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Mother with cerebral palsy dispels myths about parenting with a disability

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WATCH ABOVE: Being born with a form of cerebral palsy didn’t mean Eileen Lennie-Koshman desired life’s milestones any less. As Julie Mintenko discovers, she always wanted to be a mother despite her disability and questions about her parenting skills – Nov 3, 2016

Parenting in 2016 comes with more opinions than one can count. Hashtags like #MommyWars have been trending. Everywhere you turn there is a new parenting blog. Social media is a hailstorm of advice, criticism, and comments from the “judgment police.”

Imagine how many times a person with a disability may hear judgments, stereotypes, and wrong assumptions about their parenting skills. Or perhaps pity, for them and their child.

Being born with a form of cerebral palsy didn’t mean Eileen Lennie-Koshman desired life’s milestones any less. She always wanted to be a mother.

“I had desires but I wasn’t really sure how that would all come out in the framework of my life,” Eileen said.

“But I always knew that I was going to have a small family.”

During pregnancy in 2008, Eileen searched high and low for advice and resources on parenting with a disability.

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“I have to admit that those resources were quite sparse. They weren’t really there and I kind of had to put the pieces together myself,” she said.

The pregnancy was sudden and Eileen admits she had a knee-jerk reaction at first.

WATCH BELOW: Eileen talks about early doubts she had about her pregnancy

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Eileen on pregnancy doubts – Nov 3, 2016

But her unborn baby’s grandparents kept insisting they wanted to know their grandchild, offering Eileen and her partner their full support.

Little Jacob came early, at 32 weeks, due to preeclampsia – a complication in pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to an organ.

He spent over a month in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. It was then Eileen first saw her parenting capabilities questioned.

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Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008.
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008.
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008.
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008.
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008.
Newborn photo album of Eileen and son Jacob in 2008. Eileen Lennie-Koshman

WATCH BELOW: Eileen talks about her post-natal experience in hospital

Click to play video 'Eileen’s post-natal hospital experience' Eileen’s post-natal hospital experience
Eileen’s post-natal hospital experience – Nov 3, 2016

From that time on, Eileen and her able bodied husband, Ryan Koshman, had to become their own advocates.

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The stereotypes, often made by total strangers, rained down.

WATCH BELOW: Eileen explains one common refrain made about her parenting abilities

Click to play video 'Common refrain made about Eileen’s parenting abilities' Common refrain made about Eileen’s parenting abilities
Common refrain made about Eileen’s parenting abilities – Nov 3, 2016

Ryan Koshman experienced stereotypes too.

“I get that look a lot. That look of good for you for (you know) taking care of someone like that. And it’s like ‘ah, OK.’ I think she takes care of me more than I take care of her,” he said.

“I’d love not to have to say anything. I’d love for that to not have to be part of our reality.”

Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob.
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob.
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob.
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob.
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob. Eileen Lennie-Koshman
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob.
Family photo album of Eileen, Ryan and son Jacob. Eileen Lennie-Koshman

If society could get past the stereotypes and get a realistic glimpse into the Lennie-Koshman household, people would see a family much like any where disability is non-existent.

WATCH BELOW: Ryan Koshman on being a father

Click to play video 'Ryan on being a father' Ryan on being a father
Ryan on being a father – Nov 3, 2016

As the years went on, what others assumed was impossible for this couple was not. How did they do it? By adapting some physical challenges, and letting Jacob adapt to the rest.

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Jacob Koshman
Jacob Koshman. Eileen Lennie-Koshman

As a newborn, Eileen said Jacob slept on a higher surface, in a bassinet attached to a Playard. Once in a crib, Eileen taught him to stand up and reach out for her. Out on errands, Eileen used a “wrist buddy” to keep Jacob from running off, as toddlers do.

“He always knew to walk right by my wheelchair, and we taught him traffic safety really early on. When we were changing his diaper we would use a higher surface and strap him to it so he wouldn’t fall. When bathing we would use bath seats so I would be able to bend over,” Eileen explained.

“It was all a teaching process, so from the time he was wee wee, we taught him all of those things.”

At the age of 8, the impact on Jacob’s character is noticeable.

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“He just sees people, he’s like ‘Hi!’ He doesn’t do the rubberneck stare,” Eileen said.

WATCH BELOW: Jacob Koshman explains why his mom is special

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Jacob on his special mom – Nov 3, 2016

Both parents noticed a natural tendency to be helpful, and respect everyone’s personal space, without fearing disability or any other perceived difference.

One assumption the family would like to do away with is that Jacob must be at a disadvantage.

WATCH BELOW: Eileen says people make the wrong assumption Jacob is at a disadvantage

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Wrong assumptions people make about parenting with a disability – Nov 3, 2016

Eileen wishes people realized that Jacob has never been her care aide; that he’s only been asked to do the typical tasks of growing up, such as cleaning his room, putting laundry in his bin, emptying his backpack after school, and taking out the garbage.

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Saskatchewan individualized funding through the Saskatoon Health Region covered Eileen’s needs, giving her help with some domestic tasks, and personal care.

It meant Eileen could realize her dream of being a mother; that her family could be like any other.

If only society saw it that way.

WATCH BELOW: How one mother overcame her spinal cord injury in part one of parenting with a disability

Click to play video 'Parenting with a disability: Spinal cord injury' Parenting with a disability: Spinal cord injury
Parenting with a disability: Spinal cord injury – Oct 27, 2016