When Christa Couture, a singer-songwriter from Toronto, wanted to get some maternity photos taken, she did what a lot of women do: searched for inspiration of what she wanted her pregnancy pictures to look like. The only problem? The mom-to-be couldn’t find any that represented her and her disability.
Couture lost her leg at the age of 13 after both chemotherapy and radiotherapy had failed to cure her of Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. As an amputee, Couture tells Babble that approaching parenthood with a disability was frightening to her. When even carrying a bag of groceries can be a challenge, she worried how she would be able to add a baby to the equation. And when she looked for photos of women who had successfully gone through pregnancy with a disability, Couture found none.
So, she decided to make her own.
The pregnant mother hired photographer Jen Squires, whom she had worked with before and trusted to capture the vision she hoped to bring to life.
“I was nervous taking my prosthesis off for the first time in photos,” Couture notes.
Together, the pair was able to create powerful photos that captured Couture’s beauty as a disabled pregnant woman.
The photos highlight Couture’s growing belly, her body, and her custom floral prosthetic, which she explains is actually a linen upholstery fabric laminated onto the fiberglass. Couture was inspired after seeing a hand-painted prosthesis by the Alternative Limb Project, and was able to recreate the look more affordably with fabric.
“The resin they use in the lamination gives it an antique-y kind of look and I love how it turned out!” she says.
When she saw the end result of her photos, Couture says she was excited and proud to see what her body was capable of.
“I felt excited and frankly proud of myself,” she explains. “Proud of the journey my body has had, from cancer survivor to mother, and proud of the work I’ve done to accept, love, and celebrate my body. And when I stepped back from my personal experience, I saw that Jen has simply taken beautiful photos and that was really exciting, that together we’d made something I really thought was worth sharing for multiple reasons.”
For Couture, the photos were a way to not only provide the type of image she found lacking for herself — of a disabled woman experiencing pregnancy in a very vivid way — but to bring awareness to what it means to be disabled. Although she acknowledges that individuals with disabilities have their own preferences about language, which she honors, Couture makes it clear that she uses the term proudly for herself.
“Disabled is not a negative word and if a person is uncomfortable using it, I try to question why, because it might reflect a value they place on being disabled,” Couture explains. “I sometimes think of my disability as something like having travelled to a country not many others have. Being disabled has given me perspectives and experience I’m grateful for.”
Couture also points out that using the word “disabled” is a way to highlight accessibility factors. For example, she explains that in Toronto, where she lives with her partner, Marsha Shandur, and daughter, she is unable to use many of the subway stations because they lack elevators. In those cases, she is literally disabled thanks to systemic barriers.
“There would be no disability in that setting if it utilized a universal design that included everyone’s access needs,” she adds. “I think it’s important that equity is kept in mind when thinking about disability.”
Despite her initial fears about experiencing pregnancy with a disability, Couture notes that she was “fully supported,” thanks to a care team that specialized in pregnancy with disability. Because any weight change of over five pounds means that a prosthetic leg doesn’t fit, she was carefully monitored during pregnancy, with more frequent adjustments to accommodate her growing shape — along with adjustments for herself to be more careful when moving around with the addition of a belly that changed her balance.
Now, as mom to 7-month-old Sona, Couture has found parenthood to be just as challenging and wonderful as everyone says.
“[My daughter] is ordinary and miraculous in all the ways that babies are and I’m just loving being her mom,” she describes.
And by sharing her own maternity photos, Couture hopes to inspire other mothers with disabilities to celebrate their differences and feel beautiful in their bodies.
“There is so much pressure that every mother faces to meet standards and expectations, when really we should be supporting the myriad of choices and experiences of all mothers, no matter what body they are in,” she says.