Rachelle Friedman Chapman knew there’d be days like this. Her 5-day-old daughter Kaylee Rae is hungry, and the slender blonde is cradling the infant in her lap, trying desperately to calm the shrieking, while her husband rushes around the kitchen in their Knightdale, N.C., home trying to make sure Kaylee’s bottle is at the right temperature. “The first diaper change wasn’t perfect, and I haven’t prepared a bottle for her yet,” says Rachelle, “but I can pick her up, I can feed her and comfort her. The rest of it is going to take some figuring out.”
Learning how to care for a newborn is tough for any first-time mom. But for Rachelle, 29, it’s even trickier: Paralyzed from the chest down after a freak accident at her bachelorette party on May 23, 2010 (a bridesmaid playfully pushed her into the pool), Rachelle is a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. She has limited use of her arms and wrists but not her fingers. Still, her husband thinks she’s doing just fine. “It’s overwhelming to see Rachelle with Kaylee,” says Chris, 32, an eighth-grade science teacher. “She’s so happy. And to see those motherly instincts come in and see her adapt has just been wonderful.”
Rachelle had always dreamed of becoming a mom, so that was the first thing she asked the paramedics about after her accident. “The EMTs were working on me, and I asked them, ‘Will I be able to have a baby?’ and they said yes,” she says. “I was super-relieved even in that awful, scary moment.”
While many women with paralysis can still carry children, doctors told Rachelle the medication she needed to control her blood pressure would make pregnancy dangerous for her. College friend Laurel Hume, now 32, volunteered to serve as the couple’s surrogate, giving birth to Kaylee at an Asheville, N.C., hospital on April 26. “I am not a crier, and I was definitely crying,” says Rachelle. “It was just amazing to see her and hold her and know that we could take her home and start our family.”
Three days later they did just that, dressing Kaylee in the same gown Rachelle herself wore home from the hospital as an infant. “She looked beautiful in it, and it was so symbolic—until she pooped,” Rachelle says, laughing.
The nursery at home has new wood floors so Rachelle’s chair can easily get around, and Kaylee’s crib was custom-made so that her mom can wheel right up to it. They’ve even converted a desk into a changing table so there is room for Rachelle’s chair. “I am worried about some things,” she says. “How will I be able to take her out on my own when she’s a toddler?” But for now she’s focusing on what’s right in front of her. “Kaylee’s the perfect baby,” she says. And she couldn’t be more grateful to her friend. “How do you say thank you enough?” she says. “She literally gave us the gift of life.”