After I finally left the hospital, I faced a tough 6 months battling depression and anxiety. I finally came around with the support of my fiancée; together we overcame the struggles and burdens we faced, and I began to realise that I had more to do in life, that it wasn’t over, especially with my fiancée still by my side. When I was frustrated during my recovery, especially those early months back at home, I would take it out on my loved ones and those closest to me, blaming everyone but myself. My fiancée especially experienced a lot of that lashing out but she stuck by me, and I finally realised that I had to accept what had happened. I slowly learned to appreciate what I had and to move forward with my life. Accompanying that realisation was one of the most significant moments of my life – as a declaration of our love and commitment to each other, my fiancée and I got married.
We also made the decision to expand our family. It was a hard lesson to learn, knowing that problems don’t go away and that you just have to learn how to live day by day in a way that doesn’t let those problems overwhelm you, physically or mentally. It was difficult to work out how to manage with life in a wheelchair as well as planning for bringing a brand new little person into the world. It was not only me that had to work out how to balance this new life with our future, but my wife as well. We had many discussions, thought about it and decided that it was definitely time to extend the family, and so we did. Because of my situation with my spinal injury, IVF was our only option. It wasn’t easy – the first two attempts weren’t successful, but true to the phrase “third time lucky”, my wife then fell pregnant. Aside from my marriage, it was the first good news I’d gotten since my injury and marked an exciting but terrifying new chapter in my life.
It was a big challenge for me, not being able to do all those little things like rubbing my wife’s stomach and feeling the baby move. I could see it but not feel, and not being able to experience that or provide the physical support during her pregnancy was a struggle. But we both wanted that baby so much and were so excited to bring a new life into our family that we held strong, and our shared determination made the whole process a lot easier. We were committed, and that helped us get through a lot. I saw my wife working and having to manage so much on her own – it was a painful experience to see her have to manage so much on her own while seeing husbands in other families be able to provide more physical support than I could, but I didn’t tell her, as she didn’t need my stress on top of hers. One thing I always went back to, when the pressure got too much, was reading my Bible. It helped me to deal with all these problems I had in front of me, to give me a way to process and learn from them rather than hit a mental wall and despair. It got me to understand there is more in life.
I do take my hat off to my wife. She is so strong and always has been, taking that whole weight onto herself while I could only offer my mental and emotional support during her pregnancy. In 2007, I experienced one of the most amazing days of my life – my wife delivered our newborn baby girl. Being with her every step of the way, from the IVF treatments through pregnancy all the way up until delivery day, was an amazing experience. The cord was cut and the nurse held up my baby in front of me, and she was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Seeing her cry so loudly, she was so healthy and strong. It was a big milestone in our life; now we had extended our family, and we couldn’t have been happier. After four days resting up and recovering in hospital, my wife brought our daughter home for the first time. I was so excited that I didn’t have to go all the way to the hospital to see them, that I could see them all the time.
I won’t lie, we still had to deal with a lot of things. Getting used to first-time fatherhood while I was still getting used to life in a wheelchair was a big struggle – the physical challenges were many. I wasn’t able to touch my daughter, to hold her and pat her to sleep like other fathers could. It was very hard, but I tried to deal with it and be strong not only for myself but for my wife and now my daughter. I tell you, during those days I escaped into prayer quite a lot, to find my strength and peace. Every time I did I felt better and strong enough to keep going with what I had. I knew I was lucky, and still am – I have a wife and daughter and there are many who don’t. I was grateful for my family, but things weren’t as easy as some may think. It was very hard, but I was lucky and grateful that prayer could always lift my spirits and give me focus. My faith in God played a very big part in my recovery, both physically and mentally.
If I had to offer a piece of advice that I learned from all this, I’d advise people to have a good look at the things you have in life. Look at your loved ones, friends and especially family; they struggle as you do, and just as they might not always understand your pain, sometimes you don’t understand theirs. You might be focused on what you’ve lost physically – the trick is to focus on what you have in front of you. Nurture those relationships and you can keep each other strong through the bad times. Sometimes being unable to accept that life has changed due to spinal injury can make you unable to see past yourself and unable to fix the things that can be changed. But if you can see this as just another way of living, and work with your family and loved ones to build that new life together, there is so much you can still do.
In the next blog post, I will be talking about relationships and how we deal with problems while staying strong together.