Melanie Hall has done what some people thought was beyond her – delivered a child naturally despite living with paraplegia.
The 41-year-old, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Paralympics, has become one of the few women with paraplegia in the country to have a natural birth, welcoming Sapphira Jade into the world at Gold Coast Private Hospital on April 28.
Ms Hall has spent more than two decades in a wheelchair after a single vehicle accident at 19 left her with a T12 spinal cord injury.
Now she and fiancé Blair Thompson are celebrating the arrival of their 2730g bundle of joy.
“This has definitely been the most amazing experience of my life,” said Ms Hall, who represented The Gliders, Australia’s women’s wheelchair basketball team, for 15 years.
“Even people I knew assumed I’d have a caesarean and I’d say ‘No, that’s not what I want to do’. Your birth plan is very personal and while I didn’t know how it would happen, I knew I wanted to have a natural birth.
“I’m not aware of anyone else with paraplegia who has given birth naturally and there’s not much information out there in regards to spinal cord injury and pregnancy, but there was nothing that said I couldn’t have a natural birth.
“There were risks to consider but I did my research and it led me to believe even more that it was possible.”
It was a similar case for Grace Private obstetrician Dr Tania Widmer, who was entrusted with ensuring Sapphira’s safe arrival in the world.
“Not all spinal cord injuries are equal and some women have medical conditions that may result in a labor not being safe or there being a significant chance of complications,” she said.
“I researched what those challenges might be and once I discovered there were no medical reasons for Melanie not to have vaginal birth, I was very happy to support her to do so.
“The main issue was her mobility but she has a strong core and the ability to push, so we just suggested ways for her to stay mobile in labor and she was able to use positions women would instinctively go into.
“She was mentally strong, physically amazing and proved it could happen with the right support and information. It was an honour she trusted us to look after her and we’re just thrilled she had such a wonderful birthing experience.”
Ms Hall said Gold Coast Private Maternity manager Judy Ross and her team also ensured she would be comfortable following the birth.
“Judy went above and beyond to ensure there were no hurdles for a person in a wheelchair to have a baby at the hospital,” she said.
“She did simple things like make sure I had a shower chair and organised for an occupational therapist to visit my home so the transition went smoothly.
“The maintenance team even modified the height of a basinet and bathing equipment so I didn’t need help to lift Sapphira or change her nappy in the maternity ward.
“They made it easy for me to just be a mother caring for her child.”
Ms Hall, who met her fiancé in 2014, fell pregnant with Sapphira shortly after representing the Queensland Comets in last year’s Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League season.
It was the second time the couple had been expectant parents, with Ms Hall having miscarried in 2015.
“When I had my accident at 19 there weren’t really any thoughts of motherhood but as I grew older I really wanted to have a child with someone who loved me for who I was,” she said.
“If you enter a relationship with someone in a wheelchair, you are accepting that as part of your life and my relationship with Blair is one I never expected I would experience. We just have so much love and respect for each other.”
Ms Hall also has a message for people touched by her story.
“There is too much focus on the negative in this world we live in,” she said.
“It’s easy to get caught up in that but I believe the majority of people want to hear about positive things. Even at the time of my accident, people around me were amazed by how positive I was with regard to my injury and I’ve been that way ever since.
“I’d like to think someone can look at me and believe if she can do it, so can I.”