A story about navigating, sex, relationships and reproductive health as a woman with disability.
Hi, my name is Julie. In 1998, I had a car accident resulting from drunk driving which has left me as a Quadriplegic. I was young and had made a mistake that would change my life as I knew it.
I feel the accident has cost me a lot, but in turn has given me a lot which, is why I am able to share a little bit of my story with you here.
My story is about how my life had changed after my accident and what it means to still feel like a woman after my accident when it comes to sex and reproductive health. In my story I want to share my experiences of what it meant to me to still feel sexy, maintain a healthy sex life and experience pregnancy. I may have a disability, but I am still a woman.
Over the years, maintaining a healthy sex life was something I had to explore and learn to do. After my accident, I dealt with a lot of insecurities. There was a lot of questions in my mind because of these insecurities and changes such as, can I still have sex? Am I going to have a boyfriend? Will he find me attractive? Looking at those fears and insecurities I was able to face certain situations and scenarios in the relationships that I had.
Not too long after my accident, I met my youngest daughter’s father and for me that was a very big learning curve. At first it was a little bit weird, just being able to get to know each other and feel comfortable was an obstacle. There were certain things such as explaining catheters and doing so in a way that I was comfortable and confident with.
In the beginning it was challenging, but I found the more open and the more confident I was with myself, the more natural it became to accept that I could still have a healthy, happy sex life.
I had fallen pregnant within this time and although this wasn’t planned, this was a big surprise for me as I didn’t even think I could get pregnant after my accident. My pregnancy was such a blessing, but opened up unknown territory as well. This made me look at how I carried, because as someone sitting in a wheelchair, carrying would be different compared to those who are able bodied.As you progress through the months of pregnancy your stomach grows which affects transfers, catheter changes and a lot of other things – so it was a big learning curve, learning to just say ‘you know what I can still be normal!’ It was just a different kind of normal and I had to learn more about my body that I didn’t know about. Being a Quadriplegic, there weren’t a lot of doctors or specialists available who had the understanding to support me through my pregnancy and I didn’t know a lot of quadriplegics that had had children. A lot of the knowledge I needed throughout the pregnancy, I had to learn on my own.These things didn’t stop me being pregnant though.
After the pregnancy there was the challenge of bouncing back into shape and learning how to be a mother and a partner. There were lots of different things, but whatI came to learn through it all was that even though I have a disability, I am still a woman! I can still have a healthy sex life and I could still give birth which I feel very lucky to be able to do.
There were a few things throughout my pregnancy that I needed to have extra specialists supporting me through, such as a gynecologist. There were many factors we had to consider like autonomic dysreflexia. This is very dangerous for quads because when you are pregnant the bowel and bladder get pushed on, which meant that I had to change the way I was doing my personal care. This meant that I also needed the support of someone I trusted. This proved to be a little harder as there weren’t a lot of people that were willing to look outside of the box.
I eventually went to Monash Medical Center as they have a lot of specialists, and was fortunate enough to find a gynecologist that was very nice and open to supporting me throughout my whole pregnancy. She was there to monitor my daughter’s growth throughout my pregnancy and was there for her delivery.Delivery was also very different as I couldn’t feel my contractions which meantI was unable to know when to push and did not have the nerves that would help me push. This meant that when my contractions came the doctors had to use forceps to help deliver my daughter. After my daughter’s birth there was a lot that also needed to be monitored, such as Autonomic Dysreflexia as I mentioned above. This is a change in the body that causes very high blood pressure and can cause serious implications such as strokes or heart attacks, if not correctly monitored and managed. Pain management was another issue that was monitored throughout my labor. However, the good news was that my daughter was born happy and healthy, and my body healed well after the birth.
Overall, my pregnancy forced me to really explore my sexual health and my reproductive system. I had to relearn how it worked and functioned after my accident. The whole experience taught me that I could still have what I thoughtI had lost: my womanhood, being a mother, having a partner, having healthy sex and having a family. Learning I was still able to do these things was a very big milestone for me as a woman with a disability.
Unfortunately, many people still can’t look beyond the disability; but this experience has been quite important for me to be able to say ‘you know what,I’m still a woman, I can still do all the things that able bodied people can do, I just do them differently’.
Note – This story was written by Speakers Bank based on an interview with Julie Kent.
Tip: If you would like to hear more about Julie’s story, you can watch her video on the Speakers Bank YouTube channel (external link).