Some of my readers do not know my story but I am a paraplegic due to complications after childbirth 26 years ago. In one of my upcoming blogs, I will tell more of that story, but it happened from a congenital defect that I was born with but was unaware of until I ended up unable to walk after my first son’s delivery. But this blog isn’t really about that… that is just setting the stage for tonight’s musings.
This week my youngest child (who is now a married adult) celebrated her birthday. Still wanting to make her a special meal, I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients for her favorite meal (tacos). As I drove, I was reflecting on my journey to being a mother of three “kids.” I hadn’t thought about it for years, but I suddenly remembered something that was said to me shorty after my paralysis which led me to this post.
Always wanting to be a Mom, I had my first son at the age of 23. He was a 9 pound, happy little guy, Zachary Ty. Falling immediately in love with this little life, I was thrilled to be his Mom. I remember those first days of motherhood clearly, counting his fingers and toes; listening to him breath; looking into his bright blue eyes; and even wishing he would wake up.
Immediately after his birth, I knew that I would want another one. For me, childbirth was four hours from start to finish so I knew I would eventually be ready to go through labor and delivery again to have another baby and sibling for Zach.
Unfortunately, like I previously said, there were complications and although the paralysis came about gradually, I was unable to walk within two months of his birth. Doctors were baffled at what was going on so it took months to get any answers. In order to get a proper diagnosis, my neurosurgeon in Reading, PA sent me to a specialist at Columbia University Hospital in Manhattan. Thankfully this doctor finally discovered what caused the paralysis which helped to save my life, but a few years later he told me something that both angered and challenged me yet ultimately impacted my journey into motherhood.
While I did not stay in contact with that particular doctor, I contacted him when Zach was two years old to discuss my options for having a second child. My regular doctors were not familiar enough with my defect to feel confident in saying it was safe for me to go through a pregnancy, labor and delivery again. (My original issue had not been able to be completely repaired so a definite answer was unclear.) Since he was the renown acting head of neurosurgery at a top US hospital, I was unable to speak to him directly. I left a detailed message with one of his nurses, hoping I would hear back from him. Weeks later I did hear from him in the form of a letter.
I still have that letter. Here’s the gist of it…
Since your damage was not completely repaired, it is difficult to say if it is safe to have another child. Currently there is no research to give a definitive answer so my recommendation would be that you do not risk your health by having another child.
That would have been enough of an answer for me except that he added a little bit more.
Besides as a paraplegic, I think it has to be difficult to care for a child from a wheelchair so I think you should be happy that you have one child and focus your attention on trying to raise him with your disability.
Reading those words upset me. While I know this doctor, who was a brilliant yet kind man, never meant anything negative with his words, it still hurt my feelings. I already felt insecure in my ability as a mom because life with a two year old was difficult. The adorable little stinker had run away from me or darted out of my reach several times so I had moments of uncertainty in my abilities to raise a child from a wheelchair.
After I had time to process the letter and came to the conclusion that all two year olds are difficult, whether you are a mom who is paralyzed or a mom who walks, my stubborn streak kicked in and I decided…
No one was going to tell me that paralysis could or should stop me from being a mom to one, two or twenty kids!
With my new mindset, I was ready to try for baby #2…. or was I? Instead I found myself nervous and unsure if it was the right decision, questioning if it was foolish to risk my health to have another child; wondering if I could die leaving my husband and son alone; worried that more complications could arise and leave me in a worse situation than paralysis; or even if I would have the ability to raise another child as a paraplegic. Meanwhile, my stubborn side kept gnawing at me that I could do it, despite the concerns and fears of others. The question was… which was the right voice?
Thankfully Jesus intervened and showed me that there are many paths to motherhood. He completely guided Steve and I into international adoption and made it obvious that it was His plan for adding to our little family. (Another amazing story for another day.) When Zach was five years old, we adopted an almost 3 year old little guy from Romania, Alexandru Benjamin. Since I had immediately loved Zach, I prayed I would love my new son as easily. Every mom hopes that there is enough love in their heart for another child. Well I can truthfully say, there is plenty of room. One look into his big, sad brown eyes and I was a goner! I immediately and easily loved my new son.
Despite language barriers, emotional needs and a few discipline issues, it did not take Alex long to acclimate to his new world or Zach to adapt to his new role as a big brother. As for me, while I had moments of mom fails, I was settling into raising two active little guys. We kept busy going to the local pool, taking long walks, going on adventures around town and even having play dates. Unbelievably I even babysat a few other little boys, proving to myself that I could care for children from a wheelchair. Patting myself on the back, I was proudly proving that doctor wrong.
Months after Alex came home from across the globe, I began to get sick frequently. Loving my stay-at-home mom role, caring for my husband and two sons, it was frustrating to feel sick to my stomach often. It put a damper on our activities since I needed to run (or wheel quickly) to the bathroom and didn’t want to be too far from home. Finding out I was pregnant was a complete shock as well as a blow to my current state of contentment. Fear wrapped itself around both my heart and brain, allowing worry to settle in and doubts to crop up! How could I manage a high risk pregnancy along with my other health issues while continuing to raise two energetic boys? And how on earth would I manage a newborn, a preschooler and a first grader?
Honestly I don’t know how I managed it. But somehow I did! Giving birth to my beautiful, sweet 8 pound daughter, Morgan Elizabeth, is a miracle story in itself. Months of weekly doctor’s appointments paid off when both of us came through the C-section healthy without any unexpected complications (other than a nurse breaking my wheelchair after driving it into a wall). Growing our family from one child to three children in 18 months was not in our plan but thankfully God is wiser because I love my three children and their three unique stories of life.
Raising three children was indeed taxing on me physically and emotionally. I had many surgeries, hospital stays and health concerns while they were growing up. Many days I was exhausted, weary and lacking. Often I lost my patience, yelled too much and even said some naughty words.
Sometimes I thought back on the words of that doctor, knowing that I was much more than a paraplegic. I was a wife. A mom. A daughter. A sister. A friend.
So yes, it is true… I have physical limitations! As a mom of young kids, I could not kick a soccer ball when they wanted to practice at home; I could not swim laps in the pool on a hot summer day; I could not ride a bicycle through the neighborhood in the dusk of the evenings; I could not hike through trails with them to enjoy the crisp, fall air; I could not give “under ducky’s” to make the swing go higher and faster; I could not…; I could not… that list can go on and on of things I was unable to do with my children. And that does make me sad if I dwell on it. I wish I could have experienced those activities with my kiddos.
But was that doctor right? I don’t think so… I do not believe my limitations hindered my ability to be a mom. I hope that instead my children think back on their childhood and remember having dance parties in the dark to loud, thumping music; snuggling on my bed reading book after book; catching fireflies on summer evenings; throwing rocks and sticks into the creek to see how big the water would splash; doing crafts around the dining room table; riding on the back of my wheelchair as fast as it could go to the bus stop; or looking into the crowd and seeing that I was cheering them on at every game, concert, meet or recital. So while I may worry sometimes that they were jipped out of a normal childhood, I pray they know they were loved unconditionally and constantly by a mom who sat 24/7.
So my encouragement to myself and hopefully to others…
* Don’t let someone else’s words or opinions be a manacle around you, stopping you from pursuing something great. Instead use them as fuel to move forward, jumping over every hurdle in your path.
* Watch your words. Use them to encourage and spur on, not to tear down, belittle or hurt. The phrase “sticks and stones” is a lot of malarkey. Words are impactful and often get repeated as a mantra in one’s head. Let your words be a positive melody and not a negative clanging.
* Instead of letting challenges limit you, use them to build your character, your strength, your faith!
* Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Focus on the I can’s!
* And most importantly don’t let fear stop you from living a life of love and joy. Give it to God. Trust me, He’s got you!
Lastly… I did have my tubes tied because while I wanted to prove that doctor wrong, I am not a fool! Three children was plenty for this paraplegic!
Standing in the hospital with Zach.
My little baby could often be found on my lap.
Alex still in Romania with those big brown eyes. Melt my heart!
Brothers meet the first day.
Little sister joins two proud brothers.
After a surgery, we had a bedtime snack in my hospital bed at home!
My three best gifts!
My three plus their three equals six of my favorite people! I love being their Mom!
(Left to right… Alex with his wife, Mandi; Jaiden with his wife & my daughter, Morgan; Zach with his wife, Katie)