Former Hollyoaks actress, Kelly-Marie Stewart, talks to Disability Horizons contributor, Jessica Sutton, about the joys and challenges of being a mum with a disability and why she is campaigning for better support and equipment.
When 28-year-old Kelly-Marie Stewart found out she was pregnant she was over the moon. At the time the actress, who has Guillain-Barre syndrome – an acute disease of the peripheral nervous system, which affects the nerves in the arms and legs – was playing Hayley Ramsey in Chester-based soap Hollyoaks.
Kelly subsequently met with the show’s bosses to discuss how this would affect her character; “Hollyoaks were delighted I was pregnant and asked to write my pregnancy into the show. It would be amazing to see Hayley return with her baby and show how inspirational disabled mums can be. The possibility of this is still on the cards.”
Unfortunately, illness during the pregnancy stopped Kelly from being able to work as normal; “We didn’t film my birth scenes as planned as I developed an infection in my blood, fluid on my kidneys and lungs as well as pneumonia.”
“Even after four months in hospital I was that ill that my baby wasn’t coping, so I had to have an emergency c-section. My daughter was born nine weeks early and weighed less than three lbs.”
Two months after her birth, Daisie finally left intensive care at Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
Although Kelly-Marie was delighted to be a mum, she found there were challenges to face and with little guidance. Kelly-Marie says: “Every day there was a new obstacle; something we had to find our own way of doing as the ‘normal way’ was not an option. It killed me that I couldn’t push my baby’s pram or carry her around and rock her when she cried.
“It is really sad to think that you can get adapted cars, but there is nothing out there for disabled mums. You can get a baby seat for a bike, but not for a wheelchair. That’s just crazy.”
The lack of support and equipment on the market has motivated Kelly-Marie to raise awareness. She has been filming a documentary, called “Disabled with a Baby”, and got involved with a campaign called Invisible Mums. The footage has had interest from BBC3 and Channel 4, and a taster video uploaded to YouTube has had more than 12,000 views. Take a look:
“This subject is something very close to my heart and I want to raise awareness of the issues disabled mums face. Simple equipment could make parents independent instead of them relying on family members. I have amazing support from my parents, my friends and my partner James. I hope to start a petition to ensure that equipment, support and advice becomes more readily available.
Because you don’t often see disabled parents out in the supermarket or at the park with their babies, people presume disabled parents aren’t out there. But there are about two million disabled mums in this country, and the only reason they aren’t more visible, is because there isn’t the equipment available for them to live independently.”
As well as her campaigning, Kelly-Marie is also hopeful that the current pregnancy storyline for Coronation Street character Izzy Armstrong will help bring disabled parenting into the spotlight.
“I think Coronation Street are so far doing a great job on the Izzy pregnancy story. I only hope they do enough research to portray the story to its full potential. Izzy is played by a friend of mine, Cherylee Houston, who is very passionate about disability being portrayed positively, so fingers crossed!”
Asked what advice she would give to disabled mums or disabled mums-to-be, Kelly-Marie said: “Although it is daunting, like everything we adapt. We find our own way of doing things. It may not be the same way as the mum up the road, but it is what makes you you. I think that given the hurdles I had to get over, Daisie and I now have an amazing relationship with an extra special bond. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and my family, and I wouldn’t change her for the world.”
By Jessica Sutton.
Photo credited to Colin Lane.