Family Matters: Expectations and Real Life

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When I met my husband, Stephen, in 1994, he was already 10 years post-injury, so navigating the world in a wheelchair was not something new. The idea of falling in love, getting married and having children wasn’t new either, but it was not a fantasy in which he often indulged after a spinal stroke left him a T4 paraplegic in late 1983.

And I have to admit, when I fantasized about my future husband, the image in my mind was not a man in a wheelchair. But then, as it always does, life just happened. Thanks to luck, timing and a just emerging America Online, we met. It was virtual at first (a novelty at the time), but after some online chats and a few emails, we arranged to meet at a local bookstore. The connection was immediate, and suddenly the idea of married life didn’t feel so far-fetched to him. And for me, the picture of what my future husband was supposed to look like faded away and was replaced by the actual man before me.

We got married in 1996 with no expectation of having children — partly because we weren’t sure we wanted to become parents, but mostly because we thought we never could. But then, right around the time my biological clock started ticking ever louder, Stephen came upon an article by Dr. Mitch Tepper, a sexual health and disabilities expert with a spinal cord injury, who was writing about life as a new parent. Dr. Tepper also detailed the steps he and his wife took to conceive their son without medical intervention. It was clear, concise and it could be done at home.

We decided to take a twofold approach. We met with a fertility doctor to get checked out and discuss our options, but we also shared with him our desire to try unassisted. He wished us luck, but assured us it would take at least two years of trying with the end result most likely being a return trip to his office for medical intervention.

Boy, was he wrong! Within two months, thanks to Dr. Tepper’s instructions, I was pregnant with our son. Nine months and six days later, Jaron entered the world and our journey as parents had begun.

Parenting a newborn is never easy. Add disability to the mix and the challenges multiply. So even though I did most of the heavy lifting those early years, Stephen was always by my side helping where he could and offering unending support. We were a team and although we were exhausted, as all new parents are, we figured it out.

And Jaron figured it out, too. His why’s and how’s about Stephen’s paralysis morphed into empathic statements like “I’m sorry you can’t walk” and “I wish you could.” And those feelings were gradually replaced by an acceptance that today even includes trying out his dad’s spare wheelchair. (“Dad, I bet you can’t hold a wheelie as long as I can!”)

So our little “home experiment” is a teenager now, and although our family is anything but typical, it feels exactly that. We work, we play, we travel. We laugh, we argue, we figure it out. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 19 years since Stephen and I met. We’ve traveled a long road together and I’m looking forward to the long, ramped road ahead.

Cory Zacker is the founder of Mosaic Tutoring, as well as a blogger on education and parenting. She lives in New York City with her husband and son.