Tanni Grey-Thompson on attitudes towards pregnant disabled athletes

Tanni Grey-Thompson and her daughter Carys
Tanni Grey-Thompson gave birth to her daughter Carys in February 2002

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was 37 weeks pregnant when a woman approached her in Cardiff.

“This woman stopped me and said: ‘How did you get pregnant?'” Grey-Thompson recalled.

“I remember screaming at her in the street: ‘I had sex. How do you think I got pregnant?’

“She was like: ‘Oh, that’s disgusting.’ And I said: ‘I think he’s quite good looking, actually.'”

Grey-Thompson was a nine-time Paralympic gold medallist when she became pregnant with her daughter Carys in 2001, but later won two more gold medals.

People struggled to understand how her body would adapt – and they were not afraid to tell her so.

“I lost count of the number of people who asked me how I got pregnant,” the 50-year-old told the Stumps, Wheels and Wobblies podcast.

“The first thing I was offered at my first scan was a termination because people were like: ‘You should not have children.'”

‘Fear that we might breed’

Grey-Thompson has spina bifida, a condition caused when a baby’s spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb.

“We had a discussion [with the medical staff] about if I was trying for babies and that individual had some quite complicated views on disability – [an attitude of] we might breed,” Grey-Thompson said.

“I had to answer lots of questions about what you do if it’s disabled.

“I said I would make sure they have a really cool chair, not like the horrible chair I had until I was 15!”

One in every 1,000 pregnancies is affected by a spine or brain defect.

Doctors at King’s College Hospital carried out groundbreaking keyhole surgery to repair a baby’s spine in the womb earlier this year.

Grey-Thompson has previously spoken about terminating a disabled baby, adding that her parents would “probably have ended the pregnancy” had they known about her disability.

‘Not every disabled person is inspirational’

The term ‘inspiration porn’ was coined in 2012 to describe the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely, or in part, on the basis of their disability.

Paralympian and BBC podcaster Hannah Dines has said that labelling athletes as “inspirational” can be insulting, and Grey-Thompson agrees.

“It is almost like you have to have had something dramatic or traumatic happen to you to justify your position as a disabled athlete,” she added.

“There are lots of athletes on the programme who have been through war and lost limbs in really horrible ways.

“I really struggle if that back story is part of the sports coverage because that does send out a message that you have to be inspirational and not every disabled person is inspirational.

“I don’t wake up every day and say: ‘Today I’m going to be inspirational.'”

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