Following our recent article about life with a disability, in this article, we explore what life is like as a parent with a disability. Disability & Parenthood is a personal account of some of the challenges and experiences I have faced as a parent with a disability.
Disability & parenthood is something that I could find very little information on. A quick Google search hardly fills the screen with lots of information so, I hope that someone else might find this useful.
Firstly, we need to confront what some people might consider an uncomfortable truth. Yes, people with a disability can have relationships and even have children. It seems that for some people in society this is an odd concept to get their heads around. Along with questions like, are you going to die early because of your disability? What is wrong with you? and are you able to do normal things? Some people like to ask if people with a disability can have children or an active sex life.
I have always found this a difficult to understand. Would you walk up to a stranger in the street who you don’t know and, as far as you can tell has no visible disability and just randomly ask these things? yet it seems that for some people (not everyone) if you have a visible and obvious physical disability then such questions are perfectly fine to ask, sometimes followed by a statement like “No offence, I just wanted to know”
18 months ago, my life changed forever when my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. Even getting to that point presented some interesting experiences. When we went for the first scan, I remember being so excited that in just a short while we would get to see our baby for the first time. In my head I had been picturing the experience for weeks, I had read up on what to expect having purchased The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide.
What I was not prepared for was the fascination that people appeared to have as I entered the waiting room in my wheelchair. Have you ever entered a room and felt all the eyes in that room focusing on you? I became quite aware that people were looking at me.
Perhaps people had never seen a person with a disability accompany a pregnant lady? this happened every time we went to an appointment. It got to the point that I constantly had to fight the urge not to get out of the chair and shout things like “It’s a miracle” or slightly cruder remarks about how everything other than my legs was in fine working order!
Disability & Parenthood
As the weeks went on and we got closer and closer to welcome our amazing little boy into the world a sense of panic came over me. I am sure all first-time parents can relate to a bit of panic as the big day arrives.
Aside from the usual level of panic I realised that what I was experiencing was perhaps a little different. I would play the scene of my wife going into labour over and over in my mind, I would need to be able to get out of the house quickly, I would need to be prepared and, I would need to be able to help my wife. Each night in the weeks leading up to the birth I went through a ritual of laying my clothes out on the bed, making sure I knew where the car keys were and trying to be prepared for the big moment. Now, I went through this ritual every single night except for the day before his due date.
I had read somewhere that only about five percent of babies arrived on their due date and therefore statistically I had decided it was highly unlikely to happen. As I am sure you can guess, despite my statistical analysis that is exactly what happened! Just after 1am on May 29th, 2018, my wife woke me up and said “I think it is time”.
We made an early morning trip to the hospital before going back home for a bit while things moved on. Just as rush hour was building it was time to go back, the contractions were coming faster, and we were advised to make our way-we were going to meet our little boy. I remember driving to the hospital with a million questions running through my mind. Questions raced around like- should I go through that red light? Would we be able to park? As we entered the car park, I was pleased to see a disabled parking space was available.
I got out of the car and made my way to the boot so that I could get the wheelchair out, it could be a long walk and I would need it. I have got the wheelchair out of the boot more times than I can count, I usually do this without too much fuss. As my wife was leaning against the car and was having contractions it seemed to be taking me forever to get the chair out. I was thinking to myself; this is one of those times when I could do with a passing person to offer assistance.
Well, someone must have heard me. A few moments later the Consultant we had seen just a few weeks earlier noticed me and asked if she could help! I was so pleased to see her. I struggle to remember a time when I have been more grateful to see someone. Who better to help you than a highly qualified medical professional? I am pleased to say that all went well and, just after lunchtime baby George arrived.
The Real Challenge Begins
I remember when we arrived home with George for the first time, my parents had helped us to get back from the hospital, made sure we were home, put the kettle on, and then left. My wife and I sat down, looked at each other and said, “what do we do now?”
Disability & Parenthood-Managing
Over the coming days and weeks, we would learn more and more about the challenges of having a disability and a child. For instance, it is the kind of thing that many people might take for granted but, I could not carry George and walk. If I needed to move him from one room to another, I developed a process of lifting him into a car seat, and moving the car seat along the floor very carefully until we arrived in the other room. This was by no means a quick process.
I often wonder, if George was able to speak at that point what on earth would he have said? Getting up and feeding him in the night was something I never managed. I just could not figure out the logistics-Luckily, my wife is an incredible woman and a fantastic Mum, she just took all of these things in her stride and was amazing.
Even a simple thing like changing a nappy was tricky. I could lay George on the changing table and I could do it but, again this was not quick. I think it would take me about 15 minutes. The most remarkable thing was that it is almost as if George had figured out that his Dad was slower and found things more difficult – he would wait calmly and without any fuss for as long as I needed. I remember almost crying the first time I managed to change my Son, it might seem silly be I felt a sense of achievement that was quite powerful.
Over the past 18 months I have learnt how to do all manner of things with George. We have a very strong bond and that little boy shows so much love and care. If I drop my walking stick, within seconds George will come running from another room and very carefully lift it and pass it to me, he waits patiently for me to move around if we are going out and, on some level seems to have figured out that his Daddy just takes that bit longer than anyone else.
You will never experience anything more incredible than holding your child in your arms for the first time.
Disability & Parenthood- Conclusion
Disability & parenthood is not easy, you face some unique challenges but, it is perfectly doable. I could write so much more and share so many other examples. Perhaps if people are interested it can be the focus of another article.