What is it like being pregnant and in a wheelchair? What is labor like when you can’t feel your legs? These mothers wish to share their experiences with the world to increase awareness and to encourage the hearts of other women.
The Problem Of Limited Access To Pregnancy Information
The mainstream media has for too long ignored the needs of disabled women. While it is easy to find pregnancy-related information for women without disabilities, those with disabilities struggle to find specific information to meet their needs. Even our schools aren’t well adjusted to the needs of pregnant women in wheelchairs. Many health workers are at a loss when dealing with pregnant women with disabilities.
However, thanks to initiatives of daring women like Karen Hodge, there has been an improvement.
Karen Hodge, a mother of two children, delivered vaginally despite her spinal cord injury. After her deliveries, she made it her duty to provide pregnancy information for women with difficulties like hers. She created a team of experts in 2013 that produces downloadable educational content for pregnant women with disabilities.
Pregnancy, Birth, And Early Parenthood – A Guide For Physically Disabled Parents is a useful handbook for moms on wheelchairs created by Disability, Pregnancy, and Parenthood International (DPPI).
Moms In Wheelchairs Are Capable
Women with disabilities have their share of hardships during pregnancy and caring for the baby. They need a little help. This, however, does not justify the stigmatization they endure. Strangers and even doctors show very little faith in their capacity for motherhood.
Yasaman Best delivered her boy Alex in June 2015. She has been in a wheelchair since 2002 after a spinal cord injury sustained in a car accident put her in a wheelchair. Her very close friend confided that she considered it unethical when a woman using a wheelchair gets pregnant. Isn’t it ignorant? Yet as Yustman would tell Today’s Parent, “I need them to recognize that I know what I’m doing with Alex—I’m his mom.”
Yasaman had long conversations with her doctor about her pregnancy with a spinal cord injury. They went over possible complications and made all the necessary preparations. It was all reassuring and comforting. Lizzy, another spinal cord injury patient and mother, advised that like Yasaman, women with disabilities should never be shy about asking questions in her inspiring YouTube video.
Women with Disabilities Experience Pregnancy Like Every Other Woman
“I do get more fatigued, I experience more intense back pains when I sit for too long, I have to navigate life with a bigger belly and all the other things that come with pregnancy,” Lizzy explains in her blog. Frequent Urinary Tract Infections, swelling feet, and intense back pains highlighted her pregnancy. For her back pains, Tylenol and stretches did the trick. Lizzy advises expectant moms with spinal cord injury to get epidural anesthesia during delivery to prevent autonomic dysreflexia (AD).
Despite her spinal cord injury, Yasaman felt the baby’s kicks and movements. Though she ended up in a forceps delivery, she did feel the water break and pushed her baby through the birth canal until she couldn’t.
Moms In Wheelchairs Need Support
Pregnancy is as unpredictable for women in wheelchairs as it is for most women. No amount of preparation prepares a mom for childbirth and mothering.
Latonya, a pharmacist, suffered paralysis of her lower body when in pharmacy school at only 21. It did not stop her from starting a family. At 41, she got pregnant with her son. She mostly depended on her husband’s and mother’s help, but she did some things too. “Being paralyzed for 20 years has made me a natural problem-solver,” she told UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Latonya had to make adjustments like borrowing a new wheelchair from Numotion to accommodate her growing belly. She also had to regularly inspect her back for soreness resulting from sitting on the wheelchair too long. Without looking, she could easily miss the sores because of her paralysis. Her feet swelled so much that she went to work with her house shoes. Her restroom breaks became more complicated and time-consuming, with her enlarging belly, catheters, and wheelchair.
Nonetheless, Latonya never felt disappointed or limited. “The way I see it, the only difference between me and an able-bodied woman is that I’m rolling! And I’ll keep rolling through this pregnancy, right into motherhood.” Latonya told UT Southwestern Medical Center.
When Yasaman delivered Alex, she consulted a physical therapist and occupational therapist to make some adjustments. The occupational therapist designed a custom-made crib and changing station, which Yasaman could use while seated in her wheelchair. The physical therapist put Velcro fasteners on Alex’s clothes. A sling is also useful for helping moms handle their newborns despite their limited motor skills.
Karen Hodge had a tough time breastfeeding her first child. “I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say it was too hard, that I was struggling,” she told Today’s Parent. But with her second born, she hired a postpartum doula.
One thing that Yasaman regrets is when people jump in to help her, assuming that she automatically needs help. It demeans her capability. She advises that, to help a mom in a wheelchair, first ask her the kind of help that she needs.
By: Karen Samuels