Pregnant and Paralyzed: Debunking Stereotypes

Kristin and her husband and dogPregnancy is a beautiful thing with a humongous prize at the end, but that’s not me saying it’s easy. My body is changing and adapting to a circumstance it never has before. There are loads of new logistical challenges to accommodate, and a few social obstacles as well. If we throw disability in the mix with pregnancy, the social side is, in a lot of ways, the trickiest of all. Let’s talk about that more.

I’ve been paralyzed from my mid-torso for almost two decades. In that time and with my never-ending hard work, I’m able to live independently, I’ve completed 16 marathons on a handcycle, tried almost every adaptive sport, graduated high school and college in a walker, and I’ve overcome a truckload of my doctor’s predictions concerning my sensation/motor return. That’s not to brag, just to say: I set goals, then I chase ‘em down. Right now, I’m chasing after my goal of motherhood.

In more than a few instances, I’ve had interesting conversations around my pregnancy. I chose the word “interesting,” as opposed to “offensive” or “frustrating,” because I don’t think any of it was malicious – just misinformed. Mostly, I was surprised by what people assumed and the stereotypes they so readily cast on my husband and me.

The assumption is: she’s in a wheelchair and she’s less able, so he’ll have to do most of the work to raise their child.

“The work,” refers to getting out of bed in the middle of the night, moving baby from surface to surface, giving baby a bath, changing poopy diapers, and on. My motivation for this article sparked after a conversation with a family member, telling me he “feels sorry for” my husband because “he’ll be overburdened by how much he’ll have to do.” That’s not the first time I’ve heard it, probably won’t be the last, and let me first say that it’s not polite. Let’s clear this up, and save the next person some grief.

Yes, some things will be more difficult to do from my seated position and/or due to my lack of core muscle below my injury level. But let’s remember that thousands of disabled people have raised children before me, and there are thousands of adaptations and/or products on the market to make motherhood accessible to people of all abilities. It’s not fair or correct that my husband will be overburdened, or even that we’ll be taking an unequal amount of work in raising our son. I may not be able to lift him over my head or spin him in circles, but I will be able to love, feed, and care for our baby in the same way any mother can. In fact, exposing our kid to disability from such a young age will be a huge advantage to his perspective and attitude toward variance in others. I see my disability as a benefit to my parenting, not an obstacle. I’m just bummed that it isn’t more of a commonplace.

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It’s time to stop with the language of burden and instead look at people’s differences as a benefit. We can also stop speculating on what people can and can’t do, because that only puts limits on potential. It’s 2023, guys. Anything is possible.

All that said, there’s nothing wrong with receiving help when it’s needed and requested. I will, for example, put my husband on as many poopy diapers as I can get away with. I’ll ask for and accept help when I need it, but let’s not just assume that it’s needed. That can be hurtful, intentionally or not.

There’s nothing inherent about having a disability that means I (or you) can’t be a good parent. In fact, it’s because of a disability that I can be a great one.

About the Author - Kristin Beale

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of three books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, Wide Awake, and a comic book, Date Me. Instagram: @kristin.gupta

Kristin Beale