The baby adventure
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Julia has been paralysed from the 12th thoracic vertebra down ever since suffering a serious car accident. She recently gave birth to her daughter Juna. We sat down with her to chat about the experience
Let’s start with the most important question. How are you and your daughter doing?
We’re fine. Juna is healthy, incredibly well-behaved, and sleeps a lot. I am slowly recovering from the pregnancy and the birth.
Can women with spinal cord injuries conceive naturally?
Yes. Contrary to popular belief, we conceive the same way healthy women do. The female cycle is not affected in the long term by a spinal cord injury. Ovum maturation, ovulation, and the transfer of the ovum to the uterus are not controlled by nerves, but by hormones. My partner and I wanted a family, which is why we decided to give it a go. We were so happy when it happened.
How did you experience the pregnancy?
It was very, very laborious. The level of my injury allows me to move my arms and hands, but the weight gain made it more difficult for me to transfer from the wheelchair to the bed. I became more immobile. The wheelchair felt increasingly tight. Besides, I wasn’t allowed to sit too long in order to avoid pressure sores. As with other pregnant women, my bladder capacity decreased. Given that I’m incapable of rushing off to the toilet, I had to plan everything even more carefully. The worst thing, however, was the extreme water retention. My whole body was swollen. My hands, in particular, hurt terribly.
How did you realise “it was time” on the day you gave birth?
Many women with spinal cord injuries can’t feel contractions. They feel nauseous, get dizzy, or experience goose bumps. I didn’t really know how my body would react, especially as I still experience residual sensations. One night, I went to the bathroom and realised that my membrane had ruptured. Seven weeks too early! I felt really painful contractions in the hospital, but was given tocolytics for a week to delay the birth. Juna was then finally delivered by caesarean section.
Would it have been possible to deliver her naturally?
The level of paralysis plays an important role in this context. Many of those affected can no longer press. I might have managed with the help of doctors and midwives, but I felt the risk was too high. The baby could have got stuck in the birth canal and failed to get enough oxygen. That would have been too risky. The caesarean section was a conscious decision I made in advance.
How did it feel to hold your baby in your arms for the first time?
(smiles) It was simply indescribable…
What about the time you spent in hospital?
I had her little bed placed right next to mine and changed her nappies between my thighs. Hospitals are not prepared for mothers with spinal cord injuries. I had to learn so many things in terms of dealing with Juna. Given that she was born prematurely, we had three weeks to get used to each other in the ward.
Now the small family has arrived at home…
Exactly, and we have settled in well. The changing unit has been lowered and the customised crib allows me to pick Juna up without help. I can even push her pram with a Segway. If you’re restricted and can’t move your legs, you have to get creative…
If you could make a wish…
I want our family to be happy. I hope Juna will grow into a healthy, strong girl with a unique personality and character. I hope she can accept my disability and won’t be too sad when I can’t join her for her first steps – or follow her first outing on a bicycle or skis.
Wings for Life fund spinal cord research projects all over the world to find a cure for spinal cord Injuries. To support us you can take part at the Wings for Life World Run or donate here. Thank you :-)