​Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Supporting your Partner

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on December 21, 2021 # Relationships

Two individuals touching their hands together with their fingers in a shape of a heartIn every relationship, partners support one another. This can take on a physical component in mixed ability relationships, from doing dishes to donning and doffing clothing. This doesn’t give one partner more or less value than the other but is simply a matter of each individual playing to their strengths.

As the disabled half of a mixed ability couple, my contributions, although less physical due to injury and surgery, are just as important as my husband’s, which are more physically based. I had an injury followed by surgery earlier this year that altered some of my abilities. It ended up sending me to occupational therapy to adapt to some of my daily activities, from dressing to making dinner. Due to my progressing injury, my responsibilities leaned away from the hands-on cleaning because it exacerbated the side effects of my injury, pain, and numbness. And towards my strengths which are communication, logistics, organizing, meal planning, cooking and the overall care of my kids, which doesn’t include cleaning.

When my husband became injured, we started to alter our life to prevent further injury. The first step was the easiest. We transitioned away from sleeping in our bed which practically required a trebuchet to transfer me into and into sleeping in our living room. My husband slept on the couch, and I took up residency in the electric recliner. I spent a good chunk of my summer there, negating any need for him to lift me. The next step was helping me transfer out of chairs. Even with the chair lifting me, it was a 50/50 chance whether I needed support. Finally, I started doing more with my walker so that my legs would get used to bearing weight more often.

With the onset of cold weather, my body is significantly less happy to work the way I want it to, and lately, I’ve been giving in to its grumpy whims. But now more than ever, this shows me why it’s time to fight. I also transitioned my clothing to warmer items that were easier to use the toilet in. These were all things my husband supported me with while I was still recovering from my neck injury and surgery but was unable to continue due to his injury.

Many of my husband’s tasks are logistically improbable for me; walking down an ancient flight of stairs to get to the laundry, vacuuming with a clunky canister vac, schlepping the kids’ mountain of toys up and down the stairs. But I did figure out a way to scoot across the floor on a kitchen chair, saving energy that would be burned off standing. I was able to help with different tasks, pick up the random detritus off the floor, and sweep. I also drafted my kids to do their part to keep the public areas clearer with some consistent prompting (and reminders that dad can’t pick me up if I fall).

In the past, when my husband has had surgery or needed hands-on care, physically, I have been at 100%, but mentally my anxiety would wear out by the end of the day. He is having surgery on his abdomen and won’t be able to walk upstairs initially, which is where having a semi-accessible house becomes key. He’ll use the porch lift to enter our house and our stairlift to access the upstairs. We have more adaptive equipment than people at our house, so there are countless support options available, whether it’s a walking stick, quad cane, or walker.

Knowing how a shift in ability affects me physically and mentally, I have been developing strategizing for the both of us since he became injured. This has both been functional for me and a mental coping strategy for getting me through my husband being injured.

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.

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.