 in Belarus, child protection services tried to take away a disabled couple’s child. It took the entire country to defend the parents’ rights.

hromadske dives into the stories of three Ukrainians with disabilities: Yuliya Resenchuk, who is currently pregnant, Yuliya Akritova, who’s raising her three year old daughter Dasha, and Olena Akopyan, mother of two twins – Yehor and Maryana.

Юлия Ресенчук, травма позвоночника в результате аварии

Yuliya Resenchuk received spinal damage as a result of a car accident. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Yuliya Resenchuk on Pregnancy

“Can I talk about it now?” says Yuliya, speaking excitedly and a little flustered while she looks for her husband’s eyes. “A boy. We’ll have a boy.”

“The doctor showed us each finger, and explained everything in detail. It seems to me that he’s preparing us for something with the help of these long descriptions. But no, he says that the child is alright, he’s developing as he should be for the fifth month of pregnancy,” explains Vadym, Yuliya’s husband, with a smile.

The couple are standing in a corridor at the Institute of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology. They just received news of their child’s sex from their doctor.

The couple file into a narrow elevator: first Yuliya in a wheelchair, with Vadym following. They head down two flights, into the Natal Pathology and Birthing department, where they have an appointment with a different doctor. That one prescribes pills that would heighten Yuliya’s iron levels, and once more confirms: their child is developing normally.

This is the couple’s second pregnancy. The first one ended in a miscarriage.

Yuliya and Vadym have been together for ten years. Vadym works a lot, often travelling. After Yuliya ended up in an accident at 23 and received spinal trauma, she’s been busy with social activities – she created a charitable fund and joined a movement to create IT courses for people with disabilities.

The couple have been attempting to have children for the last three years. They’ve gone through numerous tests, received treatment, consulted with doctors. Yuliya would sometimes look after her little nephews, in order to better understand what it’s like to deal with children in a wheelchair.

Six years ago, returning from holidays, Yuliya and Vadym visited a private clinic in order to understand why they couldn’t seem to get pregnant. But it turned out that they were already on their way.

The couple stayed with that clinic.

“At the time, I wasn’t looking at any options that involved tests at government hospitals, where they could have told me to get an abortion because I wouldn’t be able to give birth, or that the child wouldn’t be healthy. I didn’t even want to hear that sort of things, even though I know a lot of these sorts of stories,” says Yuliya.

She was happy with her choice of private clinic. It was just the doctor, she recalls, who wasn’t attentive. During their first ultrasound on the seventh week of pregnancy, the doctor wasn’t sure whether the child’s heart was beating, but told the couple not to worry.

A month after that, on Vadym’s birthday, Yuliya suddenly felt ill, and began bleeding. “I scheduled myself for a doctor’s visit and went to the clinic. And I miscarried right on the toilet. They examined me there, wrapped me up, and took me to the corridor to wait for an ambulance.”

When the ambulance arrived, Yuliya lost consciousness. She says she doesn’t remember anything else.

Yuliya worked with a psychologist for the next few months.

“For a woman to lose a child that she was waiting so much for – it is a huge blow. But thanks to support, I understood that I want a child. And that we’d try again.”

This time, says Yuliya, they approached pregnancy with complete responsibility. They went through tests and consulted with several specialists before conception.

“The first doctor that we went to looked at our tests and analyses and said that we won’t be able to do it, and we can forget about pregnancy. Maybe only via IVF (in-vitro fertilization – ed.), but we hadn’t considered that option. I felt that this doctor just didn’t want to work with us, because it was a difficult situation. We had “peculiarities”, as people love to say here. But the only peculiarity we had was that I could only give birth via c-section,” Yuliya tells us.

Yuliya and Vadym turned to a different doctor, who said that there were no negative signs against pregnancy.

“This time we’re being taken care of at a government institution. They don’t always have ramps, and I have to enter via the service entrance. But the doctor is experienced.” Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

This spring, Yuliya got pregnant for the second time. “This time we’re being taken care of at a government institution. They don’t always have ramps, and I have to enter via the service entrance. But the doctor is experienced,”  she says.

Yuliya has been working remotely since the start of her pregnancy. Every day brings greater pain to her back, and prior to this, she suffered from toxicosis for three months.

Yuliya and Vadym haven’t yet set up a room for their soon-to-be baby boy, despite knowing where the bed is going to sit, where the changing table is going to be, and where, eventually, they’ll set up a writing table.

Yuliya Akritova on Maternity Leave

“This happened not long ago, two months back. We were eating in the kitchen, and Dasha says to me: ‘Mama, can you walk normally?’ ‘Normally? What’s that mean?’ I asked her. ‘Well, like this:’ Dasha got up and walked along the corridor. ‘No, I can’t,’ I told her. ‘Ah, okay,’ and we continued eating. To be honest, I was expecting to hear something like this from my own child a little later.”

Yuliya is sitting on the floor, stretching her legs. Her red-haired, three year old daughter runs around her in the bright and spacious room.

“My pregnancy was really easy. But then it got hard. And my stitches following the c-section hurt, and it was hard psychologically. I was anxious, I wanted to leave. But this wasn’t at all tied to my disability. Any woman can go through this.”

Yuliya has had cerebral palsy from childhood. She hasn’t walked since birth, and her mother pushed her around in a baby carriage until a wheel fell off.

“My mother began to teach me to walk by hand. It was difficult – my coordination was damaged, and so I would constantly be turned the other way,” she tells us.

Thanks to this rehabilitation, Yuliya could attend school. But they didn’t want to take her in at first, saying that she wouldn’t be able to handle the school’s program. But her mother insisted.

“I was surprised by the cruelty of the children. And the teachers didn’t understand that I would write slower, not matching everyone’s pace, and so they gave me low grades.”

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