Lubna Aslam works for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario as an Employment Counsellor. Her kindness and warmth is always appreciated by her colleagues and clients. She is a great cook and her dish is always a great hit during each pot-luck luncheon. She often talks about how her children help her in the kitchen and enjoy making all kinds of food with her. When she shared her story with me about being a mother, I thought it was so powerful that I just had to share it with you.
Lubna always had a strong maternal instinct. Ever since she was little, she’d ponder with joy about having her own family and being a mother one day. When she was 18, her mother found out that she was pregnant. When her brother was born, he invoked strong maternal feelings in her and she enjoyed caring for him, and giving him all the attention she could. When he was a bit older, he was diagnosed with autism. This familiarized her with the perceptions of parenting challenges and the power of unconditional love.
Fast forward to age 22, Lubna married Samir Umer. They went to the same high school together in Kuwait and had been best friends since they were 15 years old. Her dream of being a mother was about to become reality when she was pregnant with their first child at the age of 25.
However, when the fetus was only six-weeks old, she was in a severe car accident where her SUV rolled over and she sustained a spinal cord injury at the level of T 10. She had a miscarriage at the same time. It was absolutely devastating.
The months following the collision were the darkest time in their lives. She had three unsuccessful spine surgeries in Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t until September 2002, that her condition was finally stabilized after receiving a fourth surgery in the Mayo Clinic in United States. During rehab, besides grieving over the loss of her baby, Lubna was struggling with the loss of her bodily functions and issues with her self-image. She went from feeling desirable to feeling disposable. Her lack of experience in bladder management intimidated her when she thought about being intimate with her husband again. Meanwhile, Samir was coming to terms with the realities of Lubna’s disability and the uncertainty of their future. While Lubna had some levels of peer support, her husband was all alone fighting his own battle. Gradually, they were separated by an invisible barrier.
Fortunately, Psychologist Dan Rohe at the Mayo Clinic came to their aid. He played a key role in helping Lubna understand that she was not a compromised version of her previous self. A book called Enabling Romance by Ken Kroll and Erica Klein was tremendously helpful in giving her knowledge and guidelines on how to restore her sexuality. About three to four months post-injury, the couple finally had their “first time” post injury. Lubna says she felt like a virgin, insecure and nervous. She was preoccupied by the possibility of incontinence. Samir was also tense and scared of hurting her. However, it was the first step towards rebuilding their relationship and rediscovering each other emotionally and physically.
During the first-year post injury, Lubna was working really hard at regaining her independence. She learned to do all her self-care, she was proficient in the kitchen, she got her driver’s license, and she was socially active. Lubna was also helping her sister-in-law take care of her two-year-old niece while her sister-in-law was studying. This gave her a lot of confidence in believing that she would be able to care for her own children one day.
Thankfully, most spinal cord injuries do not affect a woman’s chance of conceiving and giving birth and in October 2003, a neuro surgeon gave her the green light to conceive again. Before long, they were ecstatic to find out that she was pregnant. Challenges quickly followed as her weight gain was rapid; her doctor needed to frequently monitor her blood pressure and sugar level. Since a lot of the doctor’s examination beds were not accessible, Samir had to pick her up all the time. Transferring became increasingly taxing as she became more and more pregnant. She lost her independence to some level, but fortunately she had a good support network among all of her family and friends.
On September 30, 2004, she entered the delivery room. She was given an epidural to avoid Autonomic Dysreflexia. Though she didn’t feel pain, she could feel all the pressure during her contractions. Fourteen hours of intensive labour later, she gave birth naturally to her son. They named him Zayed. Holding the newborn in her arms, she finally felt like her life was made whole. Months following Zayed’s birth were typically stressful like it is for any new parent. He was not a good sleeper and Lubna had issues with breast feeding. Once again, her family and especially her mother-in-law stepped in and helped with laundry, cooking and other household chores. This gave her and baby Zayed time and opportunity leading to successful nursing and connecting.
In August 2005, she was pregnant again. Though the pregnancy was much harder because she was taking care of a jumpy toddler at the same time, Lubna was rewarded when her daughter Zara arrived as a textbook example of a “good baby,” being a much better sleeper and efficient feeder. Lubna’s wheelchair quickly turned to a stroller. Her son loved to climb onto her lap while she was holding her daughter with the other arm.
From very early on, Lubna could tell that they were very protective of her. In one incident, they were attending a wedding. When another little boy was crawling toward Lubna and attempting to hold onto her wheel, Zayed rushed to her side and “kindly removed” the boy. He then roared with passion, “THAT’S MY MOMMY’S WHEELCHAIR!”
In 2009, Lubna and Samir immigrated to Canada. The kids were two and four at the time. When they first came to Lyndhurst, Zayed said, “Look Mom, there are so many people using wheelchairs just like you.” It was hard to tell from his tone if it was a positive observation for him. Prior to that point, she had never had a conversation with her children about her disability. It was bittersweet knowing that her son had become aware of her being different from people who do not use mobility devices.
Like most immigrants, there was a lot of adjustment in the beginning. Every time they moved to a new neighbourhood, the children became very conscious of people staring or making inappropriate comments about Lubna’s disability. They didn’t appreciate when strangers would often come up to her and ask what happened to her. At times, they would become visibly upset and Lubna had to calm them down. When Zara was nine, someone in her school said to her, “I am sorry that your Mom is in a wheelchair,” to which she had replied, “Why? My Mom is always happy.” Although quick at the comeback Zara was very troubled by the remark. Just when Lubna was struggling to find words to comfort her, her brother jumped in, “you cannot let other people’s ignorance affect your emotions, Zara!” From that point on, they were very keen on educating their classmates about people with disabilities. They would even introduce Lubna to their friends and let her answer all their questions about living with a disability.
Now that the kids are 12 and 13, they have become two very capable youngsters. Lubna trains them on all life skills like cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, and other chores around the house. They hold on to her push handles when they cross the road together. They still sit on her lap when sharing a secret. Compared to kids of a similar age, they are more sensitive and empathic to the needs of others, especially people with disabilities. They don’t judge people by their abilities or appearance and they stand up for injustice and inequality. They are also accessibility experts. Zayed would always go ahead to look for ramp or elevator to get into a building. Zara would always check out the washroom to make sure it’s accessible. They are not afraid to speak up to the staff or a venue’s manager about what needs to be done to meet the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards. They are truly Lubna’s pride.
Having a disability did not deter Lubna from enjoying motherhood to its greatest level. Though it was difficult in the beginning, the intense labour did not last long, and the fruitful rewards seem to be everlasting. She hopes that her experience will help newly injured women believe that their disability does not compromise their desirability and their body. They can still be the wife and the mother they may have dreamed of being.