"Some call me strong, I prefer warrior." A Single Mother of 3 Talks About Cerebral Palsy, Dating and What Keeps Her Going
I was discussing the launch of Alternative Families International while doing a photo shoot with photographers Denise Grant and Hayley Andoff (mother & daughter team) and was adamantly told I needed to feature their friend, Alyssa Keel. Alyssa is a social worker, writer, and single mother to a six year-old boy and four year-old identical twins, one of whom has Cerebral Palsy. Later that night, I was moved to tears reading Alyssa’s blog AdventuresWithMultiples and couldn’t wait to feature her. Alyssa’s situation may not easy, but her strength of character and unabashed love for her children are abundantly clear.
Athena: What is the path that led to your family?
Alyssa: My path to motherhood was traditional in its beginning; girl meets boy, they start a relationship, and voila, pregnant twice within two years. Although becoming a mother was rather easy in the biological sense; the act of becoming a family and feeling like a mother emotionally and mentally is a path I continue to walk every day. Our family is a separated one, and I am also a survivor of violence, learning to navigate trauma and its effects in my day-to-day life, and in my role as a mother. I am a single mother to a six-year-old boy and four-year-old identical twin girls.
Athena: How is your family different? How are you the same?
Alyssa: We are similar to many other families; I work full-time and try to manage caring for three young children on one income while trying to give my children as much opportunity as I can to learn, live, and grow in this world. I imagine that many of the thoughts I have had about myself; not being good enough, not knowing what I am doing, and an occasional feeling of helplessness is common amongst most parents. And amongst us single parents, I am sure I am not unique in sometimes wondering if I can really handle all of this on my own.
What makes our story unique is that my girls were born prematurely, at 29 weeks, and spent the first 80 days of their lives in the NICU. Due to their premature births and loss of oxygen, one of my daughters has Cerebral Palsy, effecting both of her legs and her right arm. I have experienced grief as a parent – both for the dreams I had for my child, but also for the knowledge of how cruel the world really can be, even to a child with such a sunny disposition. My children are also of mixed race; Métis and Algonquin on their father’s side and white from my side. I am their biggest ally, but often struggle with how to help them best understand themselves and their identities, as well as helping to ensure they feel connected to their lineage, of which I am separate.
Athena: How has it made your life worse? How has it made it better?
Alyssa: The moment I became a mother, things changed. I had heard that before but could not truly understand it until it happened. My life is better because of my children; I have more confidence and I have started to worry less about the small things and focus more on the big picture. But, it is exhausting; working and parenting and trying to keep everything afloat without anyone to talk to about it, or to have my back, has been very challenging. I often feel alone, as if I don’t fit in with most of the families I meet. It can be very isolating to feel so separate, often not being able to participate in certain activities because they are not accessible. It has taken a toll on some friendships and my dating life has suffered. I have yet to meet a potential dating partner who has not allowed my life as a mother to interfere or impact our relationship. I am saddened to miss out on watching a partner with my children; pushing them on swings, making dinner together, holding hands. Celebrations feel muted, and my desire in acknowledging my birthday or most holidays has dwindled, as they usually leave me feeling more alone.
On the other hand, while it is not always easy, I love when the four of us sit together on the floor and read through a pile of books together. The kids love stories and are so curious about the world, which means they are always asking questions, and learning together in a fun way. While there’s a lot of tough times, there are also countless moments of connection and love.
Athena: What gets you through the tough times?
Alyssa: I have learned that I am capable of handling most things. I have learned what is important. I have learned that other’s expectations or views need not concern us; that we define our own family and how we function. It is ultimately the days spent full of giggles that get me through the tough times. When my daughter has particularly challenging appointments or medical needs, it is her personality that gets us through. Ella is very cheerful, no matter the situation. My friend and I often describe her as sunshine and lollipops. After one of her recent medical appointments, the therapist told me how great of a self-advocate she will be, as she is already not afraid to voice her opinions!
Others have called me strong, I prefer warrior. Motherhood is a journey packed with battles, but I will make my way through the best way I know how.
Athena: If you could speak to your younger self, what would you tell her?
Alyssa: If I were to go back in time, I would tell myself to take each day at a time, to appreciate the small things, but to know that I can handle the bad days. My family is strong, empathetic, and tight-knit. As we go through each day, I remind myself that my children must get those qualities from me, and that there is pride in recognizing how kind, intelligent, and full of life they are.
Athena: Who is your favourite TV/movie family and why? What kind of family is misrepresented or missing from media?
Alyssa: I love the family on Speechless. The son has Cerebral Palsy and is non-verbal and in a wheelchair. It is rare to see different abilities shown in mainstream media and the family have found their own voice; they are not afraid to laugh at life sometimes. I would love to see more representation of Indigenous peoples in mainstream media so that my children can see more people with similar ancestry as they begin to form their own identities.
About Alyssa Keel
Alyssa Keel has worked as a social worker in both Canada and the U.S. for several years. Living in Toronto, Alyssa is a single mum to a rambunctious six-year-old boy and amazing four-year-old identical twin girls, one of whom has Cerebral Palsy. During her high risk mono mono twin pregnancy, Alyssa began blogging, an extension of her love of writing. Alyssa loves taking photos and impromptu dance parties with her kids. Follow Alyssa and her family’s adventures at Adventures With Multiples.