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Caroline Jephcott: Nine top tips from a physically disabled parent

Guest Guest | 16:06 UK time, Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Caroline with baby Christopher and assistant dog Yasmin

Caroline Jephcott has arthritis and is mum to 17 month old Christopher. Here she writes about the online support, strategies and equipment, and her clever assistant dog named Yasmin, which make being a mobility impaired mum easier.

Growing up with a severe disability which gave me deformed joints and left me small in stature and weak, I have learned to cope with all the situations life throws at me. My husband has arthritis like me, and together, he and I are skilled at adapting every day objects from conventional stores to meet our needs.

Having a baby didn't worry us but, with very little support from external sources either during or post pregnancy, we did have to get even more creative than usual.

I couldn't go to anti natal classes as they were all up stairs. So instead, I went on to the parenting website Mumsnet and found comradeship with disabled mums and dads in a similar situation on the talk forums. We chatted online about all aspects of pregnancy and parenthood and exchanged ideas on how to prepare for the babies arrival.

This information is not easy to come by so here are some of the tips we picked up along the way.

1. We realised that our baby's clothes would need to be easy to get on and off. If, like us, you find poppers difficult, I would recommend going online to places where second hand, good condition baby clothes are sold. This way, the poppers have already been worked by someone else and so can be managed more easily.

2. Babies come with lots of stuff. We didn't want our house to look like a hospital ward, so instead of going for specialist disability-friendly equipment, we went to the high street.

We found the simplest to use buggies are often the cheapest. We particularly like the umbrella-style models, which flip out. The more thin and plastic the levers are, the easier they are to move. The lighter the better for us.

3. For meal times, we chose to have swivel dining chairs and a travel high chair, so that once he was eating solid foods, I would be able to sit and angle the baby to an easy feeding position.

4. In the beginning, we mainly put Christopher in his carry cot downstairs during the day, so that my husband and I didn't spend all our time going up and down on our stair lift to put him down for naps.

5. We initially struggled with bathing, so a plastic tub of warm water and J cloth came in handy for washing him on the bed.

6. Christopher was already 5 months old when an occupational therapist visited our home. Among her positive suggestions was a referral to REMAP. Remap is a free nationwide service of volunteer engineers who adapt almost anything for you. We gave them the cot, which needed heightening so that the base would always be at a level where I could reach the baby. REMAP had the cot for just two days before returning it on taller legs. It continues to work wonderfully.

7. At 17 months old our son crawls and coasts round the furniture. He has more physical strength now than either of his parents. Luckily, there is another member of the household on hand to help.

I have a fantastic assistant dog called Yasmin who has been trained by the charity Canine Partners, to help me carry out daily living tasks. Yazmin now knows over a hundred baby related words. She tidies up after my son, putting toys in his toy box. If she sees him heading for stairs, she will cause a diversion by lying down in front of him. She is also a great friend to Christopher who will be an only child, as pregnancy has taken its toll on my joints.

8. Our activities with Christopher are gentle. We read to him and do finger painting. Apps on tablets like the iPad have also opened up a whole new world of kids games and activities, useful for parents living with a disability and who are unable to run around.

9. Christopher laughs lots and talks lots! Everyone comments on his calmness which I put down to a structured routine. As part of that routine, we go out once a week, an aspect of parenting which I still find challenging. I have only recently been able to take him out in the car independently, using a car seat which swivels, making it easier for me to lift him in and out. But I am in the process of sorting out direct payments so that I can employ someone for a couple of hours a week to help with getting out more often.

My husband and I rise to every challenge and smile and get over the hurdles. That is what makes us great parents!

Caroline writes a blog for Mumsnet called DisABLEd Positive Parent

Have you picked up tips and tricks along the way which might work for other disabled parents? Add them to Caroline's list in the comments below.

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