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Portraits & Stories

Becoming Parents with Spinal Cord Injury

Four stories about the eternal “labour”

Four stories about the eternal “labour”

Today is the International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day. On this special day, I’d like to share with you stories of a special kind of labours.

These labours are on duty 24/7, unpaid. Some get the “job” with little effort but some need to overcome many hurdles to land themselves this unique job.

Yes, these labours are parents.

Labour is probably not an appropriate word to describe parents. After all, parenting requires more than hard physical effort. It is a lifelong process of nurturing the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of a child. It requires great care and perseverance.

Since parenting is such a great responsibility, many question: how can people with disabilities handle that? Let’s find the answers in the following parenting stories.

Wheelchair parents in Belarus

According to the UN Population Fund’s World Population Dashboard, there is only a 0.2 difference between the total fertility rate of women in Switzerland and Belarus. However, it’s a different story for women with spinal cord injury (SCI) in these two countries.

Not only a matter of fertility for SCI couples to have children in Belarus. (Source: Denis Zelenko for Imena Magazine)

Anya comes from Belarus and is a wheelchair user since 14. She wanted to start a family with her husband Zhenya, who also suffers from SCI since teenage years. Unfortunately, having children is a frightening idea for people with disabilities in Belarus. Many are either unaware of their right to have children, or ignorant about fertility and childbirth after spinal cord injury. Some are even told by doctors that pregnancy would do themselves harm and are advised abortion for medical reasons.

Anya and Zhenya are one of the few lucky couples with disabilities to have overcome the barriers and started a family in Belarus. Their daughter was born in 2016, making them the first wheelchair users in the city of Mozyr to start a family.

Read more about their journey of becoming parents and future family plan in the original article “Two wheelchairs and a stroller: Overcoming barriers to parenthood in Belarus”.

When one parent is in wheelchair

One common question from a SCI and non-SCI couple: “If my partner is affected by SCI, what are our odds of having a child?”

Fertility following SCI is different for men and women. As explained in one of our Wiki articles, a woman’s ovaries already contain all the ova she will ever produce when she is born and the necessary functions for fertility are not controlled by the spinal cord. Thus, SCI has no direct effect on female fertility, except the period immediately following the injury.

For men with SCI, it could be more challenging to conceive since the quality of the sperm following SCI is almost always lower than before. In another Wiki article, you can find various possibilities for men with SCI to have children.

Here are the successful stories of Sarah Belgrave and Jai Waite from New Zealand. Sarah is paraplegic whereas Jai is quadriplegic. They both have an able-bodied partner. Sarah became pregnant naturally and is now mom of twins. Jai successfully got his wife pregnant with aid in ejaculation.

In the videos, Sarah and Jai shared their experience of becoming a parent. They have proved to be competent parents despite their physical limitations.

Sarah’s and Jai’s experience in parenting would be very different without their positivity and support from their families and friends. Here’s another tip from the article “A Wheelchair Doesn’t Make My Husband Any Less of a Father” for those who share the parenting responsibility with an able-bodied partner:

“… be open and honest with your partner about parenting and discipline, but don’t overpower your spouse.”

Nina W., mom to three kids

The goals are to parent as a team and not to let the able-bodied partner become the default authority figure.

From able-bodied to disabled parent

People of the above stories became parents after SCI. In contrast, the person in the following story was already a mom before SCI.

Parenting with SCI can also result in a thriving relationship with children. (Source: screenshot from Global News)

Janie Gaudet, a mother of two, lives in Vancouver. She suffered an incomplete SCI when her younger daughter was two years old. Although she had moments of frustration at the beginning, Janie later successfully adapted to parenting as a person with SCI.

With her strong determination and willpower, Janie sets a good example to her daughters. Not only is her disability not an obstacle to parenting, but it also helps her daughters develop a natural sense of being helpful and inclusive.

Find out more from the original article “Parenting with a disability: spinal cord injury”.

Do you have or consider to have children despite the additional challenges you face with SCI? Which tips do you have to face these challenges?

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