The first few months as a new parent are a time of intense learning.
For the ABC’s National Disability Affairs reporter, Nas Campanella, who is blind and living with a neurological disorder, figuring out how to navigate motherhood has been a wild ride.
“Those first few weeks as a new mom to everyone are really up and down and it was an emotional time,” says Nas.
“I struggled with food and just tried to work everything out.”
Lachie is now four months old and Nas says the time has flown by.
“Lachie is getting really big and heavy. I can feel his belly and how tall he is.”
Given her disability, Nas relies on her other senses to navigate motherhood, especially while playing.
“I use a lot of patterned and textured mats so I can hear it rustle and know where it is,” she says.
“We also have a lot of soft toys that make a lot of noise, so I often surround him with toys so I can hear him move.”
Changing diapers is a tactile experience.
“There’s no getting around it, and yes, sometimes it can be messy.
“I always make sure I have everything within reach when I have him on the changing table, and I always have one hand on him while reaching for different things with the other.”
Time on the floor has become invaluable for Nas to witness Lachie’s progress and milestones.
And Nas says she’s especially mindful of her facial expressions and always goes the extra mile to smile when she’s changing Lachie or playing with him, because that’s when he’s most likely to look at her.
“Just like his father smiles at him or his grandparents, I want him to know I’m smiling at him too.
“He’s starting to recognize faces and start to look at people more, and I can tell when he’s aiming at me.
“When I hold him, I can tell he’s looking at me by the way he’s breathing — he’s breathing right into my face. Sometimes he stops waving his hands and I know he’s focusing on me.”
Story time is also part of the daily ritual at home. To do this, Nas uses a similar technique she read the news on triple j and other ABC platforms†
Friends and family recorded themselves reading children’s books that Nas loaded onto her phone. Using headphones, Nas listens and repeats what she hears to Lachie.
“I keep the print version of the book for Lachie and everyone is recording audio notes like when to turn the page. It works really well.”
Outdoor activities also prove helpful for both mom and bub, including sensory classes once a week. The sessions include a range of activities, using lights, musical instruments and puppets.
“The classes help kids develop their senses and especially with Lachie’s visual processing I couldn’t help him with that,” Nas said. “It’s an activity I chose strategically so he can access it and do it with other kids.”
The classes are also a great social outing: “Meeting and talking to other moms who have similar experiences is fantastic and makes me feel like we’re all in this together.”
Of course, Nas works through the common issues of parenting like sleeping, eating, and routines, but she says the biggest challenge is people’s prejudices.
“Often people are surprised to hear that I’m a mom and some have even asked silly questions, like who stays at home with Lachie and I, like it’s impossible for my son to be left alone with me,” says Nas.
“It’s really hard to hear those kinds of statements and that’s the kind of discrimination that many parents with disabilities face on a regular basis.”
Nas hopes lessons can be learned from her pregnancy and motherhood.
“If you live with a disability, I hope it teaches you that you can absolutely be a parent no matter what anyone says. And for non-disabled people, I hope it teaches you that we’re out there, that we’re part of the groups of your parents, and we’re doing really well.”
Listen to Richard Glover’s interview with Nas Campanella on ABC Radio Sydney†
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