Helen Dolphin

My experience of parenting with restricted mobility

In 1997, Independent mobility consultant Helen Dolphin MBE was admitted to hospital with meningococcal septicaemia and the only way for doctors to save her life, was to amputate all four of her limbs. Helen recently became a mum, and over the past months as her son has grown, she’s learnt some hints and tips that she’s found particularly useful, as being a parent with a disability can bring additional challenges. In this article, Helen shares her experience of parenting with restricted mobility.

Helpful equipment for your baby in the home

I have been lucky in that my son is a really good sleeper and from quite a young age he slept through the night. Getting a cot that you can comfortably lift your baby in and out of makes life so much easier, the traditional Moses style basket was never going to work for me so instead we opted for a crib with a drop down side. In the early days this meant the crib could sit next to our bed so I could get him out really easily without having to lift him over the side.

As he got bigger, we transferred him to a standard sized cot in his own bedroom. I was desperately looking for a cot with a drop-down side but all I could find was the standard style which does not offer this. I found if I put a footstool next to the cot I could reach in to lift him out but this was quite tricky until he was big enough to hold onto me. Recently I found out about two organisations that adapt equipment for disabled people, Remap and Designability, one of the things they provide are cots for disabled parents.

I was never that optimistic that nappy changing was ever going to be something that I could manage. I had a few attempts, but it was lifting up his legs to clean him that was impossible for me. My son is a very wriggly baby, as most are, so even with both hands changing him can be tricky. My husband therefore has this delightful task! If your disability only affects one arm or hand you may benefit from a changing mat with a harness attached to keep your baby in one place; there are a few different types of these on the market.

For many people, picking up a baby and carrying it from A to B is a simple task, but as a wheelchair user this is a lot harder. I was finding the only way for me to safely move my son was to get on the floor, pick him up and shuffle on my bum to where I needed to go. This was soon solved by having a blanket with handles attached which cradles your baby inside like a hammock. This blanket enabled me to pick him up from the floor safely and put him on my lap. It is a really simple idea but does make lifting and carrying a baby a much easier job.

My son was a very hungry baby and always enjoyed his milk. I was able to make up his formula bottles and feed them to him but it was a lot simpler once he could have cow’s milk. If he took a while feeding my arm would ache so I was glad when he started feeding himself. If you also struggle to hold a bottle, or get tired easily, there are a number of hands-free bottle feeding aids available, although these are not specifically marketed at disabled people.

Helpful equipment when you’re out and about

I found buying a car seat one of the most difficult decisions as there is so much choice. The first decision is whether you want the seat to be secured by ISOFIX mountings built into the car or by the seat belt; there are pros and cons for both. Personally, I think ISOFIX is probably easier if you plan on moving your baby in and out of the car in their car seat.

Pushing a baby in their pram or pushchair is something I’m sure many parents take for granted, but it is not so easy when you have to push your own wheelchair at the same time. For our family this was even more complicated as I can only push myself short distances and relied on my husband to also push me. We got around this issue by using my powered wheelchair more frequently, leaving my husband free to push our son. Now that my son can walk, travelling is a lot easier, and he loves to ride on my lap when he gets tired! I did find out later that you can buy an attachment which fits to the front of your chair to support a small baby but once they are about a year old they are too big.

Babies may be small but they do need an awful lot of equipment. I usually use my Motability Scheme vehicle when I’m going anywhere with my son as I can pack it full of stuff.

In my so far short experience as a parent I have discovered many things which have made my life just a little bit easier.

More articles from Helen Dolphin?

Read more articles by Independent mobility consultant Helen Dolphin MBE.

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