Article: Becoming a Mom on Wheels
This article was written by Marjorie Aunos, and originally appeared in the edition of DABC’s Transition magazine, Parenting with Disabilities (Spring 2023). Read the issue here.
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January 5, 2012 was my birthday. Not my real birthday, but my second chance. On a country road, my car slid on black ice. It only took a few seconds. I became paraplegic when I sustained a Spinal Cord Injury at a T2 Level.
As a single parent, my last thought before impact was for my son Thomas, who was only 16 months old at the time.
I knew right away my life would no longer be as it was. I was scared I couldn’t be the mom I had dreamed of being.
But, I knew parenting with a disability was possible. I knew this because, as a psychologist, I had seen hundreds of moms and dads with an intellectual disability do it. The determination and love they had shown had inspired me to become a single mom by choice.
Surely, I thought, they could also inspire me to fight through every internalized ableist thought I had about my own parenting. Thoughts like, “If I can’t run after him, how can I bring him to the park?” “How can I be a mom if I can’t drive him to school or put him to bed or meet his teachers on parent-teacher night due to lack of accessibility?”
If I knew many moms with intellectual or developmental disabilities, I knew no one with a physical disability or mobility limitation who was a parent.
I had no mental images of how it could be done. I also had no idea how to parent at a distance, while I was six months in rehabilitation, and my son was being cared for by my parents.
My academic and professional knowledge of parenting with a disability also created a lot of insecurity. I knew the discrimination parents with intellectual disability face, the lack of inclusion and the over-representation in child welfare, often with a lack of evidence.
I knew I would need to advocate for myself as a parent, and for my child, at every stage of his development. My fears were validated eight months after my accident when the “Rocking the Cradle” report came out in the US. It looked at parenting with all kinds of disabilities and the disparities people face: poverty, lack of adapted housing, lack of resources and services that are accessible, negative and ableist attitudes towards their parenting, and sometimes custody battles and intimate partner violence.
To ensure I could be available for my son when he needed me, all the while learning about what my body could and could no longer do, we moved into a house with two apartments. My parents moved into one apartment so they could be nearby to help out.
For safety, my mom gave Thomas his baths, while I supervised and managed the whole endeavour. I would say, “Grandma, Thomas played in the sand today, so he needs us to shampoo his hair” and she would perform the task.
When he would wake up during the night, she would come down from her apartment, pick him up from his bed and hand him to me in mine. She would wait patiently while I cared for him. When he finally fell back to sleep, she picked him up from my arms and set him back into his bed.
As Thomas grew in physical autonomy, less and less co-parenting was needed. As I now parent a teenager, the support I require is what any other parent needs: strategies to deal with the rolling of the eyes!
Since I didn’t have another mom on wheels to learn from after my accident, I decided to write my stories. I wanted other women to see what it could look like.
I also produced an event called Amplifying Voices of Parents with Disabilities, so I could connect with other parents with disabilities. No matter if our disability is the same or different, seeing other parents with a “different” stance normalized my reality and experience.
Being part of a community of parents with disabilities has empowered me more than I can say. And, because finding services or supports in the community for parents with disabilities was hard to do while parenting a young child, I am working with some of my colleagues to ensure a resource guide will be available in the future. You can see a few of these resources on page 20.
I’ve now been using a wheelchair for eleven years. Eleven years of challenges and struggles, but mostly eleven years of happiness and memories. I am a mom on wheels and I am actively parenting my 12-year-old son.
Over this past decade, I have seen him grow into a beautiful young man who is kind, creative and social justice driven. He and I are the best team there is.
In Canada, 12% of women report a functional limitation (Statistiques Canada, 2018).
In Québec, it is estimated that 4.8% of families with a child under the age of 18 has a parent with a disability (Mercerat et Saïas, 2020). In the United States, the estimate is 6.2% (NDC, 2012) which is generally considered a huge underestimation. A third have a physical limitation.
You can purchase the book, Mom on Wheels: The Power of Purpose as a Parent with Paraplegia, at https://tinyurl.com/vrdv6b92.
Marjorie Aunos, Ph.D. is a single-mother-by-choice living with a Spinal Cord Injury. She is a renowned Psychologist and Researcher in the field of Parenting with Disabilities and an Award-Winning Inspirational Speaker.