Did you know that 40% of parents with learning disabilities have their children removed by social services? I didn’t. Until I attended “Mia: Daughters of Fortune”.
Mia is part of the Daughters of Fortune project, which explores parenthood with a learning disability. Led by Mind the Gap, the UK’s largest inclusive theatre group for people with learning disabilities, Mia is a play result from a collaboration between academic research, regarding and conducted by people with learning disabilities, and the creative process, which allows the issues being explored to be presented to a mass audience.
The play opens by immediately addressing the taboos around sex, sexuality, and people with learning disabilities. In the opening ‘dear diary’ scene we are introduced to the four performers, all of whom have learning disabilities. We see that they know about, think about and are concerned about relationships, sex and the possibility of parenthood, but are also uninformed about the practicalities of it. The myth of people with learning disabilities having no interest in sex and sexuality is quickly dispelled with a series of parodies of popular, highly sexualised songs. This is contrasted with an outdated video clip discouraging people who have, or may be carrying genes for learning disabilities from having children.
Throughout the one hour performance, references are made to “the assessment” – a foreboding and discouraging interview reserved for parents with learning disabilities. We watch as a newly pregnant woman is questioned about her capability as a mother; from her ability to cook, to whether she can change a fuse. The performers make the audience aware of the need for potential parents in this situation to prove they are ready for a child, and to prove they are “good enough”. Later it is pointed out that no parent is ever ready for a child, whether they have learning disabilities or not.
Audience participation comes in the form of a game show, “Don’t Drop the Baby”. When asked “what are people’s reactions when you tell them you’re pregnant?”, audience members provide such answers as “when is it due?”. Performers respond with “will it look like you?”. The winner of the game show gets to keep their baby. All three of the participants lose.
The performance tackles challenging themes yet remains witty and endearing throughout. Using various forms of media, from dance and film to live camera work and DJing, the performance is engaging and thought provoking. It brings attention to the stigmas surrounding pregnancy in those with learning disabilities, and how a pregnancy is seen as a risk rather than a blessing.
I left the performance with literature outlining the findings of the Mind the Gap study, and an appreciation of the hardships faced by parents with learning disabilities, even before their child is born.
This article was written by Lucy Brown and edited by Sam Stanfield.