A Paralyzed Mom's Fears and Hopes About Raising a Toddler

A Paralyzed Mom's Fears and Hopes About Raising a Toddler

One mom shares the personal challenge she’ll contend with as her daughter grows.


By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If you’re raising a toddler or two, you probably think you have it pretty hard already. But what if something as second-nature as buckling your flailing child into his car seat or changing a diaper required assistance? What if you had to put up with all the tantrums without the ability to easily carry your wee one into time-out?

These are the realities new mom Rachelle Friedman-Chapman will be facing, because she is paralyzed. Chapman and her husband, Chris, recently welcomed new daughter Kaylee Rae into the world via surrogate.

Chapman’s life took a dramatic turn five years ago at her bachelorette party when she was playfully pushed into a shallow pool by a pal. Chapman survived, but was paralyzed from the chest down and has limited hand function. All was not lost, though. She married her fiancé months after the accident, and went on to become an inspirational speaker, motivator, and all around limits-defying woman who doesn’t let her physical limitations stop her from adventures like surfing and hand cycling.

We spoke with Chapman about her biggest hopes and fears of being a mom.

What are some of the ups and downs of parenting so far? How have your spouse and others helped you make the transition?
Rachelle: The hardest part isn't just needing help, but having too many people around who want to help. We haven't really had a chance to have some quiet bonding time, and I'm just really looking forward to that. Of course I wish I could do everything an able-bodied mom can do, but I think there will be even bigger challenges when it is time for Chris to go back to work. I'm using this time to try and figure things out. I recently changed my first diaper, which isn't the easiest thing without dexterity.

Are there resources out there for new moms who have mobility challenges such as yours?
There are online forums of people with disabilities in general. I am often on a discussion forum specifically for those with a spinal cord injury. On that site, I have read many posts from men and women who have gone through the same challenges. It's a great place to get tips.

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You’ve no doubt heard about some of the challenges that come with raising a toddler. What are you most afraid of, and why?
I’m just going to have to take some extra precautions. But honestly we're going to have to cross that bridge when we get there. I've talked to other parents in my situation, and they get by just fine. I will mostly be out and about with my child and my husband. Yes, Chris works full time, but there are many single parents out there who have full-time jobs and are able to handle it. Having me as an extra set of hands isn't going to hinder our ability to properly care for a child. And honestly it will all depend on the personality of our child.

What do you envy when you see other moms of 1- to 3-year-olds, and how do you cope with those feelings?
I’m jealous of pretty much everything an able-bodied parent can do with their toddler. I want to be the one to teach my child how to swim, play hide and seek at the park, take them down their first slide when they are too scared. Literally, every aspect of my life would be easier. I'm jealous of how easy it is for them to change a diaper or to get their child dressed. It's difficult to not be able to just hop in the car and put your baby in a car seat in under two minutes. What I'd give to be able to do all of those things.

What are you most excited about?
Creating the same mother-daughter friendship I have with my mom, and watching Chris have that daddy-daughter relationship I've had with my dad.

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What is some of the best advice you've heard so far?
Those in my situation have told me just to be patient and keep working on how to do things with my limited hand function. It'll take practice but I'll figure it out.

What are your favorite ways to make ‘me time’?
Well, it's really hard to get ‘me time’ in my situation. But if I really need to, I go in my room, listen to some country music, and just hang out.

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How do you plan to adjust to toddlerhood, in terms of expanding your support network, or taking parenting classes, getting help from parents, etc.?
We’ll just take it day by day like we have with everything else. Some grandparents are around to help, we have great friends, but I think people underestimate my ability to take care of even a toddler just because I happen to move on wheels and not on feet. But I am realistic in knowing I can't do everything, and we will need help, but a lot of parents do.

In your day-to-day, what are some of the things you do to stay strong?
I know it's corny but I honestly am just very grateful for what I do have. No, my body does not work the way it used to, and yes, I would give anything to have back the function that I used to have. But I also realize that I have someone who loves me so, so much in my life. And not everyone gets that type of love. I have an extremely supportive family and parents who are like my best friends. So, while I am not lucky in some areas I know I'm very lucky in others. Remembering that is what keeps me positive. I also realize that I don't always have to be strong, and I'm allowed to have a bad day were everything just sucks. But I take it for what it is and just hope for a better day the next day.

Have you ever had to overcome any physical limitations to care for your child?


Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Image ©iStock.com/Mark Kostich


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