Written by Krystal Matthews – PDA SA Associate Director
Some women have a burning desire to have children. Other women decide not to have children. There is also a large group of women who never knew how much they wanted children until they discovered fertility issues.
I belong to a group not talked about in society often, if at all. I am a disabled women who grew up with a burning maternal instinct to be a mother. I am also a woman who is considered less capable of being a mother by society even before those 2 pink lines show up on a pregnancy test – simply because of my disability.
Most couples speak to their GP about starting a family. I knew this was a conversation best avoided for me; medical professionals have never filled me with optimism. My Child Studies teacher told me that she didn’t want me to participate in the assessment of having a computerised baby. According to her, it would be too difficult for me and she didn’t want me to drop and break this expensive baby doll. It was then, at 15 years old, that I was already classed as a ‘bad mother’ – before I was even given an opportunity to become one. It didn’t make sense to me. Was it because of my Cerebral Palsy? Or because of my physical limitations and wheelchair? Despite my lifelong dedication to fitting into this mainstream world, I was still being rejected by it and my one pivotal dream seemed like it was frowned upon by society.
This didn’t stop me from viewing myself as a mum in the future. It just made me understand that being a mum in a wheelchair would be harder; mostly because of how non-disabled people view disabled people and because I would need to convince the world that I could be a good mum whilst at the same time trying to convince myself.
I met my partner in 2012 and the paradigm shifted. He had a beautiful 4 year old daughter who taught me that children only want your love, attention and fun. None of these three needs were impacted by my wheelchair and, as I fell in love with my partner, my love for her blossomed equally. She didn’t see my disability like adults do and she adored that I liked to play like a child. So much of my childhood was consumed with physiotherapy activities disguised as play and this has made me actively seek out childlike fun as an adult. The step-parent role was my crash course into parenting and it filled me with confidence and a stronger desire to have my own child, alongside my step-daughter.
Pregnancy was my biggest mainstream role to date; I felt like a ‘real’ woman for the first time. I went to the hospital for mainstream appointments, and I could happily complain about all the mainstream side effects that pregnant women talk about such as nausea and tiredness. I’m not going to lie, being pregnant and in a wheelchair was rough to say the least. People thought I was in a wheelchair because I was pregnant, not a woman in a wheelchair who was pregnant. I was also asked a lot about how our baby was conceived, as if the idea of a woman with a disability having sex was considered outside the realm of possibility. I can’t imagine an able-bodied woman getting asked this question when she tells people she is pregnant.
I gave birth to my baby girl, Zara on the 14th of May 2019 by c-section. It was the first operation I had, and from it I received the most beautiful gift. Giving birth to child who is able-bodied was like giving birth to a child who has superpowers.
When Zara was 9 months old, she looked up at me with her arms open and her big blue eyes begging me to pick her up, which I couldn’t do standing up. Nothing prepared me for that moment. The guilt a mother can feel is astronomical, especially when your baby’s needs are your number one focus.
Every new mother has guilt and anxieties, and I worked through them like I did with every challenge in my life until then. Zara and I are the perfect partnership. She knows I need to sit down before I pick her up. She knows I need my wheelchair before we leave the house. She knows that she can put on her shoes faster than I can put on my shoes. Zara gets excited when she sees another person in a wheelchair as it assimilates her mainstream world. My 13-year-old bonus daughter sees the world a little differently now. I hope she sees the uniqueness in difference and that fitting in all the time is overrated.
My definition of being a good mum is not wrapped up in trying to fit into the mainstream world. Now, as an adult and a mother, I look back at myself as a child and I need to honour the little girl in the pink wheelchair; I kept moving, I kept trying and I didn’t listen to the adults who underestimated me. That little girl will teach my girls something special; that little girl made sure that the only person who was going to shape her world was me.
Tips for women with a physical disability thinking about having children.
• Listen to your own voice, consider what you need, what your individual situation is and seek out a medical team that is supportive.
• Focus on building up your strength and fitness to support your pregnancy
• Work with an Occupational Therapist and a Physio Therapist before, during and after pregnancy to support you.
• Be your own best friend. Shape your own world and know that you are made for your child and your child is made for you.
• Read other stories of disabled parents. We are out there. Read “We’ve Got This” by Eliza Hull.