by Katherine Reed

My name is Katherine Reed. I’m a paraplegic (since 2008) and I’m mum to William (7) and Harrison (5). We live in Tasmania with my husband Tim on our farm.

When I was 19, I fell off a horse, breaking my back, as well as fracturing my skull and a few other minor issues. While I mourned the loss of my ability to ride, my mum mourned the loss of my ability to have children. It turns out we were both wrong.

Katherine lives on a farm in Tasmania with her partner Tim, and two boys William and Harrison

Eleven years later, I have gone on to ride again, to travel Australia solo, to represent my country in wheelchair basketball and attended Agriculture college, all before coming home to Tasmania to settle down and have those babies my mum thought I’d never have.

Our first son Will was born in 2016, and like new parents everywhere, Tim and I worked it out as we went. I tried to speak to as many women with spinal cord injuries as I could, to help learn what SCI specific issues I might need to prepare for, as well as any useful tips they might be able to provide. 

Unfortunately, I found there were few of these women to talk to, and very little information to be found online. This led me to begin my blog, Para Pregnancy. I knew there were going to be plenty of other women coming after me who could benefit from my experiences.

I’m a complete paraplegic, at the level of the 4th and 5th thoracic vertebrae. I have pins and needles from half-way down my breasts and below, which meant I had to monitor a correct feeding latch by sound and sight, rather than feel. 

I can’t walk or stand, and my balance is impaired. My bowel and bladder care are managed by a combination of medications, timing, self-catheterisation (bladder) and suppositories and stomach massage (bowels). My bowel routine takes up to an hour most days. It sucks, but it is what it is. I also have trouble regulating my temperature and rely on a room thermometer to help know how warm to dress the boys, since I almost always feel cold. My reproductive system is not affected, so I can still menstruate and get pregnant as normal.

Because my body cannot feel pain or discomfort in the usual way, I have an ‘alarm system’ called autonomic dysreflexia. This means in painful situations (i.e. childbirth), I have to be careful to manage my pain. I laboured with both my boys, but for various reasons, both ended up emergency caesarean sections. I’ve written about both over three posts; herehere and here.

I’ve only ever been a mum in a wheelchair, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. I have many of the same issues as any other mum, so I just do my best to adjust to the situation. I find I often rely on strangers for help. I have to think ahead a little more sometimes. For example, there are only a select few spots in town I can park where I have flat access to both sides of the car. When the boys were smaller, I would park where I had access to one side of the car, then recruit a passer-by to get Harry from the other side.

I need to be quite strict with the boys about some things, like picking up toys in the walkways (so I don’t fall out of my chair) and not to run away, since they can easily outrun me now. I very much pick my battles, allowing them to run and explore around whenever I can. We have a large house yard, so they are allowed a lot of freedom outside.

Often, I will be getting out of my car and someone passing by will make a comment on me getting my chair out of the car. While I know they are just trying to be supportive and encouraging, I find it somewhat amusing (or annoying, depending on the day I’m having), since I’ve also got two kids. 

People really struggled when I had the pram too – me operating the pram may look impressive, but I promise you I find it quite easy. I keep one hand on my wheels and the other on the pram, alternating hands as I push one side, then the other. It does mean I travel in a bit of a zig zag until I get up momentum, but on a downhill we’re like a freight train!

When it comes to what equipment I’ve bought, a lot of my choice had been dictated by what I’ve had available to try out. We don’t have a huge range in Tasmania. The capsule we got was the only one I could get in and out of both the pram and car without assistance. We used a co-sleeper bassinet, so I could feed in bed and stay warm. Around home I used a regular pillow on my lap, so I could lay Harry on it (without him rolling off my lap) until he was big enough to sit up.

At the end of the day, I have more in common with any other mum than I have separating me. 

  • May 10, 2024

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