kids

'My husband has a disability. I don't. This is what I wish I'd known before we had a kid.'

My husband has a type of cerebral palsy called diplegia. Both of his legs are affected and although he can walk, it is difficult for him. He typically has trouble walking for a long time and with balance. Other than that, his disability hasn’t prevented him from living a full life.

When we were trying to conceive, we didn’t really take his disability into account. I was convinced everything would be fine. It’s never got in the way of our life. In fact, we hardly think about it. So why would parenthood be any different?

Vanessa Cranfield on parenting a child with a disability. Post continues below. 


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Unbeknownst to me, my husband had a lot of worries. This intensified when I got pregnant. He had never had to think about what he couldn’t do. But now he was going to be a father, he was forced to think about his physical limitations.

Although my husband did share some of these worries, I was optimistic. I would reassure him, truly believing everything would be fine. I realise now I was being dismissive.

***

Our daughter was born on July 4, 2019. It was a pretty straightforward birth, but the difficulties we would face as parents became apparent in the delivery room. When I needed my husband to help me through my contractions whilst I had an epidural, he struggled due to his physical barriers. When I went to have a shower after the epidural had worn off, he was tasked with washing and dressing our daughter. Physical barriers made this difficult for him.

During my stay on the ward, it was impossible to sleep. In the day people’s families were visiting and at night everyone’s babies were crying. I managed to get an hour of sleep during the day when my husband came to visit. But he had to wake me up as our daughter needed changing, and he couldn’t do it by himself. I became hysterical. The mixture of sleep deprivation and being hit with the reality I would have limited physical support was too much.

Laura Fox's husband and their daughter. Image: Laura Fox/Supplied 

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We struggled during our first month of parenthood. My husband was too afraid to do any of the physical caretaking so left it to me. I wouldn’t ask for help as I was determined to prove that we were fine. If I ignored everything that was wrong it would go away.

But ignoring problems only makes them bigger, not smaller. And I could have avoided many of these difficulties if I had listened to my husband.

***

Eleven months on, we co-parent well together. But it has been a long and needlessly painful journey. It has especially been painful for my husband. For the first time in his life, he had to think about what he can’t do. If I had of been supportive rather than ableist, we could have prepared for the physical challenges and minimised the impact on his self-confidence.

To other parents in an inter-abled relationship, I hope you can learn something from the following if you are planning on having a baby:

Communicate!

Communication isn’t just the act of talking. It’s also about listening.

If you are the able-bodied parent, please don’t dismiss what your partner is telling you. Like me, it might come from a good place when you are reassuring them that everything will be fine. But they know their bodies and physical limitations better than you do and it’s ableist to assume otherwise.

Accept help

Because our circumstances are unusual, we both felt a sense of pride in proving we could look after our daughter with minimal help. This is a very unhealthy attitude to have. Able-bodied parents have help from family members with their newborn babies. It’s very normal to accept help, especially during the first month.

I think our focus became about proving we were just as competent as able-bodied parents. My husband felt like less of a father for needing others to carry our daughter for him and other physical caregiving. I felt like a rubbish wife for not being the one who could help him with everything. But parenthood isn’t a competition. All too often, we compare ourselves with other parents and it’s not healthy.

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Accepting help is normal. It’s healthy. And it’s an act of compassion, both towards yourself and your little one.

Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. On this episode, hosts Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss parenting kids with additional needs. 

Do things your way

Speaking of normal, everybody’s normal is different. It’s important to do what works for you.

My husband and I do not subscribe to traditional gender roles. Partly because we don’t believe in them and partly because physical limitations prevent us from doing so. The same applies to our parenting.

Whilst my husband may not be able to do many of the physical aspects of parenting, there’s a lot he can do. He can calm down our daughter and get her to sleep. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t do that. He does most of the household chores whilst I do the physical caregiving. And that really helps. Anyone who has kids will agree that having someone take care of chores is a lifesaver. I wouldn’t eat most days if it wasn’t for my husband taking care of the cooking.

Babies aren’t babies for long

The newborn stage was tough, and we thought it would never end. But before we knew it, our daughter was sitting up. This meant my husband could use the walker to put her in to transport her from room to room. She much preferred this to me picking her up and spoiling her fun. Then suddenly she could crawl and goes to my husband if he calls her. Now she is able to stand and is close to walking. The fact my husband can’t pick her up matters a lot less now.

Things change so much every day. A difficult patch won’t last forever.

***

It’s important to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. My husband can’t carry our daughter up and down the stairs and will never be able to. But I can carry her for him so he can spend time cuddling her in bed, so she feels safe and relaxed. He is an expert as calming down babies. If you have a screaming baby, give them to my husband!

He’s also great at making her laugh, reading her stories, and can patiently play with her for ages without getting bored. All of these things mean so much more to a child than being able to pick them up and carry them from room to room. They definitely mean more to our daughter. I’ve never known a child so in love with their daddy.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. 

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Feature image: Instagram @laura_e_fox_

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