Parenthood is challenging for anyone. There is a greater degree of difficulty when you mix in a spinal cord injury. This is our story, and a little insight into what it is like to raise a princess from a wheelchair.
My name is Leon Harris. I am 28 years old and living with a spinal cord injury that I acquired 11 years ago. I was a teenager coming home from work, when I was approached by a group of teenagers who had the intent to rob me. When I went to run away, I was shot in the shoulder. The bullet that entered my body somehow found its way to my spine. Swelling in the spine ascended from the initial T3 injury site to C6, which would then lead to complete loss of my hands at the time.
When I started therapy at Magee, it almost felt like boot camp. It was one of the most challenging and difficult learning experiences in my life. Having to learn how to reuse my hands, and having to figure out how to live life in a wheelchair at 17 years old, was just mind blowing.
Fast forward to 2017, my wife… oh yes, I got married in 2014 to a beautiful, selfless able-bodied person. We met at church and from there, our love grew. We decided that we wanted to have a family, but given the complexities of having a child after a SCI, we knew the process was going to be slightly different from that of an able-bodied family. We were out and about when we received a phone call that December that our first round of IVF was successful, and we were pregnant!
My wife was overcome with emotion; meanwhile, I was driving and completely in shock. It’s not as if us getting pregnant was an accident. We planned and spent plenty of money just to hear this phone call. But I couldn’t believe that I, “the dude in the wheelchair,” as I often describe myself to strangers, would be responsible for a little life! I was having enough of an issue just feeling semi-normal, and now I have to worry about chasing a crawling baby or trying to figure out how a baby that can’t balance well would sit in the arms of a man who also can’t balance.
Pregnancy was a breeze (for me, at least!) Yes, there were some scares along the way, but God is always the ultimate keeper, and on August 15, 2017 at 4:13 p.m, after 2 hours of labor, Noel C. Harris popped out. Three days later, I would have to drive my wife and this new human home and figure out what our new life would be like. In the beginning, it was pretty easy. When my daughter was three months old is when the real fear kicked in. This is when I would really begin my life and job as a stay at home dad.
What I have learned in these 10 months of having a daughter is to use your resources. For a while, I was dealing with weakness in my arms and couldn’t transfer or lean forward easily. I was afraid that if I fell out of my wheelchair while alone with Noel, I wouldn’t be able to get back into my wheelchair to take care of her. To be proactive in case this were to happen, I would make sure I had a mini cooler with my daughter’s milk for the day nearby. I also try to keep a grabber on hand to help me reach things without having to go too far. My wife and I also have a special crib that we received from a wheelchair user. The crib is elevated so I can slide under it, and it opens from the front, which allows me to take my daughter in and out of the crib safely.
The fun part of having a child is just beginning. My daughter is crawling, eating, and overall, just growing. Diaper changes are challenging, getting her dressed can be a hassle while trying to make sure she doesn’t fall off the changing table. Don’t even get me started on the fun it is to strap her onto my lap and get her into our SUV.
Writing this blog has inspired me to begin to write more about our journey, and I will do just that! I hope anyone out there reading this knows that parenting with a disability is not impossible. It will take patience, creativity, and perhaps a loss of pride at times, but in return, there are a great deal of warm and fuzzy feelings that you will gain for sacrificing your comfort to help shape their future.
Happy Father’s Day to all!
Guest author: Leon Harris, Magee Wheelchair Rugby athlete and ThinkFirst speaker