Parenting While Disabled. There’s a loaded topic.

I’m icing my left knee as I type this, having recently reentered the land where I can’t trust my body. Meaning that self-care is my top priority.

This land doesn’t mesh well with caring for small children.

In the United States, there’s growing awareness of the challenges of parenting with postpartum depression, prenatal depression, and other mental illnesses. And those exceptional parents who live every day with differing physical and intellectual abilities face other challenges than those of us who only do it sometimes.

Several friends have encouraged me to write about my periodic forays into parenting while disabled. So here goes.

I laughed when I opened this book at my baby shower, three months after wrist surgery added more scars to my collection.

I laughed when I opened this book at my baby shower, three months after wrist surgery added more scars to my collection.

Scarry Mama

I have a history of tissue dying due to insufficient blood supply. I got my first osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) diagnosis in my left knee when I began playing high-school-level soccer. Instead of starting and captaining the team my senior year, I spent the fall waiting for surgery on my right knee to repair OCD’s damage on that side.

By my mid-20s, I was ready for my first knee replacement, but much too young to have one. Instead, two years and three surgeries later, I had new cartilage in my left knee. My surgeon assured me that despite having OCD in both knees, there was little chance I’d have similar problems elsewhere.

I could just imagine my child saying "You're not my mommy - you don't have enough scars all over!"

I could just imagine my child saying, “You’re not my mommy – you don’t have enough scars!”

Yet I wasn’t surprised when, four months pregnant with Kimmie, I learned my sudden inability to use my right hand stemmed from a rapidly-progressing case of Keinbock’s disease – another rare condition where blood supply gets cut off and tissue (this time, the lunate bone) dies.

I faced a stark choice: have emergency surgery, or lose use of my dominant hand forever. The thought of trying to breastfeed a newborn one-handed was terrifying enough that I was willing to risk surgery while pregnant.

Until Kimmie’s birth, I did hours of physical therapy daily. For the first three months of her life, my husband had to help position her each time she nursed.

When Mama can’t parent hands-on

A few months after Kimmie’s first birthday, my left knee needed a “revision” to clean up the latest OCD damage. Compared to previous surgeries, this one was minor: one-day surgery, only two months of crutches and physical therapy. But it was my first time recovering while caring for a child – in this case, a still-not-walking fifteen-month-old.

No, Mama can’t pick you up. No, Mama can’t carry you around. No, Mama can’t lift you out of your crib. Believe me, Pumpkin, I’d like to. But the doctor says I can’t right now.

My own mother came to help out for the first week-plus following surgery, after which my mother-in-law spelled her. And I carefully timed the surgery around when my husband would be on his summer break from teaching.