Welcome to the World, Eleven Parker McKenzie!
After a devastating spinal cord injury 21 years ago - and being told I would never walk again - I feel truly blessed to have had my baby girl, Eleven Parker McKenzie. Eleven was born on January 1st 2017 and as all new parents do, we've been through a significant adjustment in our lives, and although not always easy, the joy she brings makes it totally worth it (see blog post here).
As soon as my wife Jess and I discovered we were expecting, I started to consider different fittings for my wheelchair that would make having a baby easier. Jess bought a second-hand car capsule and pram combo that fitted comfortably between my knees, and a local mobility supply shop helped make it fit.
"As soon as my wife Jess and I discovered we were expecting, I started to consider different fittings for my wheelchair that would make having a baby easier."
"I never knew how many people had been through fertility issues and IVF. This makes me feel even luckier to have had Eleven."
I could purchase a safety regulation compliant device for around $3,000, but thankfully, the hospital wheelchair clinic offered a much cheaper option - a simple t-bar that slotted into a fixture that could be welded onto my footplate. After a couple of test runs with a bag of potatoes, I was good to go!
Now with an IVF success story to share. I had sperm taken when first in rehab 20 years ago, and since, others have opened up to me and shared their own stories. I never knew how many people had been through fertility issues and IVF. This makes me feel even luckier to have had Eleven. A lady I've got to know at a local business has been trying for 18 years with no success. Probably about half of the people we come across think I'm Eleven's grandad which seems odd to me as I still feel so young - I tell people I'm only 21 as that's how long ago my injury happened!
My first outing as a proud dad was at the Parap markets in Darwin, when Eleven was just a week old. Cruising around in my ‘scissor lift’ wheelchair at full height, with bubs in tow, I received lots of attention from people who had seen us on the news - Eleven was the first baby born in Darwin in 2017! We’re now onto our second wheelchair adaption, made with parts from a pram seat stand attachment, and I’m amazed at how many comments I receive. Some people consider what I’m doing inspirational – the fact that I’m getting out and living life with my family and inventing adaptions for my equipment – but really, I’m just living a day to day, ordinary life. Occasionally I sense a ‘look at that poor bloke’ attitude, but mostly people are positive when they see me with Eleven.
"I’m amazed at how many comments I receive. Some people consider what I’m doing inspirational – the fact that I’m getting out and living life with my family and inventing adaptions for my equipment – but really, I’m just living a day to day, ordinary life."
October 2017, and we’re on the road! We left Darwin at the beginning of the build up to the wet season, as the heat becomes a bit dangerous for me, and have had a few weeks to accustom ourselves and find our road-tripping groove. Our last epic road trip was just Jess and I but this time, we’re a family of five; including Eleven, Poppa (Jess’s dad), and the dog too!
Our initial plan of taking the caravan was scrapped after we overheated the Chrysler engine and had to replace it, so we’re now staying in motels and cabins. This can be costly, so I’m currently researching another vehicle to tow the caravan, and many rainy afternoons have been spent doing online research. We are traveling as we did two years ago, with the Chrysler and the 6x4 trailer stacked chockablock with commode and camping gear.
However, this time we have a bit more to pack – a highchair, cots and prams! Thankfully, Jess's dad is fit and strong and a great help with packing and unpacking.
And the baby? We were unsure how she'd cope with all the driving, but we're pleased to report she has been amazing. We have taken it easy, and kept our daily travels below 500km. We also booked our accommodation ahead of time. Jess does stress sometimes about Eleven’s schedule and whether she’s getting enough sleep, but mothers do that I'm told.
We reached the Queensland coast, and stayed a few days in Yeppoon. We are now on the beach at Agnes Water, are winding down and loving our time together. To be on the beach, in the fresh air, getting sand in everything, is a fantastic feeling, and I'm really enjoying spending time with Eleven in the surf spray, while Jess makes turtles in the sand.
During our travels, I'm catching up with a few bennies as we head south to Tasmania (Boof, we're looking forward to some amazing smoked meat!) via Brisbane (Cory, hope to see you real soon!), Canberra (Scottie B will hopefully show us around!), and Melbourne (another Echuca local is at the rehab). We are also planning a trip to Geelong (hoping to visit Mark from Geelong who's wanting to modify his excavator).
Afterwards, we will head to Rendelsham in SA (Seagull has made his holiday home wheelchair accessible, so we get to test it out!), Millicent (Speedie have you got that room set up for me yet?!) and back home to Darwin eventually – sometime in 2018.
On a final note, we were sad to hear of the loss of a fellow Darwinian, Benny. He was a quad for 16 years and a superbug ended up getting him. Our deepest condolences to Carol and Geoff, friends and family.