By Lisa Bendall
Our sweet Emily was born in 1999. It goes without saying, of course, that she transformed our lives. That goes double for Ian, who no longer believed he’d ever get to be a dad.
“Emily Ever After”
Just before I met Ian, he had begun to suspect that a family might not be in his future.
He had taken stock of his life and faced some basic facts: he was in his mid-40s. Earlier that year a relationship with a fiancée had dissolved. And he had a significant physical disability that required him to use a wheelchair to get around; it didn’t get in the way of self-acceptance, but it did seem to present a barrier to some women. He had begun to think that bachelorhood might be it.
When we met, neither of us was looking for a new relationship. But as I got to know Ian better and better, there wasn’t anything about him that I didn’t like. He was smart, fun and confident. Our courtship was slow, but through dates and conversation and laughs, we gradually recognized our kindred spirits and desire to be together. And so it was that seven years ago we bought our first house—a lovely, cozy 100-year-old home in a corner of Toronto—and were married in the living room the following spring.
When the baby bug first hit me (me — someone who had always loved children but thought they didn’t fit into her life), Ian happily agreed. He had always wanted a child, even after his spinal cord injury, but didn’t know if he could have one and had never had the opportunity to try. Although we were both a little intimidated by parenthood, but knew we would fall in love with being parents. So, in a leap of faith, we decided to try.
A few months later we were baffled, bewildered, astounded and thrilled to discover I was pregnant. Against significant odds, Ian was about to become a father.
Beautiful Emily Elizabeth was born in the springtime. A couple of weeks after our third wedding anniversary, I gave birth to her on the bed in our master bedroom. Right from the start we knew she was special—healthy, gorgeous and lively.
The morning after she was born, I carried Emily into our bedroom and laid her on Ian’s pillow. He woke up slowly, opening his eyes to take in the tiny bundle near his face. He beamed and looked up at me and said softly, “I love her.”
Over the next few weeks, while I struggled with the overwhelming feeling of responsibility, the lack of sleep and the challenge of getting to know my new baby—all a normal part of the postpartum experience—my husband simply fell deeper and deeper in love. He had a child, a beautiful child.
Almost three years later our baby is a preschooler. She is happy, talkative, active and eager to explore her world, all qualities of a spirited child. She is extremely precious to us. And she has a special relationship with her dad.
Emily learned to pull up to standing by holding on to Ian’s wheelchair. His brake and clutch levers were as much fun as her activity gym. Now she perches on his footrests or uses them to clamber onto his lap for a hug. He reads to her, builds skyscrapers out of Lego with her and talks to her about the flowers and birds we see when we go for walks. And they share a wonderful interest: music. They have sung together, danced together, played piano together and listened to Brahms and Handel together.
Like anyone, Ian initially harboured doubts about his ability to parent. But for him, perhaps the concerns were more practical: How would he pick her up, when his hands don’t work so well? How would he change her diaper or feed her? The many times when our baby girl was fussy, wanting only to be constantly bounced in someone’s arms, when I would have paid good money to have my hands free for five minutes, those were the times that Ian felt surges of inadequacy.
But we reminded each other that infancy doesn’t last forever, and that you don’t need working legs to qualify as a good dad. You need patience and understanding and love, all of which Ian offers Emily in abundance. I think he puts more thoughtfulness into parenting than any father I know.
I get such a strong feeling when I see their heads together over a book or when Emily rushes into our bedroom to say good morning to her daddy. Of course, mothers do love their husbands and children, but it’s more than just a feeling of tenderness I have. Watching my husband—who thought he might never have a wife or child—talk and play with the daughter he loves so much makes me feel happy for him as well. I am overjoyed that I was able to have Ian’s baby. I am overjoyed that we are now a family.
In our household, fortune is not counted in net worth; in our household, it is counted just by looking around the dinner table.
Lisa Bendall writes for many of Canada’s top magazines and her good-humoured blog, www.50gooddeeds.com, shares inspiring ways to make the planet a better place. She lives in Toronto with her family.
This story is reprinted with permission from her recently published book, Magic Moments – Twelve Little Stories About Disability, Family and Fairly Normal Life.