Adapting to change

Della Sharpe of Swindon, Wiltshire, UK, describes how she developed her own ways of adapting to motherhood.

I was born prematurely in May 1973. I was the firstborn of twins –  sadly, my twin sister died after 20 hours. I have mild cerebral palsy, which affects my legs and sense of balance.

Before my pregnancy I walked unaided except for supports in my shoes to stop the roll of my ankles. I used a stick when walking a lot or as extra support if it was wet or icy. My balance is basically like a toddler – I am easily knocked off balance. I worked full time as a family support worker for a children’s charity, which was quite physically and emotionally demanding.

Challenges of pregnancy

My husband and I were very lucky in that we conceived very quickly. We were married on 4 August and discovered I was pregnant on 11 September. I saw my general practitioner the next day.

I have a family history of high blood pressure and mine had always been borderline. My blood pressure was now very high and I was promptly put on medication. We went through all the booking procedures and my doctor told me briefly what checks and tests would happen and that, because I had high blood pressure, cerebral palsy (although this could not be passed on to my child) and the family history of twins, I would be under consultant care.

The first few weeks were OK. I was very, very, tired (one of the side-effects of the medication was tiredness) and I had morning sickness. I did manage to work but was often late. At 11 weeks I started to get abdominal pains and was showing quite a little bump. I was sent for a scan to check for twins – only one, thank goodness – and signed off work. I had pains on and off through most of the pregnancy and was off work most of the time. My midwife thought they were just growing pains caused by my body physically stretching.

I was referred to an obstetric physiotherapist, who gave me a support belt to help my back, and crutches. At first I didn’t find the crutches helpful but by 25 weeks I was more stable with them. For the first three months I was very tired but after that I swam once or twice on a good week up until about 34 weeks. After this I was too big to fit behind the steering wheel of the car and it was just too much effort to get dressed, undressed and in and out of the pool. I began to use a Zimmer frame for walking; at this point it became more helpful than crutches.

More communication needed

I was supposed to be induced at 38 weeks because of my blood pressure problem. However, at 1.15am on 29 April 2003 my waters broke. At 5.25am, at 37 weeks 3 days gestation, William Robert Sharpe was born, weighing 5lbs 13oz. My labour was very easy and quick and I managed with just gas and air. I was lucky enough to be in a brand new hospital with new equipment, including very adaptable beds. The midwife was very good. As soon as she realised that laying on my back pushing was not effective she rolled me on to my left side and put my right leg up in stirrups. I was hanging on to the bed rails with both hands pushing against them with every contraction. I think giving birth in this way worked for me because I was able to utilise the strength in my upper body to push. My husband was very supportive.

I cannot fault the care I received while I was pregnant and during labour. With hindsight, the care I received in hospital afterwards could have been improved if the staff had been more aware of my cerebral palsy. Because my labour was so quick I don’t think all the necessary information was passed on.

I was not prepared at all for how devastated my body and co-ordination would be. Immediately after giving birth I could walk very easily, but 24 hours later I could hardly walk at all. This seemed to surprise the staff and every time there was a change of staff I had to explain about the cerebral palsy. I had to use the Zimmer frame to get around the room and to the toilet. I was trying to breastfeed but couldn’t carry William from the cot to the chair safely, so needed staff to do this. After two days an auxiliary nurse suggested that a cot attached to my bed may have been better. It was a bit late by then as I was going home the next day.

Developing my own methods

My husband had seven weeks off after William was born and his help was invaluable. For the first week I couldn’t carry William. He slept in our bedroom with the bed on one side of the cradle and a chair on the other. During the night he went from cradle to chair for feeding or cradle to bed for changing. Everything I needed was within reach – changing stuff by the bed and the Lindum Night and Day feeding system with its integral cool box (holding two bottles) and bottle warmer upstairs so I did not have to go downstairs. By week two I was able to carry William a little using a baby sling and the Zimmer frame. Outside I needed a wheelchair or scooter.

By the third week I was stronger and could safely carry William from the cradle to a chair/changing table. I felt I could now cope with managing him in his own room. My husband and I both slept better and, because he works shifts, it was important that neither of them was disturbed.

“I had a cot specially made by Cotswold Cots. This has been a godsend.“

I developed my own methods of managing William. I could not balance kneeling on the floor so changed him on a changing table attached to a travel cot downstairs or on a changing mat on top of his chest of drawers upstairs. When feeding I found the support of a pillow underneath William more comfortable than holding him. I bathed him in the sink or, as he got bigger, in a lay back seat attached to the base of the bath. I showered him when I showered myself. Once he grew out of the bath seats I could not manage to bath him on my own and had support from my family.

I used the baby sling to carry him up and down stairs and from our house to his car seat (this is the type that stays in the car – I couldn’t carry other types). I placed the pram as close to the car as I could and lifted him from the car seat. Alternatively, I took someone with me to do the carrying. I have a Silver Cross pram, which is quite bulky but converts to a pushchair. I chose this pram because it is sturdy, quite high and stable when I push it, even though it is difficult to get in and out of the car.

I had a cot specially made by Cotswold Cots in December 2003. This has been a godsend. It is at my waist height and gate opening so I was able to dress and change William in it. When he grew too big for the changing table I changed him on an armchair with me sitting on a chair facing him. I also began using ‘Pampers Easy Up’ pants.

To manage the stairs I taught and encouraged William early on to climb up with me supporting him from behind or sit on my lap as I went down on my bottom. I have gates downstairs in the doorways, so he is effectively confined to his playroom, or a playpen in the kitchen so that he can be with me.

I would especially like to thank my husband Gary, and all my family, whose help and support have been invaluable. The biggest hug though has to go to William – the happiest and most independently minded, compliant baby, and now, toddler.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 49, Spring 2005.


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