Real Life Stories From a Disabled Mom | Guest Blogger Kieran O'Brien

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on July 09, 2019 # Mobility, Caregiving

Everyone has power. Trust me, I’m a mom, and most days I call upon some kind of superpower. Aboard my four-wheeled scooter, Beast, I go everywhere from my daughter’s school to work in NYC or to connect with my crip friends. At home in the burbs, Beast schleps me anywhere within a 10 to 15-mile radius based on how new my batteries are. I carry more than shopping bags. My oldest daughter sits by my feet to get to everything from ballet to scouts. I’m working out a new way to carry the baby without her reaching to “help” me steer.

When abled-bodies individuals see me out sans children and find out I’m a parent, they look at me, at the scooter, then back at me and just look confused. They ask, “How did that happen?” I reign my sarcasm in to avoid getting wildly inappropriate in a grocery store, hair salon, or coffee purveyor. (That’s not to say it hasn’t happened when caught on the right kind of day)

These exchanges come down to perception. Moms take care of people. Disabled people get taken care of. As a mom with Cerebral Palsy, I balance between the two narrow stereotypes.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

That doesn’t mean that I greet every or any challenge like a cartoon princess. Most days, I face challenges with neither a song in my heart nor a cadre of helpful woodland creatures around me but with strategy, creativity, and a lifetime of hacking just about everything I needed to do. There have been instant successes, hard-won successes and full-on failures, just like every other parent with or without disabilities. Disability is a part of me, just like my brown eyes, and freckles. It has helped shape my life. I spent my childhood through young adulthood wishing to be not be seen as a hero for existing or handling chronic pain and remember telling and advisor, “I don’t need them to see me as super, just as human.”

Having the right tech and a supportive environment makes the difference between having independence and not. After a decade of scooter use, I finally got the right wheels for me in 2000. GirlRacer was hunter green and dripped chrome. Her four-wheel stability enabled me to go anywhere from PT to the city independently for the first time in my life. Wheels make life possible.

In the same way, the right equipment and setup makes independent caregiving possible. That also includes everyone having their own definition of independence. With my own kids, there are tasks I do on my own, in tandem with another adult or with my older daughter, or I won’t do because I haven’t found a safe and successful solution. For those activities in the third category (or if I don’t have a backup for the second), there’s a workaround or a phone-a-friend.

Stereotypically, moms are expected to do everything. Using five times the energy of an able-bodied person on any given task, meaning, that I pick what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. Do my kids suffer because we adapt to save energy? No, saving energy means I have that much more to show up for them in meaningful ways. Reading books, having dance parties, soccer practice, bubble baths and bedtime songs. Disability is our normal, we don’t always do things the way other families do, but we don’t have to.

My recipes and crafts aren’t Insta-worthy and there won’t soft-focus lens shots of perfect parties. But if you want an honest, humorous look at parenting on the crip side. Come on in! There’s a wheelchair lift off the back.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.