Just a note, the article below is powerful, informative and incredibly candid. I'm honored to have Ashley Taylor with disabledparents.org share her journey.
Bringing home a new baby is, for many parents, the greatest day of their lives. If you are disabled, you will experience that joy undiluted. That said, there are many ways you can prepare ahead and arrange your home to make child rearing easier. As a mom with severe scoliosis, I’m no stranger to the challenges that are faced as a result of being a disabled parent, but I’m here to share some tips on how you can better prepare yourself for parenthood. Read on to find out how.
Arrange furniture ahead of time
Everyone needs to anticipate the needs of a new baby in the arrangement of their home’s furniture. Where will your baby sleep? How will you know if your baby needs you? The crib for your new baby needs to be conveniently located so that you don’t have to keep moving it around.
The crib will need to be near enough so that you can hear your baby while you are sleeping. If you spend most of your waking day in the kitchen, a good place to park the crib might be midway between the kitchen and your bedroom.
Make sure that baby supplies, like diapers, powder, ointments, formula, and bottles, are located in sturdy cabinets and that you can easily reach all of these supplies.
It’s a good idea to anticipate the baby’s crawling period. Be sure you have enough gates to keep a crawling child from falling down stairs or going into an unsafe part of the house. Gates will also be helpful when your child becomes mobile. My disability significantly impacts my mobility, so having gates up gives me peace of mind that when things get quiet, my little one isn’t in trouble (at least not too much.)
Also consider what furniture could be easily knocked over by a crawling baby, and bolt those items to the floor or strap them to a more stable piece of furniture. Make sure cabinets containing cleaning supplies are child-proofed.
There is a lot of good technology out there to ease the physical strain of picking up a baby, bathing a baby, and clothing a baby. Check out baby bathtubs that were designed for disabled parents, along with clothing that can be easily fastened without laces or buttons. Find the piece of adaptive equipment that works best for you. For me, the swivel base car seat made buckling my child easier, and put way less strain on my back. Others might find that a front opening crib is necessary. Parents as a whole are all about life hacks, and adaptive child care equipment is most definitely one of them.
Many disabled parents worldwide find themselves without sufficient financial resources. Simultaneously, one study shows that disabled parents are sometimes reluctant to ask for social services because they think there’s a stigma attached.
Be aware that you are entitled to services offered by both federal and state governments. These services are by no means charity. They exist to help parents like you.
If you are on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), your child may also be eligible for income from this same program. A quick read through of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities guidelines will tell you whether you and your child will qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In general, three-person families who have an income of $2,213 a month or less will qualify.
There are many privately-administered grants and subsidies available for disabled parents. Be sure to do your research and avail yourself of all of the resources out there.
It takes a village
There is no substitute for having a support system when you have a baby. Parenting is rewarding, but it can be stressful whether you have a partner to help you or are a single parent. Meet other parents-to-be, perhaps during Lamaze classes, while you are still pregnant and forge partnerships. These other parents will be there for you when you need them. It will be great to have a second pair of hands and eyes during trips to the playground and the park.
Let friends and family help you. You will need people to watch your child while you are grocery shopping, going to the doctor, and at work. However, when you first bring your child home, you might find it beneficial to limit the help you receive. This might sound counterintuitive, but I found that once I was left to do it on my own, it was like bringing home the baby all over again. It’s hard to say no to help when it’s right there, so take some time to get in the groove first.
In conclusion, no wheelchair or other disability is going to make you anything less than a splendid parent. Preparation and advanced planning, along with a support system, are all that are needed. Welcome to what many people consider the one thing that makes life most rewarding!
Ashley Taylor is a freelance writer, photographer, and advocate for people with disabilities. She created DisabledParents.org to provide information and resources to other parents with disabilities. When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.