A while back, I read a heart-warming story about a woman who was paralysed in an accident during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 while she was serving with the US Navy who had a baby boy earlier this year. However, not long after she had the baby, Kaney O’Neill ended the relationship with her boyfriend, who filed for full custody of the boy when he was just two months old (HT: Wheelie Catholic via Twitter). The case is due to return to court next month. (More: The Curvature, Bad Cripple.)
The boyfriend’s main reason for demanding custody is O’Neill’s disability, which allegedly “greatly limits her ability to care for the minor, or even wake up if the minor is distressed”. A local attorney by the name of Howard LeVine had this to offer:
“Certainly, I sympathize with the mom, but assuming both parties are equal (in other respects), isn’t the child obviously better off with the father?”
LeVine, who has specialized in divorce and custody cases for the last 40 years, pointed out that O’Neill would likely not be able to teach her son to write, paint or play ball. “What’s the effect on the child — feeling sorry for the mother and becoming the parent?”
This strikes me as something of a flimsy reason to deny custody to the mother at such a young age; after all, there are many reasons why a child might “become the parent”, such as if the parent is ill or indeed becomes disabled later one. A lot of able-bodied mothers, after all, do not teach their children to do some of these things: they learn playing ball from other children, and writing and painting from teachers. They may also learn things from members of their extended families. Besides, Kaney O’Neill would not be the first disabled mother, or the most severely disabled one, to bring up a child. I recall watching a video about the American gospel singer Renée Bondi, who became a quadriplegic after a sleepwalking accident in 1989, who married and had a son after her injury. Although she had considerable help, ways were found to make sure Mrs Bondi was involved at the most important moments:
When Daniel (her son) was about two years old, maybe three, he was up in the orange grove behind us with his cousins, and they were running and running and running and running, and somebody was on bikes, and they collided — bam! — and Daniel hit the ground. And I was up there, but not right there, and I heard this blood-curdling scream, urrrrgh, and I go running over there in my chair, and my sister Denise comes running over from the other side …
We had already talked about— if Daniel ever falls, or if he’s crying about something, bring him to Mom first, so that he knows who Mom is. So Denise swept him up, came running over, sat him right on my lap right away; she didn’t try to comfort him.
Kaney O’Neill is also a quadriplegic, with an injury one level lower than Bondi’s, giving her a little bit more arm function. (You can watch the whole video about Renée Bondi here, and another featuring her with the show’s presenter, also a quad, and their respective husbands here. These two videos  , about pregnancy or having children while disabled, might also be of interest.)
The boyfriend’s case is not solely based on her disability; he also alleges that she smokes and drinks around the child, which (although neither are illegal) she denies. However, the importance of her disability should not be overstated, because she is not completely incapable and because she has a lot of help. She lives with her mother and brother and has a carer who also helps; she has a service dog and receives $91,000 annually from the Veterans’ Affairs department. She is also the boy’s mother, and surely there is only one answer as to who is better equipped mentally to deal with a child of that age. It hasn’t been mentioned whether she is still breast-feeding or if she ever did, but surely a house where there are three women is a better place for a baby than one with a single man.
The news site comments are full of speculations as to her ex-boyfriend’s motives and general condemnation of him, much of it regarding him sleeping with a paralysed woman. I don’t want to add to that (anyone who reads the comment boxes knows how full of stupid bigotry they often are), but the fact remains that he did know that she was a quadriplegic when he got her pregnant. Besides which, if the relationship had stayed intact, their son would have been looked after by the same four people who look after him now when he was off doing his law work, including the ‘unfit’ quadriplegic mother. If he thinks a quadriplegic is by definition an unfit parent, how fit a father is he given that he had a child by one?
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- Review: Dispatches, “Inside the Priory”
- Review: Silent Witness, “One Day”
- Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, racism and the appeal to authority