Photo by Layna Hendrich of PhotographyLayn

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Being a Wheeling Momma (Part 2)

I thought being pregnant and delivering Addison would be the hardest part of being a Mom. Boy, was I naive! Considering the pregnancy was fairly normal, and I was sedated during the delivery, I should have known that the craziness best was yet to come.

I am a type-A, OCD, planner. One of my favorite quotes is, "I adore spontaneity, providing it is carefully planned." :) So when we found out we were having a baby, my nerdiness kicked in and the research began! I read books, scoured internet sites and blogs, stalked carefully observed other moms with their children, etc. I had this.

And then we brought Addison home. Right off the bat, I knew she was trouble. This five pound bundle was willful, disobedient, and incredibly strong willed, all traits I know she got from her Father... She didn't do what the books and websites said she would do- actually, she usually did the opposite!

I quickly learned that this Mom thing was going to be tougher than I thought. And not because I was in a wheelchair. Parenting is just plain hard! But fortunately, as I would learn, very much worth it.

I discovered that if I used the good advice I received from others, and molded it to fit our situation and personalities, sprinkled in with amazing teamwork from Russ and a LOT of prayer, life began to make a little more sense with this new addition to our family. And while it's definitely a daily education, and some days I still wonder if I birthed the Anti-Christ, being a Mom is the best job title in the world.

When I think back over the last three years, I am thankful that God blessed me with a great imagination and a determination to make things work. After we got home from the hospital, a lot of my old fears resurfaced. What if I dropped her or rolled over her? How would I manage when Russ went back to work? Would I ever leave the house again? I decided then and there that Addison and I were a team, and that we would just have to figure things out as they came along.

So here are some of the things that we learned together along the way. Keep in mind, with my injury level, I have horrible balance, but decent upper body strength. So while these tips worked for me, everyone will need to modify things to work for you and your abilities.

Tip #1: Grab a baby doll that weighs around 8 pounds and head to the nearest baby store

We don't have a huge selection or showroom of baby equipment here in Cody, so on a trip to Boise for work, Russ and I stopped in to a Babies 'R' Us. I wanted to know what style of crib, changing table, car seat/stroller, etc. would be best for me without buying it first. Think of this as a practice run for building your baby registry. Try putting the baby doll in the cribs, taking it off of the changing tables, and pushing it around in some of the strollers that are out on display. If it's there- try it out. You would be surprised how many different styles of high chairs are out there, and they all open a little differently. You may feel a little silly with the doll at first, but it can be a lifesaver, and much easier than borrowing a real baby for the adventure.

Tip #2: Create your accessible happy place

In the house we brought Addison home to, her nursery was pretty tiny. As in I had to back out of it because I couldn't even turn around in my wheelchair. Definitely not ADA standards by any means. :) So I built my first happy place in our bedroom. Bad idea. Your accessible happy place needs to be somewhere where you can have everything you need for the first several months of your baby's life, but it also needs to be out in some room of your house that doesn't encourage hermit-ness. (My spell check is telling me I just made up that word...) In the bedroom, it was too easy to literally stay in there all day long. Not great for helping out that post-partum depression/homicidal/suicidal/I kept the receipt can I give her back phase that most honest Moms go through.

So I moved to the living room. Much better accessible happy place! I had my pack 'n' play (or bassinet) complete with changing surface and storage, my breast pump, several changes of clothes, spit rags, and a little section of anything and everything needed to change or care for a small human. This was all placed within reach of my couch. (Did I mention I was still recovering from a pretty gnarly emergency C-section?) For the first few months, I camped out here. I could feed Addison, change her, play with her, and take naps with her, all in my happy place. It was a great bonding experience (for the most part) as I learned all about her, her needs, her communication, etc.

After the first few months, this happy place evolved, but it remained in the living room. The pack 'n' play was on wheels, so if we had visitors, it was easy to shove in the guest room if needed. As Addison started to grow and get more mobile, and I regained my strength and own mobility, I was able to move to the floor at times with her, which was great for both of us. Once she started crawling, I used large toys and a new furniture configuration to keep her boxed in to the area where I was at if I was on the floor with her. Trust me- they are hard enough to chase down when you are in your wheelchair. Army crawling after them across carpet is not fun. They are fast little spiders.

Eventually, I didn't need the happy place any more, but it was definitely a lifesaver as I adjusted to my new role and responsibilities.

Tip #3: The art of lifting- get creative

One of my biggest concerns was always carrying/lifting Addison. Luckily, she was tiny to begin with, so I was able to ease in to the process. I found that when I wanted to carry her on my lap, a nursing pillow, like a Boppy, was invaluable. I could put the Boppy on my lap, and she fit perfectly between my body and the pillow. I've even heard of people using a bungy cord to secure the Boppy to the back of their chair to ensure it stays in place. If she was on the floor or other lower spot, I would always keep a blanket underneath her body, so when I needed to pick her up, I could just grab the corners of the blanket and use it as a sling to get her off of the ground and on my lap. Sounds a little primitive, but it worked great!

As she got older, and she was able to sit up by herself, she rode on my lap like a champ. I always kept one hand on her and did the whole "push with one arm, switch arms, push with other arm" that I do when I am carrying something in my hand. I have to say, I think kids with parents that use wheelchairs must learn superior balancing skills at an early age for survival purposes. She was also easier to get off of the ground once she could reach and pull up a little by herself. Pretty soon she was crawling up my legs to get in my lap. Oddly enough, that hasn't changed as her mode to get to Mommy as quickly as possible.

A lot of people will tell you to use a sling when carrying your baby. I tried a couple of different ones, but honestly, for me, they ended up being more of a hindrance than a help. I could never get comfortable in one, and they always rubbed my sides and shoulders when I was wheeling around. I know other wheelchair Moms who swear by their slings, so talk to your other Mom friends who have slings and see if someone will let you try one out. Aren't you glad you kept your baby doll from Tip #1?

Tip #4: Get out of the house

You have to do it sometime. I know it's scary, but it beats becoming a recluse. And we all know how important our independence is. My rule on this is, if you did it before baby, you can do it after baby. You just need to get creative. And patient. And you have to give yourself about double the time, at least in the beginning.

I know everyone gets in their car differently, and that some people transfer and some people stay in their chairs. Again, depending on your personal abilities, this is going to be a varied process for each parent. I found that I was able to put Addison in her car seat, leave it at the top of my ramp, go down the ramp, and then reach up and retrieve the car seat. I then carried it to the car on my lap, again using the one hand motion, and put it in her car seat base. Then I loaded the diaper bag, the stroller, and then myself and my chair. Labor intensive and a little time consuming, but I think most wheelchair users are used to things taking us a little bit longer. :) Once she was too big for her infant car seat, she was able to ride on my lap down the ramp, and I wore a transfer belt to keep her on my lap. Remember those annoying belts that the therapists used to transfer you in therapy? Turns out they make excellent child seat belts while on Mom's lap! In to the car seat she went, and away we would go. Unloading was the same process, just backward.

I have seen parents in chairs do this a million different ways, but bottom line, practice before baby comes and don't give up! Maintaining your independence is crucial, and being able to run errands and go to doctor's appointments with your baby is a great bonding opportunity. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy having Russ with me on multiple occasions to help out, but Addison and I figure stuff out together all the time on our own, and I think we make a pretty good team too!

Tip #5: Specific items that made it all possible

As a disclaimer, I am in no way endorsing these products, nor am I being reimbursed in any way for telling you how amazing they are. They are just awesome pieces of equipment that I found worked best for me. That is all.

Strollers: Baby Trend - Jogger Travel System

To me, this was the most essential piece of baby equipment when it came to maintaining my independence. Not only is this stroller easy to push from a wheelchair, but it's easy to load baby into, it has great storage, and it's easy to fold and load in to the back of my car. This thing changed my life. And Russ likes it too. Amazing product for wheeling parents.

Crib: DaVinci Parker 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

This crib has a sloped front, which made it so much easier for me to get Addison in and out of her bed when she was tiny and not able to reach for me. At this point, the crib mattress is still at the top stage, so she was easy to access. As they grow, the mattress lowers, but they should be able to help you out by reaching and pulling themselves up. Good storage underneath for extra sheets/blankets, and it has a matching changing table and dresser. This crib also converts and grows with your child. We are getting ready to convert Addison's to a full size bed this weekend. I don't want to talk about it.

Bath: Portable bath with shower unit

Of course, they no longer make the bath we had, but this one is pretty similar. I found leaning over a tub or even trying to properly access my kitchen sink was a chore, so this bath was very helpful. I could sit at the kitchen table and give Addison a bath. The infant sling was great, and the shower piece made rinsing her off so much easier- and fun! If needed, I could fill the tub with a pitcher, and empty it the same way until it was almost completely empty, and then dump the remaining water in the sink. Addison loved this tub too. As she got older and outgrew the tub, we eventually moved to the regular tub in the bathroom, but only after she was able to control her body movements a lot better. And even then, I usually had Russ get her out, just because a slippery, wiggling baby made this balance challenged Mom a little nervous. But, I still was able to enjoy bathing her completely indpendently in the beginning, and with minimal assistance after. I even know parents who use a laundry basket in the bath tub for making bath times a little easier. Again- practice! (Who knew you would learn to depend on that baby doll so much...?)

Baby Monitor: Something with a video screen

These can be a little pricey, but they are so worth it. In the wee hours of the morning, when you are sleep deprived and your back is killing you, it is so nice to be able to actually SEE your baby in the other room and know that they aren't dying as opposed to getting up, transferring into your chair, wheeling in to the nursery, adjusting a blanket, wheeling back, transferring back into bed, finding that perfect position with your body pillow to prevent pressure sores, and falling back asleep for a few more precious minutes, until you repeat the process all over again. These also come in handy when your willful toddler is supposed to be taking a nap, and you have finally stretched out in your recliner for a few brief moments of back pain relief, and you hear some noise coming from their room that sounds suspiciously like playtime, and you can tell them to get back in bed and stop doing specifically what they are doing, which really freaks them out because they didn't know you were watching them from the other room. Whew! Not that I am speaking from personal experience or anything. Get one!

Cart Cover: Leachco Prop 'n' Shop

I love, and continue to use, this cart cover, for many reasons. It fits every shopping cart I've ever come across, it has side pillows, it has storage in the back, it holds toys that can't be thrown on the floor, and it is easily cleaned in the washing machine. Love! I was able to grocery shop independently before Addison was born, and now, it is one of our favorite outings together. Once a week we load up and head to Walmart. I never knew grocery shopping could be such an educational experience for a toddler! It's great for social interaction, for learning about lots of different items, and for bonding between Mom and child. We are a good team on a normal day, but at Walmart, we are a force to be reckoned with. And a good cart cover makes it a much more enjoyable experience.

Safety Gates: Something similar to this

I used to think safety gates were my friends way of keeping me out of certain areas where they didn't want tire tracks on their floors. Could there be a more inaccessible product out there for parents in chairs? Fortunately, our first home didn't have stairs or any other features that I had to try and keep Addison away from, but when we built our current home, we put in a basement with stairs. At this time, we don't have the elevator installed, and I don't have a daily need to go to the basement, so they aren't a problem for me. They are, however, for my adventurous little girl. When I went to purchase a safety gate, I quickly found that these were definitely invented by an able-bodied person. Here are some things to look for when researching a w/c friendly gate:
  • Make sure the entire gate swings- those accordion fold things are a nightmare
  • Avoid the ones with little doors in the middle- they are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, and hopping over the little piece of plastic at the bottom of the opening is not fun and not conducive to actually keeping the gate in working order
  • Make sure you can access and operate the lock from both sides of the gate (I am positive these latches were invented by someone who HATES parents)

Obviously, this is not an all inclusive list of baby products, but it should hopefully get you started. There are millions of products out there, which can be great, but it is also a little intimidating wading through the variety, especially if you are a first-time parent like I was.

I use to worry about being a parent in a wheelchair. Would my child be embarrassed by me? Would they "miss out" on things because they didn't have two, able-bodied parents? I quickly learned that Addison having a parent in a wheelchair is actually a positive thing. She was introduced to people with disabilities from the beginning, and they are more "normal" to her than able-bodied individuals. She sees other people in chairs and is drawn to them, instead of being frightened as some children are. I truly believe that having a parent in a wheelchair will make Addison a more compassionate, grounded, well-rounded adult one day. She's going to change the world, and this wheeling Momma can't wait to see how she does it! Now if I could just get her to poop on the potty...

I'm sorry that this turned in to such a long post! I hope that it can answer some questions for some of the wheeling users out there, or at least open the door to some great questions or conversations. Please feel free to comment below, or on the Facebook link where I will link this blog post. And as always, you can contact me at with other questions or comments. Thank you!

(Another great picture from Layna of me and my mini-me)

Layna Hendrich/ Photography Layn


  1. Hi Ashlee, What a great, detailed explanation of those responsibilities. All of those tasks are already so hard for those not in wheelchairs. Your "next step" should definitely be a book or some "vehicle" to get the word more out there for the moms. So glad we met at the Ms Wheelchair Pageant this year. You ARE AWESOME!