Finding out I was going to be a father was one of the greatest moments of my life. You probably recall how you felt: There was a tremendous sense of happiness, love, and pride.
Not too long after that initial euphoria faded though, it got replaced by something else. Not worry, necessarily. But suddenly, I felt like Homer Simpson, realizing he had a million things to do all at once. In nine months, there was going to be a baby in our apartment. And babies need stuff.
One of the biggest things they need is a crib. It’s the focal point (warning: language) of the nursery, and a place to sleep is pretty important.
Here’s the problem: For able-bodied parents, getting a crib involves setting a budget and picking out a crib. But for me, cribs are a lot more complicated. An able-bodied person can lean over the sides of a standard crib and pick up or put down a baby. I can not. I can stand, but I don’t have the balance or arm strength to stand while holding a baby.
When it comes to being a parent, it’s really important to me that I balance as much of the responsibilities as possible. So my first task as a father-to-be came into focus: Figure out the crib situation.
This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. Due to our family’s love of Will Ferrell movies, I assumed that cribs where the sides dropped down were still a thing, thus giving me easy access to the not-yet named baby Cora. Turns out, they’re not. That doesn’t mean those cribs aren’t still out there in the world. But if even the most recent models were considered unsafe, my wife Ashley and I didn’t want to chance it.
We turned to the Internet. Someone out there had to have a solution, because, as my wife is fond of saying, I am not the first person in a wheelchair to have a child. The problem is, most of the people who come up with these solutions aren’t forming companies and creating scalable solutions for society. They’re solving one person’s problem.
Despite that, we found PediaLift’s crib, which seemed to be exactly what we needed. Not only that, but we felt reassured knowing that a company was making the product.
Unfortunately, this was the only such company we found, and we were quoted a cost of more than $16,000 for the crib. That number is slightly less than what we wound up paying for a nearly new van four months later.
When you’re disabled, this is a depressingly common situation. So many solutions for daily living aren’t really “solutions” as they are “expensive things you can’t afford.” There wasn’t much point in going broke buying a crib and then having to live on Government cheese.
We realized we’d need go the DIY route. Well, not the “Y” part, because neither my wife or I could make the crib. We majored in Communications, for crying out loud. Thankfully, upstate New York is home to several colleges full of engineers who could make one. I emailed several engineering departments to see if they could help us.
Amazingly, one of the schools got back to us, and connected us with two professors, who seemed excited to help us modify a store-bought crib. Over the next several months, we emailed them about our needs, and they shared ideas. They came to our apartment to take measurements and make sketches. We bought a crib and sent it to their campus.
A few weeks later, we got an email from them – an email that mentioned lawyers. Right away, I knew this was not good. It turns out, these professors wouldn’t be able help us after all. It was a safety and liability issue, which wasn’t too surprising, given that a previous accessible crib solution had been deemed unsafe by the government.
I wasn’t mad at the professors, really. But I was angry. It’s hard being a parent, but it’s really hard when you’re disabled and trying to do something as basic as find a crib for your newborn, and everywhere you go, you get turned away. I just wanted to take care of Cora. This was 2016. How is it possible that we didn’t have a realistic way for a parent in a wheelchair to use a crib?
I called Ashley. I yelled. I cried. My wife, being the amazing person she is, promised me everything would be okay. She told me that lots of babies can sleep in a rock ’n play or pack n’ play for months and that we had plenty of time to find a solution.
As usual, she was right. Not long after, Ashley mentioned the problems we’d had to her father. My father-in-law, Jim, is a do-it-yourself type of guy, and he promised us he’d help us find a solution.
When he came to visit us later that summer, he had one. Contrary to my more elaborate attempts that involved engineers or taking out a five-figure loan, Jim’s solution involved a miter saw and about 20 bucks spent at Home Depot. He planned to put a french door on Cora’s crib, secured with a deadbolt lock.
Turns out, like all first-time parents, I was far more nervous than I had to be. Even though it seemed like we were going to be thwarted at every turn, we had so many great people in our lives. A solution was never far away. Jim made the crib, and it works great.
This experience was eye-opening for me, however. We’ve come a long way when it comes to services for the disabled. But a ton of gaps remain, and many of them have to do with parenting.
If you’re disabled, I want you to know that, even though it can be frustrating at times, there are solutions to your parenting issues. If you’re able-bodied, I want you to think about the things you take for granted and realize there’s a population out there who could use a helping hand. If we work together, we can make parenting less scary for them.
This piece was previously published on Patrick’s Blog Parenting on Wheels.