HerScoop is happy to launch our monthly Inspirational Mom feature, where we’ll showcase an amazing woman in the community. And we’re starting big with Teri Thorson, a 40-year-old Canadian mom-of-one who is raising her nearly 3-year-old son Lucian with husband Brad — and she just happens to have a spinal cord injury.
Teri sustained a complete C6/7 SCI at the age of 24 after a tragic car accident. She opens up about her injury and how she’s learned to cope and create a “new normal.” Shattering myths and challenging us to re-shape our thoughts about people with disabilities, Teri opens up about becoming a “mom in a chair.”
She shares everything from “the best experience of her life” (which happened during natural childbirth), and what’s she’s learned so far: “It is not the physical things you can or can not do with your child, it is the love, attention and time you spend with them that makes you a good mother.”
Continue reading Teri’s inspirational story.
HS: Please tell us how you sustained your complete C6/7 Spinal Cord Injury.
Teri: “When I was 24 I decided to take my first international vacation to visit a friend in Perth, Australia. Eight days into my vacation, our plan was to leave the farm house in the outback where we were staying to go find a beach.
I got in the car with my friend at the wheel. We were following her husband and his friend in their car going about 140 kms (87 mph) on a gravel road when we hit an unmarked hairpin turn. The car flipped end to end 3 times, I felt the roof come down on my head and when I woke up from unconsciousness, I knew immediately something was wrong, though I had no idea to what extent.”
HS: How has the injury change your life?
Teri: “Of course the injury completely changed my life physically. At first after I got injured, I could not move my arms or legs at all. Now I can move my arms but have no hand function and have no movement or feeling chest-level down.
I was a part time model and go-go dancer which I could no longer do. Thankfully I was able to continue in my full time position in computer software.
Emotionally at first it was very hard, all I wanted was to be ‘normal’ again. I tried everything to get my life to be as close to what it was before I had my accident. Now I am very open to change and I try everything at least once.”
HS: How did you manage this change?
Teri: “After my injury I managed the change by trying to keep a sense of normalcy. Going back to work, socializing, being the ‘same old’ Teri.
Now I have a certain kind of ‘acceptance.’ I believe in living in the body I am in in this moment. A few years ago I was an athlete, independent, extremely fit. These days as I age with an SCI and have a toddler, I am not as fit or an athlete, and gave up the idea of having to do it all all of the time.”
HS: Please give us an idea of what it is like to have a complete C6/7 spinal cord injury.
Teri: “A complete C6/7 spinal cord injury means that I have no feeling or movement below my level of injury. The cervical 6 and 7 vertebrates are the lowest in your neck just above the vertebrate that sticks out at the top of your back, between your shoulders. My spinal cord was severed at that level.
The spinal cord acts likes a telephone line from your brain to the nerves telling them to work when you want them to. Anything below that means that that ‘phone line’ has been disconnected and cannot be reached. The nerves that my injury level can control are my arms but not 100% of them. I have diminished triceps and wrists, no hand function, diminished feeling in my hands and triceps, and no feeling or movement nipple level down.”
HS: Before you decided on trying for a family, did you talk to other moms with SCIs who had children?
Teri: “Yes I did have the opportunity to talk to a few other moms in chairs. I have a good friend that raised a son and a few others that I connected with through a peer group that had given birth before me.
I actually just started a Facebook group for moms in chairs because I feel like there are so many issues around giving birth and raising a child when you are mobility-challenged, and it is hard to find people out there that can share the same feelings and experiences as we do. Not a lot of us have done it.”
HS: “Did you always want a family?
Teri: “I can’t say I always wanted to have a family for sure. I was always on the fence about it. Before my injury, I was definitely more on the have-them side, and afterwards, I leaned towards the want-them side — but could see life great either way. I was open to the possibility and wanted my partner to be as well.”
CBS: When did you decide to have a child?
Teri: “My husband and I decided to have a child about one year after we got married.”
CBS: Was it an easy decision?
Teri: “It was a hard decision probably more so for my husband. We both had such a great life, free of responsibility, traveling whenever we wanted, not having to think of any one other than ourselves. So it was hard to imagine being tied down and having the great responsibility of raising a child and having someone be totally dependent on you.
My husband has Crohn’s Disease and he was extremely fearful of passing it along to our child which was the hardest part for him in coming to a decision.”
HS: How did you prepare for pregnancy, the birth and motherhood?
Teri: “Of course I read a lot of books, blogs and websites. But in preparation for pregnancy I made sure I was in good shape, healthy, ate well and took the required vitamins. I also established communication with a physiatrist, occupational and physio therapy, nutritionist and sex therapist all of whom provided me information on what to look forward to in my pregnancy and birth.
Once I became pregnant I started seeing obstetricians, anesthesiologist, hematologist, dietitian, lactation consultant and the coordinator at the hospital I was planning on delivering at along with the previously mentioned specialists. We did a prenatal class, plus I connected with my community health nurse to get some help in my home as I got bigger and less independent as well as in the hospital and at home after I had the baby.
We had a birth doula we started working with before I delivered and who was there for the birth. At home after I had the baby we had a postpartum doula, a nurse, a care worker, and a lactation consultant all helping me and the baby. All these helped us prepare and helped us during the midst of it.”
HS: Has your mobility returned to what it was pre-birth?
Teri: “No. I’m definitely not as strong and am not as independent. But i think that this might have a lot more to do with lack of sleep than anything else. I’m about the same size as I was pre-pregnancy.”
HS: Where did you turn to for information and support during pregnancy and after?
Teri: “All of the specialists I mentioned above gave me so much support and information and of course all the research I did online helped. Most importantly it was my friends and family that provided me with invaluable support and advice and continue to now.”
HS: Did you have to make/purchase any equipment/home modifications?
HS: “I did not, but that was a choice I made as I have a nanny to help me when my husband is at work if I ran in to any issues. All of the equipment we purchased were things found at local shops, online or given to us and were recommended by friends or specialists.”
HS: How was the willingness/attitude of your physicians and health care professionals?
Teri: “I would say that the attitude and willingness from my physicians was very positive. Of course there were a few that wanted to err on the side of caution. I wanted to labor at home, go to the hospital and have a vaginal delivery. All doctors were in agreement with the vaginal delivery as the hospital I delivered at was very pro-vaginal delivery. The issue came with laboring at home as the main concern for me was getting dysreflexia; a symptom quads and high paras get when they experience pain and can cause deadly high blood pressure.
Because of that risk, some doctors wanted to admit me before my due date and induce labor. Since we are only 10 minutes away from the hospital, they allowed me to reach my due date then I decided to induce labor when a week after my due date there was still no sign of baby coming.
I did agree to having an epidural but I wanted it administered after I went into labor which they agreed to but wanted to site it first. Unfortunately when the needle was going in for the epidural, I went dysreflexic so I agreed to start the epidural right away on a very small dose and on a pump so I could increase the dosage as I felt I needed it when labor came on.”
HS: What’s been positive…but also what’s been difficult, during pregnancy and after?
Teri: “I had a fantastic pregnancy for the most part. Had no complications, was still mostly independent and didn’t gain too much weight anywhere else other than my belly. I did have low iron and I was sick the whole 41 weeks of my pregnancy which wiped me out so I slept a lot.
The birth was amazing and scary. I pushed for two hours and even said that this was the best experience of my life.
But then I started vomiting and aspirated some of the vomit so I was coughing and trying to push at the same time which was highly ineffective. The doctor came in at that point, told me the baby had turned and that I had 3 options: keep trying, caesarean section, or help with the forceps. We chose the forceps but I had to get the baby out in 4 pushes or they would have to do a caesarean.
They had to take me to the surgical area and prep me for a caesarean just in case and that was very scary as I now could not feel anything at all and the nurses had to tell me when to push. Thankfully with help of the forceps, our son Lucian was born but while I was delivering him, I contracted a uterus infection so both him and I had to be on IV antibiotics for nearly a week after.
Once I arrived home with Lucian, I was pretty much bed ridden. Because of the forcep delivery, I had 12 stitches and a lot of swelling which took over a month to heal. My time sitting up was very limited as I got minor dysreflexia when I did and I could do virtually nothing on my own.
I did not have enough milk supply for Lucian for the first 3 months but thankfully that changed with a lot of persistence and support. I could not get him in and out of his bassinet and I gave up trying to change his diaper as my hand function is just not good enough. I could get him undressed but not dressed; I could get him out of his high chair but not into it; I could not lift him up onto my lap from the floor and I had to play with him on our bed as I couldn’t get down on the floor with him.
He of course loved his swing and jolly jumper which I could not get him in and out of, and I could not take him out in his stroller or in and out of his car seat though he sat well on my lap so I could wheel around with him.
The hardest parts for me was having people assume he is not mine even when he was on my lap and always having had someone with me to do the things I can’t do with him.
Now that he is a maniac toddler, it has brought so many new harder challenges but also so many great successes. I could easily get him out of his crib and off the floor as long as he can help. The hardest part these days is not being able to keep up with him. He still sits well on my lap but when he wants down he’s off and running usually to places I can’t get to.
I have a power chair now too but even with that I can’t get everywhere he goes or even keep up sometimes. We usually have a few hours during the weekdays alone together, and sometimes it’s disastrous. He wants to run and be free but I can’t take him out on my own and have him be safe so we play inside. It doesn’t take long though before he’s bored and is into everything so I’ve learned a few tricks with trial and error along the way to coerce something from him. It is all about communication since I can’t force him in any way.
Every stage Lucian goes through brings new challenges but also so many great successes. Without such great support from my husband, family and friends though I don’t know if I could do it. The hugs, kisses, love and happiness he shows makes it all worth it though and assures me that we are doing the right things.”
HS: Would you encourage other women with SCI to have a family? Why? Why not?
Teri: “I think it is totally up to the individual, disability or not. I do not think having an SCI should stop you from having a family if you really want one because yes there may be a bit more risk involved, but we have just as much to offer as any other mother.”
HS: Do you have any tips for women with SCI who have children?
Teri: “No tips. We all do what we can with what we have.
But I’ve learned it is not the physical things you can or can not do with your child, it is the love, attention and time you spend with them that makes you a good mother.”
HS: How does Lucian react/work with your wheelchair?
Teri: “Lucian likes to go for rides in my chair and pushes it himself. He climbs up easily by standing on my front caster wheel and pulls himself up. When he was younger, he would pull himself up on to my foot plate, then I could lift him on my lap. He has tipped over backwards in it only once and learned his lesson.
He likes to push me fast or will get beside me and push my wheels. He’s a little too comfortable with it and I often have to remind him to watch his feet or not walk in front of me or swing of the push handles.”
HS: Are you going to try for baby No. 2?
Teri: “We are still undecided. I would like to as I come from a big family and cannot imagine not having a brother and sisters. Being that I’m 40, am high risk and not near BC Women’s Hospital anymore is a bit scary. Plus i can’t imagine having to get up every 3-4 hours for feedings again. We already have an early riser on our hands.”
HS: Why do you think people assume he’s not yours?
Teri: “I think people assume I can’t have kids so he can’t be mine.”
HS: If you don’t mind, please touch on this topic….people with disabilities and sex…
Teri: “I think that when you are in a chair that becomes your identity. You are perceived as no longer being a woman, you are now a wheelchair person, a disabled person. So being a sexual being disappears.
I think it also makes people uncomfortable to think about someone who is in a wheelchair or paralyzed having sex. How do they do it if they can’t move or can’t feel? And what makes us uncomfortable is easier to just push it under the rug and ignore.
Believe me that sex can be just as fulfilling being paralyzed as not. Knowing your body and being comfortable with it is the key just as it is for anyone. Having a partner that is understanding and patient is also important.
It is not the same as when I was able bodied, but I enjoy sex differently and it has become more mentally stimulating than just physically stimulating. The biggest misconception is that a woman with paralysis cannot conceive. We get pregnant exactly the same way most able bodied women do, and have the same issues and successes getting pregnant. The pregnancy and birth is where the most challenging part can be.”
HS: What advice do you have to people who have SCI?
Teri: “My advice is very general and nothing specific, but rings true with my belief. It is a quote by Rick Hansen:
“If you believe in a dream and have the courage to try, anything is possible.”
HS: Any final words of inspiration?
Teri: “I’m lucky that I come from a very supportive, encouraging family and surround myself with people that are as well. They don’t treat me any differently so therefore I don’t think of myself as different.
I do not dwell on the challenges, I just do what I want and feel. Although I am not unaware of my physical limitations, I am never afraid to try anything and most importantly, I feel that we should live life to the fullest.”
HS: Any funny mommy stories?
Teri: “Well kind of a funny story. As everyone knows a child is born with there own personality. Well when our son was an infant he hated the car, screamed and screamed. My husband is a metal head, I love my techno and we’d have contests to see whose music Lucian quietened down to first.
It was Raffi of course.
We are both night owls, we tried to get Lucian to fit into our schedule. Now our life is up at 5:30 am, dinner at 5 pm, bed at 8 pm and lots of Elmo, Barney, Thomas and Bob. Wow how life has changed.”
Do you know an inspirational mom like Teri? Tell us all about her in the comments below.