I’ve long dreamt of becoming a mother, and this is a dream that I’d allowed myself to indulge in more and more as I’ve grown older. However, my visions of motherhood ground to an unexpected halt in 2015 when an accident left me with a spinal injury.
My injury meant that a wheelchair became a necessary part of my life, and as I progressed through my recovery there was one question that kept surfacing in my mind - ‘Could I still be a mum in a chair?’
I have to admit that although I had often thought about having a baby, I knew very little about actually being a mother. As for being a mother in a wheelchair - I was totally out of my depth and had no clue what my limitations might be.
After rehab for my injury I was able to rely less on the chair, but it was still something that I needed during my day to day. Despite this, and as my physical strength began to return, I became all the more determined that I wanted to start a family.
I had a supportive partner, a wonderful family, and amazing friends by my side. I felt like nothing could go wrong and that nothing should hold me back.
My optimism kept me going but it soon collided with reality! My partner and I discovered that there are several difficult legal hoops to jump through as a same sex couple wanting to start a family, and that we had a lot to prove in order to get what we wanted. After a great deal of questioning and countless compulsory counselling sessions, we finally made it onto the waiting list to receive donor sperm.
One of the things that stands out for us most from that period is that we were asked whether or not we were going to be open with our child about their conception. We both agreed without a doubt that we’re not ashamed of the route that we’ve had to take to conceive our baby, and that we will always be honest about this process.
When donor profiles finally arrived in the letterbox we discovered that making the choice between them was much easier than we had anticipated. However, as soon as we had done so, we then felt reality strike - could we really do this? Would my body really be able to cope with carrying a baby? Would I be able to deal with the pain? And, what about when the baby arrives?
I was sowing seeds of doubt in my own mind and it was proving difficult to dismiss these feelings.
Regardless of our shared doubts we expressed our interest in our chosen donor and after the first insemination attempt I was pregnant!
We decided that we weren’t going to make a formal announcement and that we only wanted to share our news with certain people in our own time. However, not talking about it didn’t make it any less real and we found there was still much to consider.
After learning that I was pregnant I made the immediate decision to cease my pain medication. I wanted to give my baby the best chance possible, and I was certain that this was the way to do that.
Without my medication my pain levels soon increased whilst my mobility decreased. As my energy levels dropped, the seeds of doubt continued to grow and I spent a lot of time wondering if I was doing the right thing - both for my own body and my baby.
With so much to deal with in the present moment - both physically and emotionally - it was hard to look far enough into the future to what life with my baby was going to be like. But the things that did play on my mind were thoughts such as, ‘Would I be able to pick my baby up?’ and, ‘Would I be able to carry my baby up the stairs?’
As my pregnancy continued I started to wonder if there were any practical aids in existence that could help once the baby had arrived. I surely couldn’t be the only person to parent from a wheelchair and I was confident that there would be some help available.
My positivity about potential parenting aids was soon challenged as trips to shops like Mothercare showed me just how little help is available. Through no fault of their own, the staff at these stores didn’t seem to have any experience of mums in wheelchairs, and weren’t able to offer any guidance on what the best products for me would be. We were politely told that, “We don’t get disabled parents in here” - which was difficult to believe because we do exist!
I took my search to Google, but was only further disappointed. It began to feel as though there wasn’t any help available. As I sent emails directly to online suppliers, the replies that they sent only further enforced my disappointment and fuelled my concerns.
It wasn’t until I found a Facebook group for mothers in wheelchairs that I began to finally feel as though I wasn’t alone. The women in the group shared their experiences with each other and learning of their challenges was a serious eye-opener for me. Although it was often difficult to read of all that these women had struggled to overcome, it was also inspiring to read their stories and see how happy their families were. The majority of these women live in America, but our shared experience quickly led me to feel less isolated.
I still have doubts about my ability to parent. I worry that as my baby gets heavier that I won’t be able to carry them, that I wont be able to pick them up and dust them off when they fall, that I won’t be able to bathe them without help. I worry that I wont be able to keep up with my baby when they start crawling, when they start walking, and when they start to explore the world around them. I worry that my limitations are going to limit their experiences, and I worry that I’m putting too much pressure on my partner. Above all I worry that my urge to have a baby is a selfish one.
Regardless of all of the negativity that I can’t silence, I am also increasingly feeling the voice of positivity become louder. I tell myself that I can do this - that I’ll prove all of my doubts wrong. I tell myself that my partner supports me 100% and that she wants the same things that I do. I tell myself that my wheelchair does not define me and will not restrict me. Finally, I tell myself that I will be the mummy that I’ve wanted to be for so long.
Through my experience of pregnancy so far I have learnt that asking for help isn’t a weakness, and that with the love and support of those around me there isn’t any limit on which of my dreams I can dream into reality.
Welcome to the world, Rupert Peter John Griffiths. 11/12/2017
(With thanks to Bri Mansys for first 3 images)