Preparing for childbirth as a disabled person
Lizzy Gwilliam is a mum of 3 and a wheelchair user. She blogs about parenting and life with Charcot-Marie-Tooth at Have You Tried Walking Lately and also makes YouTube videos for her channel. She talks to us today about her experiences of pregnancy and birth.
I think there's still a lot that needs to be learned about having babies when you're very much 'a disabled person'.
Before my first baby, (our daughter Amélie is now 7) there was so much that we just didn't know about what it would be like to be a pregnant wheelchair user, and how we would go through childbirth when I can't even stand up. As a wheelchair user, there was very little I could 'look up' online or in books and no one I could really 'look up to' as a realistic example of how a wheelchair-using woman might experience pregnancy and childbirth.
For the midwives and other medical professionals around me, they didn't know much more than I could search for online about how someone with severe CMT disease would handle pregnancy and childbirth. Whilst I was under consultant care for all three of my pregnancies, the decisions were largely made by me and my midwife, deciding what would probably be the most sensible thing to do. The consultant saw me a few times during each of my pregnancies, but to be honest there wasn't much she needed to do as physically the pregnancy part was pretty straightforward: the main thing we had to think about was what would happen during the birth.
My midwife was amazing and supported whole-heartedly the argument that my partner, Tom, would need to be present throughout the whole thing and not asked to go home and leave me to it at any point, especially after the baby was born, which most non-disabled mums would experience. As well as the fact that dads/significant partners should be there to experience this with the mother and for their new baby's sake, in my case Tom also needed to be there so that there was no need for health care assistants/midwives to have to use a hoist or other equipment, when it's so much more comfortable and easier for all involved for Tom to lift me and to help with going to the toilet and showering. Luckily the matron of the labour ward agreed and he was with me constantly through all three experiences.
Physical limitations and needs aside, I don't know what I would've done without him. I don't know how any woman would be able to go through that life-changing episode without their partner.
So, how did the actual births of my children go? With Amélie, I was surprised at how well I coped with the pregnancy but she was a pretty small baby and my body coped well apart from pelvic pain. With the pain of childbirth it was important for me to conserve as much energy as possible, so I had an epidural which worked well once it was in. However, because of the curve in my lower back, it was very difficult for the anaesthetist to get it right. With our second baby, Geneviève, I was a little more uncomfortable during the later part of pregnancy as it was summer and very hot and I find it difficult to regulate my body temperature. She was also a lot bigger than Amélie! I wanted to try and give birth without an epidural, and then at the last minute decided I did want one but it was too late, so I gave birth to her with gas and air and also diamorphine. With our third baby, Rafe, who is our only boy and the biggest of all three, it was again the height of summer at the most uncomfortable part of the pregnancy and I wasn't particularly enjoying feeling like a sweaty beached whale. Because I have to crawl from the bedroom to bathroom at night or if I'm not in my wheelchair, my wrists really took a beating with the increased weight I was carrying. I decided to go for an epidural in labour again but after nearly 2 hours of failed attempts it didn't go into the right place in my spine and so I pushed him out just with gas and air. Ouch.
I have managed to breastfeed all three of our children, and am still feeding Rafe. The first time around it was very difficult as Amélie was such a tiny baby. But after a few weeks it became easier and it was so important for me that I could breastfeed them, seeing as there are so many other things I cannot do. Nobody else would need to feed them, and it was very integral to me bonding with them as babies.
I'm pretty sure that we're done having babies, although if we had loads of space and money I'd love to have more and more. For now, 3 beautiful children and a new puppy is enough work (and lots of fun, of course) but it isn't easy. There are many things I can't do for them as a mum and I will always find that frustrating. But I know that what I can do for them will hopefully make up for all of that. And again, none of it would be possible or enjoyable without the best partner and daddy ever by my side throughout it all.
Can you relate to Lizzy’s experiences of pregnancy and birth? Share your own stories in the comments below!