Christina Mills and her husband Eli Gelardin recorded their oral history for the Disability Visibility Project™ at StoryCorps in San Francisco on January 3, 2015. They talked about the challenges they faced when they tried to come parents, being disabled parents to two disabled children, and the importance of community, advocacy, and disability pride in their lives. In this audio clip Christina and Eli talk about their first child Olivia.
Personal note: Christina and Eli played this clip at the memorial celebrating the life of their four-year old daughter, Olivia Donna Gelardin, on January 6, 2016. Rest in power, Livy!
Eli Gelardin: I remember one of the most significant levels of discrimination that I witnessed was when we decided we wanted to have children. You were looking for a doctor and there was a doctor who just refused to work with us, because we were disabled. It really, it struck me on a whole other level that we’ve come so far in so many ways, but when it comes to a very basic fundamental right to be happy, and to have a family and to have a sense of place in community, we still have so far to go… We all have a right to have families. We all have a right to community and there’s no experience more moving for me in my life, than seeing you as a mother, seeing you as giving birth to our daughter, Olivia…and then, even more than that, seeing you transform into your role as an advocate and a mom for our daughter, for both of us.
What have you learned from our first child, from Olivia?
Christina Mills: Well, I’ve learned that we’ve got a lot of work to do in the disability rights movement. Olivia is extremely rare, having skeletal dysplasia disability and having a developmental disability that’s you know, pretty substantial. There’s not many organizations and services that know how to handle a family first of all, of all people with disabilities, let alone a child with multiple serious disabilities. I’ve learned that I’ve got a lot of work to do as an advocate and that it’s important to embrace disability the way it is, no matter what it looks like or how it is.
Olivia has taught me to be extremely patient. I didn’t think I had the amount of patience needed for Olivia. She’s taught me how to be extremely patient. She’s given me so many more reasons why I need to work harder to create disability equality, and Olivia has just given me a reason to work that much more.
Eli Gelardin: Olivia has taught me that once again, the perceptions and the boundaries that I put on myself, or on my life really are only just that. They’re limitations or they’re barriers that I put on. What Livy, what I learn everyday from Livy is that she has absolute truth. There isn’t a filter of what she should be, or what she can or cannot do. She does what she wants to do. While she doesn’t communicate in a verbal sense, she communicates through movement and she communicates through texture and through spinning. It’s no less communication than any other form. I think the boundaries that I put on myself have really changed because of our daughter, because I see that there’s much more spectrum, there’s much more freedom than we allow, than I allow myself.
Christina Mills: You know, I think Olivia’s taught us that we could do anything.
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Disability Visibility Project™. (2016, January 7). DVP Interview: Christina Mills and Eli Gelardin. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p4H7t1-N88
A photo featuring Eli Gelardin and Christina Mills taken on January 3, 2015. A close-up portrait of a person on the left who appears to be a white man with short brown hair and a beard. He is smiling and wearing a black vest and long-sleeved shirt. To his right is a person who appears to be a white woman with long wavy brown hair that has a barrette on the left side of her hair. She is smiling at the camera and bundled with a white knit scarf around her neck and a rose-colored sweater.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com