While I was a teen and young adult I worked numerous jobs and volunteered for many organizations at the same time. For more than seven years, I was a lifeguard for the City of Ottawa and worked as a waterfront director for a Girl Guide Camp in the summers.
I met Ben when I turned 18, and later when I was 25, we rekindled our love for each other and we married. We eloped with our son by our side in 2016, and it was one of the best days of my life. Ben’s support and love throughout the last nine years has definitely helped me accomplish numerous goals and he gave me the best gift ever, my now five-year-old son Hudson. I am beyond grateful to him standing beside me all these years and showing me what true love is and what it can really endure.
My love for athletics got me to start taking part in numerous running races including a winter half marathon and a 27k Spartan race in Quebec Mountains. I was always an active and motivated woman who never let anything or anyone get in my way. During the time I was pregnant, I worked on my second Master’s Degree while continuing to work and volunteer. A month prior to giving birth to my beautiful son, I was finally offered a casual librarian position with the Ottawa Public Library. I kept working 11 days past my due date, and only two months after having my son I returned to work. Financially it was needed as I continued to pay my tuition while writing my Master’s research paper, and we were also new home owners. After only two weeks of having my son, I returned to my weekly Sparks meetings with Hudson in tow, as I was the Guider in Charge and wanted to continue being me and taking part in my extracurricular activities. As a parent, you say you would do anything for your child’s happiness and wellbeing. Providing for my family financially and showing what hard work can really do were two things I tried to show my son from a very young age.
In November 2016, I started to have pain in my right leg. By May 2017, I was in significant pain and experienced numbness now from my right hip all the way down to my ankle. I was going to the doctor’s office and hospital emergency rooms every two weeks or so saying that something was really wrong. I’ve always had a high pain tolerance yet this was becoming unbearable. I was advised to take medical leave from work and do physiotherapy. I was off for more than a month and tried to return to work. After three days, I went back on medical leave as the pain became even more excruciating. I was always a heavy woman with a good health track record having experienced no injuries or accidents. Unfortunately, something went undiagnosed and I knew it. I kept getting prescribed different pain medications and told to continue with physiotherapy and lose weight. I was beyond depressed and felt hopeless. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t cook, clean, or even take care of my son. I was constantly in bed trying to sleep off the pain and time was passing me by.
On August 20, 2017, I woke up not being able to walk to the bathroom. I stumbled holding myself up by leaning on the walls and I finally got to the toilet. I sat down and knew I was in trouble. I wasn’t able to actually go to the bathroom and the alarm bells began ringing in my head (my physiotherapist said that if you can’t go to the bathroom call 911 right away). I tried standing up again to get back to my bedroom where my cellphone was to call for an ambulance, as my son and husband left about an hour earlier to go get haircuts at the mall down the road, but I lost balance and barely sat back down on the toilet. I then got my body completely down onto the floor and army crawled back to my bedroom. I got my phone and called my husband first saying that I’m calling 911 so you need to come home and unlock the door for me to let the paramedics in because I can’t walk at all. I hung up and called 911. I told my husband to stay home with my son and I would call my mom to meet me at the hospital.
After receiving an MRI, I was told from the ER Doctor that I had a slipped disc (L3 or L4) that was pretty much puncturing my spinal cord and almost splitting my spinal cord in half. I would need emergency surgery to remove the disc and to try to fix the damage. I was instructed that this procedure might help but unfortunately the damage was so severe that I really only had 1% chance of walking again. The first thing that flashed before my eyes was my then three-year-old son and husband and how are they going to manage if I had a disability. I pushed those feelings aside and thought let’s do the surgery and let’s get walking again. I didn’t care if I was going to need leg braces or have to walk with a walker or arm crutches, I was going to walk; someway… somehow!
After surgery, I was in the hospital for 11 days before going to the Rehab Centre in Ottawa for three long months. I slept there every night and woke up every morning knowing that I am doing what I had to do in order to get home to be with my son and husband. My son would come to visit me during each hospital stay yet it’s nothing like being at home, in your own environment with your son.
So, I worked. I worked hard on getting my balance and leg strength to reappear. I had to learn how to do everything over again in my life but I was beyond determined. When I left I was still using a wheelchair but it didn’t stop me from getting stronger. Five months later I was readmitted to the Rehab Centre in Ottawa to work on bowel and bladder control and to continue working on the improvements I made in walking with a walker at home. Another two months of hard physiotherapy and occupational therapy enabled me to walk out of the rehab building on my own using only leg braces and a walker. SUCCESS!
The hardest part for me throughout this whole SCI journey, was not the fact that I was unable to walk for more than a year, or go to the washroom on my own, or go back to work fulltime, or participate in the activities that I used to do, but it is rather the fact that I was away from my son for so long and missed vital bonding time. I didn’t get to kiss him before bed for so many nights. I didn’t get to pick his clothes out for the morning or make him dinner every night for those five long months. Needless to say, I am trying to make the best of every moment and participate with my son in activities, going out and about as well as having stay at home fun together.
Despite now being a young mother with a disability, I make sure to continue to take my son out to do activities together in public such as visiting museums, libraries, play structure parks, water parks, movies, theatre performances, swimming pools, and shopping centres. I try to promote the positive side of things to my son, to be resourceful and to work hard. I want my son Hudson to understand that yes, I now have a disability, but we can still continue to do activities together. Now we just have do them in different ways. For example, we have to take Para Transpo to places since I haven’t yet gotten back my driver’s licence since my surgery. I really have tried to promote this to my son and to show other people who we encounter in our day-to-day life that yes, we are now an inter-abled family dynamic and we can make it work. If you were to ask me what’s the hardest part now since becoming a mom with disabilities, I would probably have to say getting my son to the school bus stop to go to school due to his lack of motivation in the mornings and poor weather conditions.
Thankfully, a social worker from the Rehab Centre connected me with Chris Bourne, the Regional Services Co-ordinator from SCIO in order to help provide me with information and resources after my surgery. Needless to say, I felt lost with my new-found disability, but I quickly realized comfort in knowing that there was a community of people offering support and guidance. The care alone that I have received from SCIO has been beyond wonderful and more than helpful in my recovery both mentally and physically. I have been connected to my peer mentor Sally, and I was gifted a unicycle in order to go biking with my son. I have also had the opportunity to try adaptive sailing and para skiing. These are just a few of the enormous generosities that SCIO has offered me during my road to recovery.
Often, throughout my healing time, I felt lost and unsure of where go to next. Therefore, finding my base support system was inevitably one of my most viable options for recovery. I was so lucky I didn’t have to worry about the wellbeing of my son because of my husband’s tremendous care, but I knew I had to do something for my own mental wellbeing. I have gone back to work part-time as an adult fiction selector librarian in order to help me feel productive and provide value to both society and my family.
To women who are experiencing a similar circumstance, please make sure to reach outside of your caregiving family for support. Try to find a support network that works best for you whether it’s online or in person. I found it helpful to speak to individuals who have also gone through similar experiences as myself. I came across a Mom’s Despite Disabilities Support Group on Facebook and joined the online community. I am now a co-chair of this group with my close friend Shawnie. We attempt to create fun and accessible events in which moms with disabilities and their children can participate, as well as provide online support forums for our community members.
Being a mother has been the most rewarding experience of my life and my son Hudson has been the best gift of all time. With this being said, I will continue to push myself to get stronger, both emotionally and physically, in order to take the best care of my son. Yes, I am now a mom with disabilities. No, I will not give up. Instead I will continue to the make the best of myself and I will push forward. As Confucius once said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” I not only intend to remember and live this way, but I also hope to teach my son this valuable life lesson through my own strength and experiences.