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Positive about motherhood

Rachel Williams, of Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, UK, writes about her experiences as a disabled mother.

I always knew I wanted to become a mother. It was the most natural thing in the world to me and I never had any concerns about how I would cope with a child. Our families were ecstatic at the news that I was pregnant as were all our friends. My husband is non-disabled.

Experience of antenatal care

My antenatal care was pretty good. My community midwife was lovely and never once asked me how I would cope with a baby. Unfortunately I had to see her colleague on a couple of occasions who was not as helpful and did indeed ask me how I was going to cope with a baby. She was the first person to ask me this. My consultant was brilliant. He was very keen from the start for me to have a natural delivery but unfortunately I was unable to, because of the size of my pelvis.

The only problem with my antenatal care was that there was no disabled loo in the clinic. This was a major problem – especially when I went for my scans! I was however allowed to use a toilet on the delivery suite. I say ‘allowed’ because some of the staff in the clinic made a big issue about this although, funnily enough, the staff on the delivery suite didn’t and were really helpful.

I had Zoë by elective caesarean and was able to have a spinal anaesthetic so I was awake for the birth. Everything went really well and we went up to the ward a few hours later.

Adapted ward: teething problems with design

The ward had just been refurbished; it now had a private room that had been adapted for wheelchair users. I was the first disabled parent to use the room and as a result I found a few problems with it. It had been designed by an architect but had not had any real live disabled people look at the plans or try it out until I came along.

The main problem was the bathroom because I couldn’t use the shower. They also had a standard cot, which created problems. I got round this because the bed had a remote control and you could vary the positions on it, so I would raise the height to use the cot. The staff were very helpful about this and brought in a pram for Zoë to sleep in which had lower sides and was much easier to use. I did raise these issues with the ward manager who was extremely helpful and has assured me that they will address the problems.

Staff attitudes

Another problem was not having a place to change Zoë on. I used the bed to change her and – inevitably – we had an accident and the bedding became soiled. Looking back, it was quite funny but it happened at the same time as the baby blues came, so it felt like a major disaster at the time! My husband came in just as I was changing her and I asked him to go and ask for a clean sheet. He did this and was asked why we were changing the baby on the bed. He explained the reasons but it was made clear to us by this particular member of staff that this was not acceptable.

The sheet never arrived and I needed to change her again, so I did and it happened again! This time the response was more interesting. The sheet came, along with the comment that I would have to buy a changing mat when I went home! I politely explained that things would be easier when I got home because we had bought accessible equipment.

This was the major problem I had: the attitudes of some members of staff. I lost count of how many times I was asked how I would cope when I went home. I left hospital completely convinced that I couldn’t cope and, for me, this was like a complete personality change. Needless to say I developed postnatal depression and I believe this would not have happened if I'd had more support from the hospital staff. Fortunately I have a wonderful general practitioner and an excellent health visitor. I raised all these issues with my consultant at my postnatal check-up and he advised me to write to the ward manager. I have recently done this and am now waiting for a response.

Accessible equipment

When we bought all our baby gear we chose things that were accessible. We bought a crib on wheels instead of a Moses basket, our cot has a drop side which goes underneath the cot and we managed to find a changing table which attaches to the wall, so it can be fixed at any height and you can get your wheelchair underneath the table.

I can’t believe how much I have learned in the last seven months and I am surprised at what I have learned about myself as well! I can honestly say that I only really felt disabled when I had Zoë – for the first time in my life my disability stopped me from doing things. Looking back at it now though I don’t think it’s my disability that has stopped me, it has been lack of access and accessible equipment.

Things are getting easier for me, which is probably down to my increasing confidence in my own abilities. I have found it difficult to get out and about with Zoë and I am still working on improving this situation. Despite the problems I have faced I can honestly say that Zoë is the best thing that has ever happened to us and we are completely in love with her. It has been hard but I believe it’s more to do with things that can be changed and that’s why I am trying to promote awareness in my area of the existence of disabled parents. I know there are new challenges ahead, but hopefully our daughter will benefit from having a disabled mum and, in case you are wondering, yes, we are planning to have more children – not just yet though!

Editor’s note: In the Good Practice article 'Tackling inequalities', we highlight Rachel’s involvement with Sure Start and its role in both supporting Rachel’s parenting and in tackling her issues about accessible housing.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 46, Spring 2004.

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