Being a parent is challenging, but when you have a disability, parenthood can present even more obstacles. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t be an amazing mom or dad. Whether you have a physical, emotional or learning disability, here are some tips to help you prepare for the wonderful but terrifying job of becoming a parent.
Before you decide to become a parent, speak with your doctor about any concerns you have about bringing a child into your life. Your doctor may provide advice about any community services available to parents with disabilities.
Find a Support Network
Before your baby arrives, establish a support network that can help you with tasks and responsibilities that may be difficult to do because of your disability. Family, friends, community organizations and social services agencies can assist with a number of tasks. They may be able to connect you with resources that can help you care for your child.
Preparing Your Home
Like any other parent, you want to prepare your home for your baby’s arrival. This includes setting up the nursery, buying baby clothing and diapers as well as other important items. But since you have a disability, it’s also important to purchase items that will help you overcome any obstacles to caring for your child’s needs. For example, if you use a wheelchair, purchase a baby crib that is specially built for parents who use wheelchairs. These types of cribs have an opening similar to a gate. This allows the parent to open the crib from the front and move the wheelchair directly to the crib mattress. The parent then places the baby in bed without even needing to rise from the wheelchair.
Do you have a visual impairment? Use tactile labels for items so that you can easily find them in the house. Whether you’re labeling the baby lotion, diaper rash cream or baby formula, tactile labels let you use your sense of touch to identify something.
Some people with physical disabilities have trouble fastening buttons or zipping zippers. If this describes your situation, find baby clothing that uses simple velcro fasteners. It will be easier to dress and undress your baby. Add loops on baby shoes to help you put them on your little one’s feet.
Use adjustable tables so you can lower the table and place the baby on top of it. Once the baby is secured with a seat belt or velcro, raise the table to a comfortable level so you can change the baby’s diaper.
Emotional or Intellectual Disability
If you have an emotional disability, seek extra support in the community to help with anxiety, depression or any other issues that may arise after the birth of your child. Find support among family and friends so that you can receive the encouragement every new parent needs during difficult times.
Maybe you have an intellectual disability. If so, find family members, friends, mentors and counselors who can help you overcome any problems that occur as you care for your child. People with intellectual disabilities can receive help with managing money, interacting with doctors, going grocery shopping and a host of other tasks that will help them be a more effective parent.
One of the most important things you should do when you have a child is make time for yourself. Taking care of a newborn is a demanding job. Even parents without a disability feel stressed and exhausted. Late night feedings, crying babies, changing diapers and surviving on a few hours of sleep will make anyone feel like they’re going crazy.
So in order to maintain your emotional and physical health, take care of your own needs too. This often means taking a nap when the baby naps. It may mean asking a family member or close friend to babysit for a couple of hours while you sleep or read a book. There’s nothing shameful about asking for help. All new parents need a break once in awhile. Deal with your stress in a healthy way and use your support network to help you get through those tough times.
Parenthood is an exciting and scary time. You’re responsible for a defenseless child who depends on you to fulfill all of his or her needs. Like any parent, a parent with a disability needs to carefully prepare for a baby’s arrival. But disabled parents need to go a step further. Finding tools that help you care for your baby’s needs and organizing a strong support network will help you successfully prepare your home and life for your new bundle of joy.
Ashley Taylor is a freelance writer, photographer, and advocate for people with disabilities. She created DisabledParents.org to provide information and resources to other parents with disabilities. When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.
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