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Motherhood - Gina Takes The Next Step In Life

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

The challenges of being a first-time parent are great.

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For Gina Springhower, the challenges are even greater.

Confined to a wheel chair with paralysis (the result of an automobile accident more than nine years ago), Gina is tackling and enjoying the most gratifying challenge of her life – motherhood.

Gina and her husband, John Springhower, are the parents of a happy and energetic 16-month-old son, LaKota, born Dec. 22, 2015, just in time for Christmas.

“Being a mom really is incredible,” Gina said during a recent interview at her parents’ home in Glenwood. “You think you know how special it’s going to be, but it’s even more than you ever imagined.”

As a young girl growing up in Glenwood, Gina was known for her acrobatic tumbling routines. Somersaults, back flips, aerials – Gina could do them all.

Like most girls, Gina also had dreams of being a mother some day, but those dreams came close to being shattered while she was a student at Wayne State College (Neb.).  On the night of March 22, 2008, Gina sustained life-threatening injuries when she was ejected from the passenger seat of a rolling automobile and ended up underneath the vehicle with a fractured pelvis, broken ribs and broken back. She survived her injuries, but was permanently paralyzed in the lower half of her body.

“I heard from somebody shortly after the accident that because I would sit so much, there could be a higher risk of developmental issues if I ever wanted to have a child,” Gina recalled. “I later found out from my rec therapist that that’s not true. She connected me with a bunch of people who had several kids and they were in (wheel) chairs.”

Gina, now 31 years old, moved on with her life after the accident, running her own tumbling school, completing her bachelor’s degree, becoming a motivational and inspirational public speaker (talking to young people about the importance of making good decisions in their lives) and getting engaged to John, also a Glenwood native.

In September 2014, Gina and John were married in a memorable outdoor wedding ceremony that would receive notoriety around the world. With the aid of braces tucked away under her wedding gown and a forearm crutch, Gina stunned her wedding guests by walking down the aisle with her father, Gary Giaffoglione.

Stories, photos and videos of the magical moment outside Castle Unicorn went viral on the Internet, inspiring millions and earning Gina and John international acclaim and an appearance on the Dr. Oz television show.

Gina hasn’t walked or stood for an extended period of time since her wedding day.

‘It’s A Boy’
In the summer of 2015, about 10 months after the wedding, Gina used her blog site, Perfectly Imperfect, to announce she and John were expecting a baby.

Yes, there would be some challenges for Gina, but for the most part her pregnancy was a smooth one.

“I had a very good pregnancy. I never really got sick,” Gina said. “I just hated being pregnant, I put on like 40 pounds.”

There were a couple questions surrounding the pregnancy, including the sex of the child (Mom and Dad didn’t want to know until the baby was born) and the uncertainty of how much, if any, of the movements Gina would feel from the child she was carrying. That question got answered a couple months before LaKota’s birth.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to feel the baby move – if I’d feel the kicking or any of that,” Gina said. “I remember the first time I felt him move. I just freaked out because for six years I hadn’t felt anything and now I’m feeling this little human inside me. I lost it.”

Gina had been advised that a Caesarean section delivery is often required when the mother is a paraplegic, but when LaKota decided he was ready to enter the world, the delivery came naturally.

“For delivery, it was fine,” Gina said. “I pushed him out in two hours. I could feel contractions, but not to the point of what an able-bodied person would feel.

“We didn’t know the sex until my OB screamed, ‘It’s a boy.’”

Gina admits she felt some nervousness about becoming a mother in the final days leading up to LaKota’s birth.

“I was terrified, really right up to Dec. 21,” she said.

Newborn Challenges
One of Gina’s first concerns when Mom and Baby came home from the hospital was that she would have difficulty picking him up properly.

“At first, when they’re so young and they can’t control their head – that was a worry for me,” Gina said. “Also, just making that from couch-to-lap transfer was challenging, but we figured out putting a pillow on my lap would make an even transfer.”

The daily tasks Gina took on as the mother of a newborn were made easier with the aid of some custom-made furniture.

“We had an awesome crib made. There was a guy who had a bunch of extra wood and he just charged us for the labor, which was amazing,” she said. “It’s up higher, I think four feet up, so I can just roll under it. It’s got sliding doors so I can just reach in. there’s no bending over and it’s got storage on the sides so I can put stuff there.

“And, John made me a changing table, just out of an old desk. He took out the middle drawer so I can roll under that and change LaKota right away at my level and I don’t have to sit sideways.”

When LaKota was still a newborn, Gina and John also utilized a pivoting high chair that hooked onto the kitchen table, which allowed Gina to sit face-to-face with LaKota when it was time to feed him. After he had outgrown that chair, LaKota moved into a high chair that could be raised or lowered, “which was great until he started climbing into it,” Gina said with a laugh.

Like all mothers, Gina has learned some parenting skills through trial and error.

“The one thing I didn’t think I’d be able to do is console him,” Gina said. “Everybody, when their babies are crying or hurt, they always pick them up and hold them face to face and I can’t do that in the chair with him because my balance isn’t good enough and we’ll tip over.

“I was always worried I wouldn’t be able to make him feel safe and OK. Then, there was one day where he got hurt and was screaming and crying. I was trying to get him face to face with me, but that wasn’t working because he was squirming and I was losing my balance. I just turned him around, put him on my lap and put my arms around him and he stopped crying. I was like, ‘Oh, you’re just used to facing this way with me.’ I realized I can make him happy, but just not the same way everybody else does it. At that point, I just said there are things that we do differently than other parents do.”

The most difficult challenge Gina faced with LaKota in his first 12 months was finding a safe way to give him a bath. The bathtub was too low and the kitchen sink too high for Gina’s reach.

“I tried getting on the floor with him. I tried the tubs you fill on the floor. That was probably the hardest and most frustrating thing,” Gina said. “Nothing was working until he was really old enough to stand up. Now, I can lift him out of the shower. He kind of crawls out of the shower.”

Pushing LaKota in his stroller, especially on hilly terrain, has also proven to be a daunting task, but Gina and John figured out last summer that the easiest way to get around during a family outing to places like the zoo and the state fair is to have Gina push LaKota’s stroller while John is pushing Gina in her chair. Just recently, Gina learned she’s been approved for a new wheel chair and power-assist attachment that will allow her to push the stroller on her own. She’ll wear a bracelet that will help adjust and control the speed of her chair.

“The attachment will do the work, controlling the speed up and down hills” she said. “All I’ll have to do is hold and guide the stroller.”

An Independent Baby
Gina and LaKota spend a lot of time together at the Springhower home in McClelland, northeast of Council Bluffs. Gina said she sees a special quality in her son that’s typical of children who have parents with disabilities.

“I have a friend from Colorado that told me before I had him, ‘You will be surprised because you’ll have a very independent baby.’ She was right,” Gina said.  “When it’s time to get into the car, he walks over to the car, steps in and walks over to his chair. If I tell him it’s breakfast time, he goes and pulls it (high chair) out so I can lift him up into it. It’s what he’s used to. It’s a pretty cool thing to watch him do the things he probably shouldn’t being doing at 16 months.”

Cheryl Giaffoglione, Gina’s mom, is in awe of her grandson’s intuition.

“This little boy, even as young as he is, it’s like he knows ‘Mom isn’t like other moms. Mom needs help,’” Cheryl said. “I watch him. He tries to climb into the chair. I see him try to pull himself up and he pulls out his high chair. It’s amazing the way God does things. It’s almost like he has put the two of them together so they can work together.”

Cheryl said she was happy, but admittedly a little nervous when she first learned her daughter was going to have a baby.

“I was probably more scared for her than she was,” Cheryl said. “Now, I’m just amazed how strong she really is. The patience and love she has for this little boy is just incredible. It’s unimaginable how she does it.

“Sometimes people with disabilities get so wrapped up with their disability that others around them suffer. Gina doesn’t wrap herself in ‘Why am I different than everybody else?’” 

Gina said she’s blessed to have family members who are always available to help with caring for LaKota and a husband as hard-working and patient as John. When he’s not farming or doing work as a contractor, he’s going the extra mile as a father and husband.

“He’s an amazing father,” Gina said. “Having children is something that’s very important to John. It’s something he talked about when we first started hanging out. He wanted a boy and I think it’s going to be awesome when LaKota can go do chores with him and ride in the tractor.”

Despite her full-time job as a mother, Gina still finds time to teach tumbling classes in Glenwood. And, yes, she has introduced LaKota to the sport.

“We do front rolls and back rolls. They’re not that good, yet, but we’re working on it,” she said with a grin. “He thinks it’s fun. I tell him to come over and put his head down. He puts his head down, his butt is in the air and we flip over.

“I tell Mom, all my kids are probably going to hate tumbling. They’re probably not going to want to have anything to do with it. They’re going to want to be on the farm with their dad all the time. I have to enjoy it now while I can in case they do hate it.”

‘Happy and Blessed’
More children could be in the Springhower family future some day, Gina said, noting that her and John’s siblings all have a boy and a girl in their families.

“I really want a girl, but John thinks we’re going to have all boys,” she said.

Gina would like to find the time to do more public speaking and start a social media support group for parents with disabilities.

“There’s tons of stuff out there for able-bodied parents of children with disabilities, but there’s nothing out there for a parent with a disability parenting able-bodied kids,” she said. “There are some websites out there, but much of the information is outdated.  If you Google ‘paralyzed and pregnant,’ you get some 1990s show on TLC or something like that and it’s not helpful.”

More than nine years have passed since Gina lost the use of her legs and she continues to be an inspiration to others because she refuses to let her disability determine the outcome of her life.

“That was nine years ago and we’ve moved on,” she said. “There’s still hope (to walk again) and obviously there will always be hope, but some people let hope take over their life. That’s all they do – hope, hope, hope. They don’t live their life. You have to live. Just live.

“I’m happy. I’m blessed. My life is great.”