Real-Life Story of a Disabled Mom: Learning & Modeling Body Positivity and Healthy Lifestyle

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on April 01, 2022 # Lifestyle

“I never knew you were ugly until you told me.” Reading those words on a social media post as a new mom chilled me to the bone. I had been up to that point on most diets from Atkins to Zone, and even at my smallest, I thought about surgical intervention to preserve and regain my mobility dissecting self. It was almost a hobby. Hating wasn’t an option; it was more like seeing myself in a constant state of disrepair. My walk needed to be tweaked again. Losing X pounds would make it easier to walk and make my jeans look great. I loved my shoulders until a PT pointed out that they were “winged out.” Compliments were always shaken off with humor.

A deep conversation with myself (I’m a Gemini, who else am I going to talk to?) answered: Do I want my daughter to see her mom (and by extension herself) as a bag of broken spare parts? No, I want her to see me as love, intelligence, beauty, humor, strength, security, and acceptance. Positive self-talk has always been a great jumping-off point for me. So, to the mirror, I dashed and in my exhausted new mom state, I shared a smile with my reflection, my eyebrows and eyelashes still looked amazing, and I loved my freckles and smile. This body just had a baby and was pretty much living on coffee and whatever I could grab with one hand from the fridge. I was doing great. Feeding my little girl, she snuggled into me, reveling in the body she had inhabited not that long before. She ran her fingers over the blanket against my arm, and it was the same thing she had done before she was born… appreciate the softness.

So how do we model body positivity and healthy living? I have a scale, and if I use it, I don’t talk about it. We don’t quantify or qualify the shapes and sizes of people. Other than to say everyone is their unique size and shape for themselves. A few years ago, a kid asked one of my girls why their mom was “so fat” (compared to their mom) so they asked me. I said that I liked the way I looked and that their mom looked nice too. One of the key pieces I want them to take away is to feel comfortable and confident in who they are. I don’t diet. However, we maintain healthy eating habits and have always done so. Proteins, vegetables, and good carbs are on our plates most nights. We have treats too because there is no such thing as good food and bad food. There are “all the time” foods and “sometimes” foods. And there is never talk of “burning off” food or “earning a treat” through exercise.

One thing they know is that I love to exercise. When I did adaptive CrossFit remotely before my unrelated injury, my youngest would come in and lift with me. When asked why I exercise, or rather why I’m getting back to exercise after recovering from surgery, my true answer is to have strength and energy to keep up with them. Or the short answer, “Mommy likes feeling strong.”

Due to a period of post-surgical dysphasia last year and a lengthy recovery, I lost muscle. My family saw me through this difficult time where my body hadn’t worked as it always has.

One of the great things about being a parent in this situation is I knew I had to mourn what I lost. I moved on to acceptance and some form of positive action. My kids had to mourn it too. Old Kieran would have either eaten everything in sight or not eaten a thing and pushed herself too far too fast, ruining the healing process. I appreciate the pace of the process and the partners who lift weights with me because they want to get strong with Mommy.

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.