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 lives with a neurological condition, figuring out how to navigate motherhood has been a wild ride.
“Those first few weeks as a new mum for anybody are really up and down and it was an emotional time,” Nas says.
“I was struggling with feeding, and just trying to work everything out.”
Lachie is now four months old, and Nas says time has just flown by.
“Lachie is getting really big and heavy. I can feel his belly and how long he’s getting.”
Given her disabilities, Nas is relying on her other senses to navigate motherhood, particularly during play time.
“I use lots of mats with patterns and textures so I can hear him rustling around and know where he is,” she says.
“We also have a lot of soft toys that make lots of noise, so I often surround him with toys so I can hear him moving.”
Nappy changing is a tactile experience.
“There’s no way around it, and yes, sometimes it can be messy.
“I always make sure I have everything within arm’s reach when I’ve got him on the change table, and I always have one hand on him while reaching for various 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 aware of her facial expressions, always making an extra effort to smile when she’s changing Lachie or playing with him, because that’s the most likely time he’ll be looking directly at her.
“In the same way that his dad smiles at him or his grandparents, I want him to know that I smile at him as well.
“He’s starting to recognize faces and look more at people, and I can tell when he’s focusing on me.
“When I’m holding him, I can tell he’s looking at me by the way he breathes — he breathes directly into my face. Sometimes he’ll stop waving his hands and that’s when I’ll 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 used to read the news on triple j and other ABC platforms.
Friends and family have recorded themselves reading children’s books which Nas has loaded onto her phone. Through the use of a headphone Nas listens and repeats what she hears to Lachie.
“I hold the printed version of the book in front of Lachie and everyone records audio notes like when to turn the page. It works really well.”
Activities outside the home are also proving helpful for both mum and bub, including a sensory class once a week. The sessions involve a range of activities, using lights, musical instruments and puppets.
“The classes help children develop their senses and particularly with Lachie’s visual processing, I wouldn’t be able to help him with that,” said Nas. “It’s an activity I strategically chose so that he has access to that and can do it with other children.”
The classes are also a great social outing: “Meeting and talking to other mums going through similar experiences is fantastic and makes me feel like we’re all in this together.”
Of course Nas is working through the common struggles of parenting like sleeping, feeding and routines, but she says the biggest challenge is people’s prejudices.
“Often people are surprised to learn I’m a mum and some have even asked silly things like who stays home with Lachie and I, as though my son couldn’t possibly be left alone with me,” Nas says.
“It’s really hard to hear those sorts of statements and that’s the kind of discrimination many parents with disability face regularly.”
Nas hopes that lessons can be learned from her pregnancy and motherhood journey.
“If you live with disability, I hope it teaches you that you can absolutely be a parent, no matter what anyone says. And to non-disabled people, I hope it teaches you that we’re out there, we’re part of your parents’ groups, and we’re doing a really good job.”
Listen to Richard Glover’s interview with Nas Campanella on ABC Radio Sydney.
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