Disability - a naturally occurring feature of humankind

Disability - a naturally occurring feature of humankind

Melanie Dimmitt is a busy Mum of two, author, journalist, tea drinker by day and wine drinker by night (well most of the time she makes it to night time). Mel’s motherhood experience was thrown an unexpected curve-ball when her now four year old son Arlo was born via emergency c-section and at six months old was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.

I have been fan-girling over Mel since I stumbled across her on the No Filter podcast in early November 2019.She penned (well typed) a book I didn’t know I needed until I read it, Special: antidotes to the obsessions that come with a child’s disability. This book and it’s beautifully written, honest passages finally articulated how I had been feeling about my life as a Mum with a child with disability. Yes it’s different and yes it can be hard as fuck but it’s not as bad as you think.

When Mel agree’d to feature as a Mummy Matcher guest I may have done a little happy dance. I am so excited to share this article with you. Keep your eye out for the Mummy Matcher Podcast which is on it’s way as you will be able to listen to me falling over myself whilst talking to this amazing human. 

Full details on how you can get your hands on Special are at the end of the article xx

Who was Mel before she became a Mum?

A well-slept person with zero appreciation for the abundance of solitary time and hot teas she had. Before Arlo came along, my partner, Row, and I had recently moved from Melbourne to Sydney so I could take a job writing at a magazine. We spent our spare cash on travel, dining out and bar hopping. It’s a whole lot more Netflix, jar pasta sauce and reasonably priced wine at home, these days.

How old are your children and what is one thing you adore about each of them?

Arlo is four. I adore how he smiles with his whole self. Odette (Odie) is two. I adore how she has recently taken to saying, ‘Oh, drat’.

What is one thing about Mum life that drives you bonkers?

GUILT. Row and I both work full-time(ish) from home so we struggle with the juggle – especially lately, as coronavirus totally screwed our childcare situation. I feel bad that the kids are currently spending more quality time with Bluey’s family than their own – but let’s be honest, Bandit and Chilli are gold-star parents.

I first started stalking you when you featured on Mia Freedman’s podcast No Filter as a result of your AMAZING book.
Why did you write Special?

Well aren’t you a lovely stalker. I wrote Special because I was desperate for it. Arlo had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and I was struggling, big time, to accept it. I needed to hear that this wasn’t going to turn out how my (ignorant) mind imagined it would. I needed to know that Arlo would be okay – that we would be okay, as a family. So I reached out to parents living all over the world, raising kids with all kids of disabilities, and asked them to share their stories and advice. Boy, did they come up with the goods.

Arlo was officially diagnosed at 6 months with Cerebral Palsy, you talk about living the life you feared the most.
I felt this statement to my core and I think a lot of other mums in the initial stages go through this too; how do you think we can change the conversation around parenting children with disabilities?

Disability is a naturally occurring feature of humankind, so I think having a baby with disability needs to be talked about, openly, as an option. Not hushed away as an unlikely, nightmarish scenario. There needs to more visibility around disability. People with disabilities need to be better represented in mainstream media and government – and varied experiences of parenting a child with disability also need to be shared more widely.

Yes, this gig can be incredibly challenging and unfair at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s awesome. Most of the time, for me, it feels ordinary. In Becoming, Michelle Obama writes something along the lines of “there are many ways to ‘be’ in this world” – and I wish I’d had this perspective before I had Arlo. Fortunately he’s a bloody good teacher.

To the Mum at the very beginning of her journey and just finding out that her child has a disability, what are 3 pieces of advice you would give her? What would you have found helpful?

This is tricky, as different people need different things at different times. Very generally speaking, straight off the bat, let’s make sure you’re linked in with top-notch early-intervention therapists. Once your kid is in capable hands we can focus on what you need.

I found spending time with Arlo, just cuddling and doing stuff he likes (reading books, listening to songs, watching goddamn Little Baby Bum on loop) helped me enjoy his baby-ness and kept my head out of ‘the future’. My own therapist also made a world of difference.

The best thing I did was befriend other parents raising kids with disabilities but it took me a while to get there. The Too Peas in a Podcast and Mama Bear podcast are a good place to stick a toe (or an ear) in, and online communities like AbleFinder and, of course, Mummy Matcher, mean that once you’re ready, likeminded parents are a mere swipe away.

Do you want to punch the next person in the face who tells you in order to look after yourself better you simply need to eat healthier and go for a walk?

We know this, but sometimes our life circumstances simply don't allow for this. Hell going for a walk and actually eating something that resembled a home cooked meal would be on par with winning the lotto in your present circumstances.

That's why I developed this e-book that is ready for you to download right now!

10 Self Care Strategies you can implement right now e-book.

What are the most unhelpful things people can say to a Mum who has a child with a disability?

‘I’m sorry’ … ‘You can’t even tell that they’re disabled’ … ‘Life only throws you what you can handle’ … ‘You’re so strong’ … ‘Einstein didn’t talk until he was four’ … the list goes on. Once again, different people will need (and not need) to hear different things. A helpful thing people can say is, how are you? And how do you take your coffee?

In the world of motherhood, comparison of children starts early.
Do you think this carries through to children with disabilities? I know that there are times I feel guilty as Pippa is quite high functioning when there children who are unable to move/talk.

We all grapple with comparison and when it comes to kids, if yours doesn’t measure up to seemingly every other sprog on the playground it can Hurt. Like. Hell.

Arlo’s physical disability is severe and, in some ways, this has given me a get-out-of-comparison-free card. His path became so drastically departed from his peers that I just threw out the rulebook. He’s doing his own thing.

While interviewing parents whose kids have milder forms of disability – like Pippa – I found they often struggled more with comparison, as they were measuring progress against typical milestones.

For what it’s worth, I interviewed a ‘comparison coach’, Lucy Sheridan, for Special. She told me: “If you are having a bad day, feel it. You shouldn’t have to develop the strength where looking after differently-abled children is an absolute fucking walk in the park. It’s allowed to be really hard.’

Language is so contentious in the disability world. You called your book Special, not because you believe that children with disabilities are special but because parenting a child with a disability is special.
Can you explain this to our community?

When I started writing Special my idea was to ‘reclaim’ that word and give it more positive connotations. Yes, I thought, our kids are special. They are far more interesting, life-changing and important than your run-of-the-mill child. But the more I settled into parenthood – and the disability space – I realised how entirely untrue this was.

Our kids are no more special, or un-special, than any other. They might have different needs or require different kinds of support, but they’re just kids. Like you say, what I’ve found to be special is the experience of raising a child with disability – a child who has made me see the world with wider eyes.

Why do you think Special has been so well received and had interest from the big media outlets such as MamaMia and The Project?
(PS is Carrie Bickmore as awesome as she comes across?)

I think, or hope, Special sparked interest from certain media outlets because they want to share diverse stories and voices. Special also wasn’t another ‘mummy memoir’ in that it wasn’t solely about my journey. It’s a collection of people’s thoughts on a largely unfamiliar experience. But we had to get a toe in the door. MamaMia and The Project happened because me and my publisher’s PR team spent a hell of a lot of time pitching Special around.

Carrie Bickmore is every bit the angel she seems. After The Project she got her radio show producer to line up another interview with herself and Tommy Little on the Hit Network. This was a much more relaxed chat (television was terrifying) and at the end of it, Carrie stayed on the line to make sure I was going okay in the midst of promoting the book. She’s a gem.

When Arlo was born via emergency cesarean section you were basically told that if you wanted to have another baby, do it soon due to precancerous cysts on your ovaries.
To the Mum who has a child with a disability, wants another baby but is scared of how she will juggle everything, what advice can you give her?

To that mother I would say, we were scared too. My second pregnancy and delivery was drama-free but still a total mind-F. And you’re right – it’s impossible to juggle everything. Arlo got a lot more home therapy and attention from us before Odie came along. But we’re glad she did, all the same. No-one can (or should) tell you whether or not to go in for round two, so I’ll only say I’m happy we didn’t allow fear to make that decision for us.

What’s next for Mel Dimmitt?
How can people get their hands on your book?

My fourth tea for the day, that’s what. Work-wise I’m busy writing for a few magazines and clients. Family-wise the no childcare thing is wearing very thin, but on the flipside, Arlo has never been healthier (daycares are very germy places). Like much of the rest of the world, we are crawling back to our own kind of normal.

You can find Special wherever you like to buy books – be it Booktopia , Amazon or Book Depository. If you’re in Aus/NZ, you can also find it in some bookstores (psst… it’s pretty cheap at Big W) and later this year it will be published in Poland. Next, world domination!

You can follow Mel and the Special Book on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_special_book/

So how EXACTLY does the
Mummy Matcher Service help you?

What You Gain

+ Connection

Talk to other Mum’s in similar situations while you’re at home, sitting in the waiting room for appointments, in hospital or even in the car! 

+ Understanding

Have a conversation with someone who you don’t have to explain the little things to because they already GET IT.  

+ Community

Be part of a community of women who have also faced adversity and like you, are seeking connection. 

What You Reduce

- Loneliness

No longer be alone during your journey on this daunting, unexpected and what can at times be a scary as hell road.

- Isolation

No longer feel like you are the only person in the world who’s motherhood journey isn’t turning out how you thought it would.

- Detachment

Find women you can actually connect with. Women you can nurture and build a real friendship with.  

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