A man and a woman are leaning back attached to harnesses with their feet braced against a ziplining platform. Their daughter stands on the platform harnessed with her arms reaching toward them

Fearless parenting

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Luc and Rita Lemoine are fearless when it comes to parenting their 16-year-old daughter Émilie who is blind. They want to ensure that she gains enough perspective to learn about life the way she needs to, without her sight. 

"I think it is even more important that she has tried more things than most people because she can't just look at it and understand it." said Luc.

His wife Rita interjects.  "She has to experience it."

And experiences are exactly what Émilie has had. From the time she was a toddler the Lemoines took her everywhere with them. They pushed her stroller up hills, had her touch flowers, grass and described everything to her along the way. 

Over Émilie's 16 years, she has ziplined, skied, tandem biked, was in dancing lessons for five years, fishes with her Dad as much as they can, ride horses and other activities through the CNIB kids camp program. 

When their daughter was born, this wasn't the case, they were scared about her future.  Émilie was born at 24 weeks and as a result they were told there might be a number of health complications with one of them being the possibility of blindness. 

"She had a couple brain bleeds and at one point the doctors thought she had a heart murmur. She was very much on the borderline of survivability for a long time." said Luc.

After 111 days in neonatal they took her home. Four days later when Rita took her for a follow up with the doctor, Émilie’s retinas had detached. She had retinopathy of prematurity in her eyes. Despite surgery, her sight could not be saved.

"We knew there wouldn't be any improvements only maintenance," said Luc.

At first Rita felt her daughter's loss of sight was unfair, but then she came to a positive conclusion. 

"I remember closing my eyes and thinking just because I can't see what's around me doesn't mean it's not there. It doesn't mean I am not sleeping on a bed, there aren't trees outside and I can't feel the sun. Things still exist without sight. It's not the end of the world. It’s a different way of experiencing the world." 

The Lemoines worked on understanding how their daughter experienced the world without sight so they could give her what she needed, how she needed it, to learn about the world. Sometimes this just meant how to develop concepts and communicating in a different way.

You need to describe everything and put things in perspective," said Luc.  "You can't walk down a sidewalk and say, oh there's a mailbox be careful. You are better off to say, there's a mailbox there. Do you know what that is? It's five feet high. Here take your hands and touch. It's here on the sidewalk. The letter carrier has his envelopes sent there. He has a key. He takes them out and then he brings them to our house."

Although Émilie's progress was slower than a sighted child the Lemoine's never compared her developmental progress to others. 

"Other people would say, is she walking yet? We would say, no," said Luc. "They would say, why not? We would say, because she's not walking yet. It is what it is and we wouldn't take it to heart."

From the beginning CNIB was there answering questions and helping Émilie gain the skills she needed to navigate without sight. She received a cane and learned how to use it from the Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Lisa Telfer.

"I can remember Lisa taking us for a walk and she said you know let her go through the puddles. Let her sit down in a puddle and feel what's in there," said Rita. "At first, I thought, I don't think so, but I then I let her. Pants and all she sat in the puddle." 

They also worked with the CNIB Child and Family Services counsellor to learn how to advocate for their daughter's accessibility needs within the school system. Now Luc volunteers his time helping other parents gain these skills through the Beyond the Classroom program at CNIB. 

Because of their daughter they have gained some valuable life lessons like slowing down, enjoying the moment and trying new activities. 

The Lemoines have learned to parent fearlessly and have this advice for other parents of children with sight loss. 

"It's scary but don't be scared. You don't have to learn it all at once," said Rita.

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