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Being blind, the buggy and me

02 Dec 2016

When I was young I wanted to be a policewoman. But then I woke up one Easter, aged around 14, and could only see red in my eye due to a burst blood vessel. Although my sight was never perfect, from this time I lost most of my vision; even after an operation which was supposed to help.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Uveitis, an inflammatory disease that destroys eye tissue, aged four and lost the sight in my right eye aged nine. Losing the sight in my left eye as well was a blow.

I remember the moment I gave up on myself. I was watching Strictly Come Dancing and eating lasagne, and I found myself getting increasingly frustrated because I couldn’t see the TV anymore and I was struggling to eat my food. Being the true fatty that I am I never give up on food, but that day I put my plate down, went upstairs and cried.

Now I’m 22 and I’m a sexy mother of one. I have mastered the art of cutting and eating not only lasagne, but steak as well. But there are things that took longer for me to get to grips with – like maneuvering around the world with my baby.

I, like many people, enjoy the warmth and comfort of a mini cab. In fact I love them so much I actually gave birth to my daughter in the back seat of one. After she came along I found myself getting very comfortable with getting cabs everywhere and to be honest my bank account was feeling the burn.

I know a lot of first time mums feel a little nervous when travelling with a baby, although until I had my daughter I never even gave it a second thought. It’s really weird because I feel like travelling is something I should just be able to get on with, but for some reason I felt nervous and scared. Before I had a child I was happy to get on the bus, train, tube you name it.

“I found myself still not going out with the buggy on my own; for months I had it in my flat and I couldn’t find the confidence to use it”

But all of a sudden when I put my baby in her sling I started to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and found myself even fearing walking down the street.  For a while the sling was my best friend and I was able to travel semi confidently. Although the box says she can be in the sling until the age of three I found my back was killing me when she got to around nine months old.

The combination of the two watermelons on my front, my ever growing baby on my back and the rather large changing bag over my shoulder was really starting to, quite literally, drag me down.

I got some advice from the blind mums connect groups that I’m a part of, and they mentioned a particular buggy, Joie Mirus, that was easy to pull behind you so that you could still use your cane. I decided to buy one, and when it came I was happy and enthusiastic because I felt like if they can do it, so can I.

But for some reason I found myself still not going out with the buggy on my own; for months I had it in my flat and I couldn’t find the confidence to use it. Eventually I realised that I could not let life pass me by (or let my daughter miss out on taking in the lovely polluted London air and seeing the miserable faces of early morning commuters).

I realised I had two options. I could try and find myself a rich husband that could drive me around all day, or I could face my fear and start waddling down the road again like I used to. So I contacted the council’s community access team, and they said they would be happy to send someone out to help me practice some routes with the buggy so that I could be independent again.

The first few times pulling the buggy behind me were a little weird, because I felt like other people might be judging me. Now, considering I am a woman who has had blue hair, been sick on the DLR and regularly sings extremely out of tune in public; caring about people’s opinions doesn’t usually affect me, so I decided I wasn’t going to let it affect me now.

Sometimes having a visual impairment has its disadvantages, but what I have realised is that being a decent mum when travelling does not have to be one of them. I guess it’s my daughter I feel sorry for, she’s the one that has to stare at my (admittedly perky) rear end every time we go out.

People say I’m amazing and inspiring, but I don’t think I am. People say they don’t know what they would do if they lost their sight. I say, with bright enough lighting, and when I squint my left eye, I can just about see my daughter’s face. That is more than enough for me.

Joy Addo recently spoke about her experiences on Radio 4. Listen here.