Perspective: Life as a Disabled Single Mama

[read time: 5 minutes] 

Hi, everyone! 

I received lots of comments and support after uploading my post about living with an arteriovenous malformation, so I figured a follow-up is in order. 

One of the questions I was asked is: “How do you do it – be a single mom with a physical disability?” 

Answer: it is difficult. Indeed: probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, even more so than struggling to get sober (post coming soon). 

First off, I do have help, mostly in the form of my dad, who graciously drives me to my doctor appointments (usually over an hour away) and helps out with picking up groceries when I need. My mom also helps out and the two of them together take my daughter for one night a week so I can have a break. Yes, I realize how lucky I am.

But beyond that – everything is up to me. 

Being born with a physical disability has shaped my life: it is the lens through which I see, and the constraints through which my experiences are filtered. 

I have to ask myself, every day: Can I do this? “This” could be a myriad of things: walk, drive, shop, work. 

The answer: it depends. Am I having a flare-up? If the answer is yes, walking/ driving/ going out is a no. 

Even if I am not having a Bad Leg Day, the activities my daughter and I can do together are severely limited. 

This is not because I do not want to do these things, It is because I cannot. It took me many years to accept my limitations for what they are. This isn’t as simple as changing my mindset – no, because of my disability, some activities are impossible. And, for the sake of my health and avoiding possible further injury, I have to respect my body. 

For example, I used to go on hikes with my dad and brother all the time when we were younger (think: early teens – so, about 20 years ago). However, as any adult with any bodily issues knows, your body deteriorates with age. 

I’d give anything to be able to go on a hike again. It does not matter how many times I complain about my arthritis, though: truly, nothing can be done. Just pain management. And when doing the activity causes the pain, there is no point. I can’t punish my knee for the sake of one hike, when I know I’ll be couch-bound for about a month after. 

So, we have to pick different activities. We go for lots of walks. We walk to places where I can sit down. 

Then, there are the home days. We have had more of these than I’d like to admit. (Granted, with covid, it’s easier to tell myself it’s safer to stay home anyway, lol.) 

What’s a home day? Days we stay home. Days that my leg is so bad I cannot leave the house. Days when my cane won’t cut it and I wish for a wheelchair. (I don’t have one of my own – yet. I’m sure I will soon.) 

These days we spend reading, playing with stickers, doing puzzles, and letting my daughter run around on the patio while I sit and watch. 

But, here’s the thing that hurts the most: she always wants to play with me, especially outside or at the playground or park, and oftentimes, I can’t. I endure the walk to the playground so I can sit on the bench while she gets out her energy. I drag my camping chair outside so I can watch her play in the snow. But there’s times when I can’t join in. These are the times that hurt the most: not only does my knee cause me pain, but there’s pain in my heart, too. 

Every time she wants to be carried, it breaks my heart that I can’t. I used to be able to hold her, obviously, when she was a wee baby; now that she’s 37 pounds, the strain on my leg is too much. 

There’s pain knowing I cannot participate in events coming up in her life: wanting to go snowboarding. Driving places excessively far. Hikes. Biking. Yoga. All things I know my broken body won’t be able to partake in. 

But that’s not to say she does not have a fulfilling and joyous life. Anything that needs to be done for her is done. I make it happen, one way or another. 

I am the only one who pays the bills, does the driving, gets the groceries, makes all the meals, does all the cleaning, etc. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I wish for a partner who can help me do things such as load her or the groceries into the car; clean; generally help out. But, I choose to have nobody and it will stay that way forever (sorry, boys). 

Without someone by my side, I have learned to adapt and do things alone. I know better than to overbuy at the grocery store – I simply cannot carry it all in, especially when my daughter, being 4, cannot help. I use a grocery cart to wheel our stuff to our suite, but even then, it can’t be too heavy (I know, I know, I’m 85). 

So, I must listen to my body and respect it. On the days that I have “off” from my daughter (thanks, mom and dad!), I spend it resting. I sit on the couch with my laptop in my lap and my legs propped up – as I am now. (Side: because I have a venous malformation, and blood flow is affected, the best thing I can do for my leg/ knee is have it up and above my heart. However, we all know that means lying on one’s back and propping your leg way up. This is not feasible for day-to-day life, so I keep it elevated as much as I can.) 

These recent days, I’m packing for our move. I bought a two bedroom condo, which is dramatically different than the one-bedroom I currently rent and that the two of us currently live in. 

It’s an exciting time, but tinged with stress: will my leg hold out? Will my knee be ok? 

Because I am the only one doing the packing (however, I hired movers, because I know my limitations) I am worried that at some point, I’m going to have a flare-up, and then packing will grind to a halt. So, to circumvent this possibility, I started packing two weeks ago. Yep, you read that right: I need to take the whole month to pack and prepare, just to ensure that my leg will not be overworked and will hold out until the end of the month, when my daughter and I move. 

But it’s times like this when I also really shine. I prove to myself that I can do it. I have always been able to do it

It just takes me a bit more time than others, and that’s ok. 

What about you? Do you face any day-to-day challenges? Let me know by commenting below. 

Published by Erica Black

Erica was born with a rare disease called an arteriovenous malformation in her right leg. She is now an advocate for those with disabilities. She left the corporate world in 2016 to pursue a career as a high school English teacher and began to blog along the way. She has a BA in English Lit and minor in Creative Writing. Her writing has been featured in The Martlet, The Globe and Mail, Heroica, and more. She enjoys cats, reading, and her daughter.

2 thoughts on “Perspective: Life as a Disabled Single Mama

  1. I thoroughly enjoy hiking (when my job allows me the time and energy to do so) and thinking about not being able bodied enough to do so would be a big cause for sadness. I cant imagine how it is living with a disability, even on days when my back is out or my knees are acting up I know that in a little while I’ll be back to somewhat normal activities.

    Moving to a 2 bedroom place is going to be a game changing part of the solo momma life. And using a whole month to pack is just sensible, why wait till the last minute and get stressed when hings can be done slower and with less stress?! There’s no need to be in a rush these days, tame the time to do things right and calmly

    Liked by 1 person

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