As a teenager, Rhian Gregory had her life mapped out – until a devastating fall during her first year at university left her in a wheelchair.
With four good A-levels under her belt, Rhian had gone to study forensic science when she suffered horrific injuries just months into her studies.
But six years later, the 26-year-old from Cardiff has just become a mum for the second time – and says life has never been better.
“I had always wanted to be a mum,” Rhian said. “I used to think that I’d go to university and have my career first but, in the end, that’s not how things worked out.”
The mum-of-two, who now plans to finish her degree when her children are older, suffered a spinal fracture, damage to her spinal cord and broke both feet after the catastrophic 40ft fall from a building in Treforest in 2007.
She was also diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) following a spinal operation, which left her with MRSA and septicaemia.
After spending months in hospital, she decided to put her studies at the University of Glamorgan on hold. Then, shortly after moving home with her parents, she met partner Christopher Cummings, 28, and the couple soon became an item.
Rhian, who feared she may not be able to have children following the accident, became pregnant with the couple’s first child Cody in 2010. But she says she encountered a lot of prejudice during her pregnancy.
“Most people were fine when they were speaking to my face, but I did overhear people making comments behind my back, saying I wouldn’t be able to cope,” she said. “It was upsetting, but I just tried to turn it around and it made me even more determined to prove that I could be a great mum.”
Rhian went through a difficult pregnancy, as her body struggled to deal with the pressures of carrying a baby.
She added: “It was difficult to cope with the pain in my spine. As the baby grew, the discomfort got worse. I was in severe pain and I struggled to cope with the fatigue.”
But after a difficult nine months, Cody was born by caesarian section in April 2011.
She said: “That difficult nine months of being pregnant, in and out of hospital, was all worth it.”
Rhian explained the first few months of parenthood were a steep learning curve, as she adapted to keep up with her newborn’s needs.
“I learnt to use a baby carrier, so my hands were free to push my wheels while my son was safe on my lap.”
She also decided to keep a bottle warmer and mini-fridge in the bedroom, to avoid having to use the stairs in the middle of the night, as well as always keeping nappies and wipes within reach, both upstairs and downstairs. Rhian had her second baby, Cerys, on May 9 this year.
She said: “I was more prepared this time, but it’s different again having two children. I still feel like I’m learning every day.”
Rhian, who refers to herself
as mum on wheels, said she still encounters some negative perceptions.
“Most people are really positive, but I do still get the odd glance or comment. I always try to put it out of my mind and remind myself it’s their problem, not mine.”
Terri Balon, chair of Disabled Parents Network, said: “There is a perception that a disabled person cannot look after a child. I know of one mother who went to visit the GP when she was pregnant and he assumed she wanted to be booked in for a termination.”
She added: “Our vision is of a society in which people with a disability or long-term health challenge can freely aspire to be parents and enjoy a full and rewarding family life with their partners and children.”