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Paralyzed. With Kids.

30 years old. Paralyzed. Wheelchair-bound. Mom of 3.

Ten days after my 30th birthday, I delivered my daughter, Morgan, by c-section. My husband, Steve, and I introduced our baby girl to her two big brothers, Zach (age 6) and Alex (age 4).

Debbie Barker and her 3 kids

As I sat in my wheelchair surrounded by my now three little ones, I kept thinking, How on earth am I going to do this? I now had a kindergartner, preschooler and a newborn and I couldn’t move anything from mid-waist down. Yikes. I felt exceedingly blessed but also highly overwhelmed.

Let me back up and give a brief history of how I got here. At age 23, I walked into the hospital to deliver my first son. Due to crazy complications and several months of tests, I found myself completely paralyzed and unable to move or feel my legs.

Top that off with a bowel and bladder that no longer worked, being fit for a wheelchair, learning to use a catheter and needing to adapt to a new lifestyle while living in a three-story home. I felt scared. I felt helpless. I felt intimidated.

I had to learn to be a mom to an infant but at the same time learn how to be a paraplegic. I did not know if I could do it and I certainly did not know how I would do it.

Slowly adapting to both of my new roles, I began to learn how to be a mom from a wheelchair. It had many challenges, like the time my husband forgot to put the baby gate across the steps and my one-year-old son, Zach, climbed those steps and would not come down.

As I sat at the bottom of the steps calling his name, I cried knowing that I could no longer do simple things that other moms could do. Like climbing the stairs and carrying my son back down that flight. But it also had its blessings as my three year old learned to carry in groceries and hold doors for his mommy who sometimes needed an extra hand.

As my little son grew, my husband and I wanted a second child. Doctors advised me not to give birth so we pursued adoption. We adopted a three-year-old boy from Romania. One look into his sad little eyes and I was a goner. From that moment that sweet little one was my son. Alex was not my adopted child just my child. I loved him as dearly as I loved Zach. One born from my body and one from my heart.

Again I had an adjustment time of raising now two energetic boys, ages five and three. As a stay at home mom, I kept busy taking them to school, playing with them, taking them on adventures as well as taking care of our home, laundry and meals. I was in a manual chair but I took my sons to the playground, to the pool, and on hikes, determined not to let my disability rob them of a fun and normal childhood.

The Barker kids and their spousesLess than a year after Alex came home to us, I began to get sick every day. I felt awful but never imagined that I would be pregnant. But yep that was the cause of my daily nausea attacks. Being pregnant as a paraplegic was not easy. Plus I was considered a very high risk; I had bladder accidents, increased muscle spasms, constant discomfort, complete exhaustion, and many medical appointments. Throw in two spirited and tireless boys plus packing and moving into a new home to complete my nine months of fatigue.

Sitting in that hospital room holding my new baby girl as her brothers came to meet her, I had fears at the thought of raising these three little lives from a wheelchair. Yet I also felt peace knowing that I could do it.

It may not be traditional or the way other mom’s did it, but with God’s strength, my persevering attitude and a community of friends and family surrounding me, I felt confident that I could be a mom to not one, not two but three children.

While they were growing, I had 19 surgeries, several extended hospital stays, life or death moments including being life lined, and a few just crazy experiences like falling out of my chair or fainting in the movie theater. The moments that were hardest were not the physical trials of illness and hospital stays, but rather missing their soccer practices, listening to them read Dr. Seuss after school, or tucking them into bed at night. Missing my babies was harder than any physical pain.

Debbie Barker with her 3 kidsThankfully I was able to be there for many occasions and cheer them on at athletic events, concerts, recitals and banquets. I cherish those memories but even more special were the times of dancing to loud music in the dark, talking on the way to practices, reading stories snuggled together, catching lightning bugs on summer nights, and dinners laughing around the dining room table. Those precious times fill my memories as I now watch my three babies soar off on their own adventures as adults.

Over twenty years have passed since that day in the hospital room surrounded by my little ones. Over those years, I had moments where I failed as a mom, when I lost my patience too quickly or criticized too harshly or yelled too loud; yet I pray my children learned grace, forgiveness, faith, prayer and love despite those failings.

So to all the mom’s who are exhausted and looking at their little ones in a messy house with an endless chore list, remember the days are long but the years are short.

Let the mess go. Pick up a book and snuggle up together on the couch. Turn off the TV and go kick a soccer ball outside. Ignore the dishes and go blow bubbles into the wind. Skip the laundry and have a dance party in the kitchen. Those are the moments you will remember. And even more those are the moments they will remember.

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Debbie Barker

My name is Debbie Barker, follower of Jesus, wife to one, mom to three plus three additions. I graduated from Geneva College with a BA in Journalism and Public Speaking. I love to share my story and hear other’s stories! My interests include working with teenagers, reading, writing, talking and organizing events.