A Mom's story
Kaney O'Neill wasn't expecting a yes on the drugstore pregnancy
But there it was.
She'd always pictured herself as a mom. "I've always loved kids.
I figured I'd have about 10 or so," the 31-year-old Des Plaines
But 10 years ago, on Sept. 15, 1999, a hurricane blew into
Newport News, Va. Its fury was strong enough to change the dreams
of the tall, willowy Navy woman who had her sights set on seeing
the world but instead found herself assigned to a ship in dry dock
at the Newport News Navy shipyard.
As Hurricane Floyd hit, O'Neill was busy hauling equipment
inside. Its intense winds and heavy rain, which ultimately killed
57 people and caused $6 billion in damages, blew O'Neill off a
balcony, sending her crashing to the ground. She lay in the water,
her neck broken, listening to the screams of the ambulance coming
She was just 21. "Just one of those freak accidents," she says
Surgery done on backup generators because of widespread power
outages revealed her spinal cord severed at the fifth and sixth
vertebrae, leaving her a quadriplegic (with minimal movement in her
arms and shoulders). In the two weeks she lay unconscious, her
lungs collapsed, she needed numerous blood transfusions and her
family gathered around her.
When she awoke, her first question wasn't whether she'd ever
walk again. "What I wanted to know most was, could I still have
children," O'Neill recalls.
With the doctors' yes came peace.
She moved to Chicago and, with her mom's urging to return to
school, graduated from Oakton Community College with honors and
from Northwestern University magna cum laude. She now heads her own
general contracting construction company.
"Where there's a will, there's a way," O'Neill says. "What you
are willing to put in is really what you get out in life. If you
put it all in, you reap all the rewards."
And surprises happen, like the December day she sent her
boyfriend, David, to the drugstore for the pregnancy test. Goofing
around and taking photos and joking about how their life would
change, she says she never expected she was pregnant.
First came shock: "How am I going to do this? This is going to
be a new challenge," she thought. Then came happiness.
There are a lot of uncertainties, right down to whether or not
she will feel the baby kick. "(Doctors) don't really know what you
are going to feel so they are always asking, 'Do you feel the
She also discovered that the Veterans Administration hasn't had
a lot of experience with pregnant quadriplegics. The Rehabilitation
Institute of Chicago is working to help her learn how to hold and
nurse her son.
"I want to be the hands-on mom, I want to do everything.
Hearts-on mom is really what it is," she says.
She hopes more women with disabilities are encouraged to have
children and that society better accepts that people with
disabilities can be great moms. "They can function like everybody
else; they just have more challenges. I like to say everyone has a
cross to carry."
Yes, there are worries, she says, but "I feel at peace with it,
this is how it was meant to be, this is what was meant to be."
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.
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