Finding out I was going to be a father was, one of the greatest moments of my life. If you’re a parent, you probably recall how it felt: There was a tremendous sense of happiness, love, and pride.
Not too long after that initial euphoria faded though, it got replaced by something else. Not worry, necessarily. But suddenly, I felt like Homer Simpson, realizing he had a million things to do all at once. In nine months, there was going to be a baby in our apartment. And babies need (a lot) of stuff.
One of the biggest things they need is a crib. Not only is it the focal point (warning: language) of the nursery, but a place to sleep is a pretty important check mark on the list.
Here’s the problem: For nearly all parents, getting a crib involves setting a budget, deciding on a style, and picking out a crib. But when you’re in a wheelchair, cribs are a lot more complicated. Whereas an able-bodied person can just lean over the sides of a standard crib and pick up or put down a baby, that’s not possible for me. I can stand, but my CP means I don’t have the balance or arm strength to stand while holding a baby.
When it comes to being a parent, it’s really important to me that I balance as much of the responsibilities as possible. The inability to do something as simple (and critical) as putting my baby down to sleep would throw a dent into that plan.
My first task as a father-to-be came into focus: Figure out the crib situation.
This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. Mainly because, due to our family’s love of Will Ferrell movies, I assumed that cribs where the sides dropped down—thus giving me easy access to the not-yet named baby Cora—were still a thing. Turns out, they’re not. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still those types of cribs out there in the world. But if even the new ones were considered unsafe, Ashley and I certainly didn’t want an older, used one. A buddy of mine remembered that hospitals do use cribs where the sides can be lowered, but those companies don’t sell to individuals. So that plan was out.
Our next thought was to turn to the Internet. As my wife was fond of saying, I was not the first person in a wheelchair to have a child. Someone, somewhere had to have a solution. The problem is, most of the people who come up with these solutions for disabled individuals aren’t forming companies and creating scalable solutions for society. They’re solving one person’s problem.
And it didn’t take us too long to find what we thought was a solution. PediaLift’s crib seemed to be exactly what we were looking for. It addressed our needs, and we felt safer that it was an actual company.
The problem? This was the only such company we found, and when we reached out to them, we were quoted a cost of more than $16,000. That number is slightly less than what we wound up paying for a nearly new van four months later. And while we toyed with the idea of letting Cora live there, we were worried about her going on a joy ride across state lines.
This is actually a really common thing to encounter when you’re disabled. So many of your solutions for daily living, aren’t as much “solutions” as they are “really expensive things you might not be able to afford.” And there wasn’t much point in going broke to buy a crib and then having to live on Government cheese. So plan B was out.
It was at this point that we realized we’d need go the DIY route with this crib. Well, not the “Y” because neither my wife or I had the ability to make the type of crib we need. We both majored in Communications, for crying out loud. Thankfully, upstate New York is home to lots of colleges where there are people who major in things that could actually help us. Like engineering. In a bold move, I decided to email several of these schools, out of the blue, to see if they knew of anyone who could help us build the crib we needed.
Lo and behold, it actually worked. One of the schools got back to us, and put us in touch with a pair of really nice professors who seemed more than willing to help us modify a store-bought crib to make it accessible for me. Over the next several months, we emailed them about our needs and they shared ideas. They came to our apartment to take some measurements and sketch stuff up. We bought the crib we were going to have them modify, and had it sent to their campus.
Then, one day, we got an email from them. An email that mentioned lawyers. Right away, I knew this was not good news. It turns out, these professors wouldn’t be able help us after all. It was a safety and liability issue—which I guess isn’t too surprising, given that, as I mentioned, a previous accessible crib solution was deemed unsafe by the government.
Still, at this point, Cora was only a few months away. And I was beyond frustrated. I was angry. It’s hard being a parent, but it’s really hard when you’re disabled and you’re trying to do something as basic as get a crib for your daughter, and everywhere you go, you get turned away. I just want to take care of my daughter. This was 2016. We’d put a man on the moon. How is it possible that we didn’t have a realistic way for a parent in a wheelchair to use a crib?
After reading that email, I called Ashley. I yelled. I cried. My wife, being the amazing person she is, took me out for a big steak and promised everything would be okay. She told me that lots of babies can sleep in a rock ‘n play, or a pack n’play, for months, and we had plenty of time to find a solution to our crib problem.
As it turns out, she was right. One day, Ashley was talking to her father, and she mentioned the problem we’d had with the crib. My father-in-law, Jim, is a real do-it-yourself type guy, and he promised us he’d come up with a solution.
When he came to visit us that summer, he had one. Contrary to my plans that involved engineers and taking out a five-figure loan, Jim’s solution simply involved a miter saw and about 20 bucks spent at Home Depot. He was going to put a french door on Cora’s crib, with a deadbolt lock.
Turns out, just like that Luvs commercial, like all first-time parents, I was way more nervous than I had to be. Even though it seemed like we were going to be thwarted at every turn, in reality, we have so many great people in our lives, a solution was never far away.
Still, this experience was really eye-opening for me, and if you’ve read this whole thing, I hope it’s been for you. We’ve come a long way when it comes to services for the disabled. But there’s a lot of gaps that remain out there, and a lot of them have to do with parenting.
So if you’re disabled and you’re reading this, I want you to know that, even though it can be frustrating at times, there are solutions out there. And if you’re able-bodied, I want you to think about all the things you might take for granted when it comes to being a parent, and realize there’s a whole population out there who could use a helping hand when it comes to that stuff. And if we work together, we can come up with solutions that make this parenting thing a little less scary for all of us. (Thanks again, Jim!)