It’s been a big year for Rachelle Chapman.
The woman known as the “paralyzed bride” celebrated her daughter’s first birthday, started driving again for the first time since her 2010 accident and officially cut ties with the friend who pushed her in the pool, paralyzing her from the chest down almost six years ago.
Chapman, who lives in Knightdale, North Carolina, became known as the “paralyzed bride” after a freak accident at her bachelorette party left her paralyzed from the chest down. One of her four best friends playfully pushed her in the pool, causing the life-changing injury.
Now, for the first time, the 30-year-old is talking publicly about that friend. She has remained fiercely protective of the woman since the accident, even turning down an interview with Oprah when the talk show queen’s bookers said they would only have her on if she came on with that friend.
Chapman has never named her childhood friend publicly – and still won’t – but for the first time, she is telling PEOPLE exclusively about the broken friendship she says she fought hard to maintain.
“In the beginning, she was there for me and I was there for her. She was distraught and depressed about what happened. But as the years passed, she didn’t make the effort, it was just going through the motions and every time we spoke, I just felt like I was remembering the accident and going into the pool and I had negative feelings. I didn’t feel that way in the beginning, but that’s what’s been happening over the last three years.”
She says her friend came with a few other girls when Kaylee, who turned one this week, was first born, but that’s the last time they were together. She and husband Chris, 33, welcomed Kaylee via surrogate last April.
“I had to actually cut ties with her and end the friendship,” she says. “I had to tell her that we couldn’t be friends because she just wasn’t there for me anymore.”
Chapman says she was honest after the accident when she was vocal about how the two remained close. But she says when that changed, she realized she needed to be honest once more.
“One of the things that happens when you have this kind of injury is that you lose people, and I felt like I wasn’t being truthful anymore because I did lose some relationships. It’s sad and it’s complicated, but she wasn’t there for me when I needed her.”
Chapman talks about her lost friendship in a documentary she and husband Chris shot for TLC about their journey to become parents. The network finished shooting in February and tells PEOPLE the as-yet-untitled show will air, they just don’t know when.
Chapman says she wanted to do the show to let people see the challenges and the joys of becoming a mom, despite being paralyzed.
“It’s so cool, she uses the back of my chair to pull herself up and she has figured out how to come to me when I go to take her out of her crib,” she says of her daughter, Kaylee. “She turns on her belly and scoots her way on to my lap. She is the only one who looks at me in the chair and it’s normal to her because that’s all she knows.”
And this past weekend – as friends and family celebrated Kaylee’s first birthday – she walked to her dad. “Chris opened his arms and she came to him. Everyone cheered and clapped for her!”
Chapman is also excited by her newfound independence. A few weeks ago she started driving again for the first time since she was paralyzed.
“It was a huge mountain to climb and once I did it, it really wasn’t that bad at all. It’s a workout because I have to get in and out of the chair, but it’s nice to know I can go wherever I want, whenever I want.”
It is a big turning point she says, one that has her excited for the future.
“It’s nice to finally have some independence and to know that I’ll be able to do more for Kaylee as she gets older. She laughs all the time and makes me so happy and I just want to be able to do for her.”