I always knew I wanted children. So, like many of us, I probably took that dream for granted. I spent my 20’s either living my best life with very little responsibility, or dealing with immense pain and physical decline. I was a nurse and I saw the signs. But I chose to soldier on and enjoy every single thing I could. I dealt with loss, addiction, persecution...all of which were incredible obstacles to overcome. But I truly had no idea what was coming.
On my 30th birthday I was told I had a tumor fused to my spinal cord. I immediately developed tunnel vision. The doctor was talking, but it was as if I was underwater. Just like in the movies. It was devastating, but the plan of care moved on with hope at the forefront. When the surgery to remove it was unsuccessful, a new plan of radiation and rehab was enacted. I spent a month of the summer in a hospital room staring at a brick wall. I was crushed. It was tough to rise above that and be the person I wanted to be. Sometimes you have to dig very deep and find that untapped well inside of you. What got me through that was the understanding that everyone struggles. This was just my struggle, my road. I came to peace with it and focused on the future.
I met my husband and spent the next few years discovering how much I really COULD do. I learned to sit-ski and ride a bike with my hands. And when I got married at 34, I had no idea I’d have two kids in three years. But I felt truly blessed (and still do). With motherhood came more challenges, but my attitude was always-I’ll find a way. Raising children is hard for everyone, regardless of your physical abilities. However, I didn’t realize there would truly be things ahead that were off limits to me as a mother. Most playgrounds, even when they are "ADA compliant" are full of wood chips and physical barriers. They aren't accessible for a mom in a chair. But it wasn’t just ME being held back. It was my children, too. And that was the first time I truly felt disabled.
When we took our son to an inclusive park for the first time,I teared up almost immediately. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until that moment. A sense of hope and joy overwhelmed me as I played side by side with him. I got to see his beautiful, smiling face up close as he explored this space. I felt safe and I was able to follow him up and down the equipment with ease. I watched as kids with and without disabilities played together. Their laughing faces spoke volumes. In that moment, we were all the same. Parents, kids, disabled or not, we were just playing. I’ll never forget how proud I was the whole ride home.
Niki Barker, Fundraising Team Leader