Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: The key repetitive experiences

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on July 19, 2021 # Lifestyle

At the parkThe key repetitive experiences that have shaped my life as a disabled person have been those of over-compromise. Through various machinations, I was born disabled or became disabled neonatally, but to be honest, I don’t have much clarity on the moment when it happened. Regardless, I know that I have overcompensated with loved ones, friends, and even colleagues as far back as I can remember. What does that mean? For the greater part of my life, I felt like I was in a deficit in my relationships- all of them. I had to go above and beyond just to be considered. I always had to be happy, entertaining, helpful. I would even try to give out fancy gifts. I’m naturally diplomatic, but a lifetime of diplomacy when you’re bargaining away your needs is exhausting.  

None of us should feel guilty or less valuable for needing extra care, access to needs, or a spot at the table. I’ve had many relationships where I put my all into people, supported them emotionally and helped them out of unhealthy spaces, but when I needed consideration, thoughtfulness, or even just an ear to listen without being able-splained or having my situation one-upped, it was unavailable.

This situation created a cycle where I’d be incredibly social when things were great, but when one thing went wrong, I’d retreat into my shell for days, weeks, and even months. I made my outside match the way I always felt on the inside: alone. Maybe it’s a lifetime of being the only disabled person in my peer group-, facing the pressure to be the “happy cripple” because that girl gets things done for her whereas complaining is burdensome, or the constant reinforcement that I was strong without being told that it was also ok to be vulnerable (to this day I hate being vulnerable). 

So even before I became a parent, I felt alone a lot or like an imposter for most of my life. Either because I was the only disabled person in the room or other people had shared experiences that I couldn’t have for access/inclusion reasons. What added to things was that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing these feelings for fear of being pitied and othered. In parenting/school spaces, I tend to go above and beyond if other parents or my child’s teacher don’t know me yet.

I don’t feel like I have to be perfect, but I wish I could share my reality without wondering if someone will pull the concerned citizen card on me. “Oh, she’s having a hard week. . .are her kids safe?” I am not the only disabled parent who shares this fear.  I’m a good mom. My kids know that I am there no matter what. I will roll through fire for them. But on the flip side, I also need to step back and take care of myself and my needs, or there will be nobody left to steer the tiller. 

So, for the first time, I am sharing my needs across my group of trusted friends who won’t doubt my fitness to parent or gaslight me into toxic positivity. Because I’m worth more than that.  

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.