Dani Izzie, a disability advocate who is quadriplegic, tells Adriana how her years of navigating the medical system, connecting with a community that understands her, building a supportive team, and her deep understanding of her body helped her through the birth of her twins.
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Related Birthful episodes:
- If Pregnancy Becomes Medically Complicated: Working With a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Physician
- Informed Consent in Childbirth
- Family-Centered Cesareans
- How to Stand Up for Your Birth Rights
- Navigating the NICU
- Dani’s blog
- Dani’s Twins documentary film website
- Dani’s YouTube channel
- The Disabled Parenting Project website
- Watch the trailer for Dani’s Twins:
[Birth Stories] Giving Birth to Twins as a Disabled Person
Adriana Lozada: Hey Mighty One! We’re going to be taking a break from our usual series until September, but don’t worry, we’re not going to leave you hanging. In the meantime, we’re going to be resharing with you some of our favorite birth stories that you probably haven’t heard yet! To start us off, today we’re going to be resharing our episode with the amazing Dani Izzie, and that seemed both serendipitous and appropriate since this episode is being released on July 26th, which is also National Disability Independence Day in the U.S. and is the day we commemorate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dani is a huge disability advocate and a wheelchair-using mother to twin toddlers. And if you want to know even more about her journey you can also check out the award-winning documentary she co-produced and starred in called Dani’s Twins, which helps amplify issues faced by disabled pregnant people. Enjoy the episode!
Lozada: Welcome to Birthful. I’m Adriana Lozada.
Dani Izzie: I live with chronic pain, so it was nice for me to escape that pain for once in my life, to experience this birth pain-free.
Lozada: That’s Dani Izzie, reflecting on how much she valued having spinal anesthesia for her cesarean. Dani is a disability advocate and the protagonist and producer of the upcoming documentary film, Dani’s Twins, which showcases her experiences during pregnancy and motherhood as a quadriplegic during the pandemic. Now, I know that pain tends to be a concern for most people facing birth, and this was also the case for Dani, but almost in reverse. Because Dani lives with chronic pain, she tends to ignore a lot of it. So she was worried that through her pregnancy, she may ignore pain that could be of concern or that she may miss her body’s cues of when to go to the hospital and get there later than desired. Did she know when it was time to go? Let’s just say that there may have been some distractions requiring speedy driving. Let’s get to it. You’re listening to Birthful, here to inform your intuition.
Lozada: Welcome Dani, it is really a delight to have you here to hear your story. And why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, who you are and how you identify?
Izzie: Sure. My name is Dani Izzie. I am in my mid 30s. I happen to be a quadriplegic. I use a wheelchair full-time. I identify as a woman. I use pronouns she/her. And yeah, I work in the disability mobility industry and I’m a disability advocate as well.
Lozada: And a mom of twins.
Izzie: Yes, most importantly, of course, a new mom to twins, 18 month old twins.
Lozada: And so take us back to before you got pregnant. What was your approach to birth, to having kids? Where were you coming from before being a parent?
Izzie: Well, it’s interesting because I became a quadriplegic due to a traumatic injury about 12 years ago. So before that injury, I had always wanted children. And after my injury, things were a little different because my entire life changed, it was turned upside down initially and I didn’t know what I was capable of. Living with all of these new physical limitations forced me to sort of reconfigure my identity and figure out what was and wasn’t possible. So I think after my disability, I wasn’t getting very much reinforcement about becoming a mother. I wasn’t getting the questions, “Well, do you want to be a mother someday?” Because I think people maybe assumed that that wasn’t in the cards for me. And I didn’t see it on TV, in pop culture. So I struggled with that identity of wanting to become a mother after I became disabled.
Lozada: And so going through that struggle of identity at so many levels and not getting the support, almost feeling that people weren’t equating the possibilities of your disability and being a caregiver as something that could go together, was there a moment where you said, “No, absolutely, I can be a mother and here we go.”
Izzie: Well, I should also add that partnering is more difficult with the kind of disability I have. It’s more difficult to find a partner. It’s just the truth. There’s so much more rejection and I know this because I know what it was like before I was disabled and I know what it’s been like after I became disabled. But anyway, I did find a partner, finally. I found a wonderful partner who I married, my husband, Rudy, and I think it was my relationship with him, his acceptance of me, it helped me become more confident in myself as a woman to have this close partner who really saw me for me. That helped me grow a lot. And we started talking about having children and we wanted a family just like everybody else, or maybe not everybody else, but a lot of people, right? Want to pursue family, having a family.
Izzie: And I struggled because I thought, “Well, I need so much help for myself day to day to get things done, to get up in the morning, to get to the bathroom, to prepare a meal.” I would say things to myself like, “Well, if I can hardly take care of myself, how am I going to take care of a baby?” But the thing is, it’s not true. I don’t know why I was inventing this lie, because I do take care of myself. I just do it in different ways. I put together the resources to make my day to day life possible. I pool resources. I get caregivers together to take care of me. I figure out what I can do independently and what I need help with and I manage wonderfully.
Izzie: So we decided to go see a high risk obstetrician to just ask her questions. I went in asking her questions about if my body could handle pregnancy, if it was safe for me and all of that. And she assured me that it was. She told me that as a quadriplegic, I was not a high risk patient actually, but if I wanted to go through the high risk clinic, that that was fine. And she basically gave me her blessing. She told us to go for it. And I think that’s all I needed to hear. And from there, it sort of just unlocked my true desire. I just really wanted to have a baby.
Lozada: And as you’re looking forward to your pregnancy, having a baby, being a mom, were there things that you had to put in place and preparation that you had to do differently because of your disability?
Izzie: Oh, absolutely. There was a lot of research I had to do, a lot of problem solving. And no easy answers, because like I said, a person like me doesn’t exist in pop culture. You can’t find representations of me in a parenting magazine that says specifically what equipment is recommended for a wheelchair user who also has issues with their dexterity. It’s just so hard to find that information. And more than that, other women who have the real world experience, I did actually find a thriving community on Facebook of disabled mothers and that was everything. That’s where I went to get all my information, everything from how can I make a crib accessible? What equipment do I need? How do we juggle the relationship with my husband as new parents and him also being my caregiver? Everything from the physical, to the emotional, to the mental.
Lozada: And I think that culturally where we stand, we have very disjointed families. So we’ve lost a lot of the knowledge in terms of child rearing and birthing and say breastfeeding and how to feed and care for kids. And I find that many new parents find themself in a situation where it’s a steep learning curve of all this newness. And it seems that you had a very similar curve. The problem was the resources weren’t there, as easily accessible to find the solution, which made it so much harder.
Izzie: Yeah, that’s exactly true. And there was so any books that were recommended on pregnancy and parenting I saw other women reading and investing in. And I just said, “I know I’m going to get frustrated looking at these because so much won’t apply or so much will be left unaddressed when it comes to my situation.” So I said, “I’m going to go with my instincts,” and that’s really been what I’ve done through so much. When I don’t have the answers, I just have to trust myself. I have to be creative and I go with my gut.
Lozada: I love that. So you’re pregnant and things are going well, and then you’re thinking about the birth process.
Lozada: What were your wishes for that or plans or what things did you have to take into account?
Izzie: Okay. Well, I mean, I knew that it was going to be a pretty medical pregnancy. There were many factors that needed to be taken care of. I needed a multidisciplinary medical team because I didn’t just need an OB. I also needed several other specialists, including if I was going to have a C-section, we knew that I would also need a urologist due to the fact that I have a previous urological surgery that needed to be worked around. I needed an anesthesiologist to sort of manage my kind of delicate situation, and other specialists. So I sort of knew that, but I really appreciated actually that my OB said that ideally he would want me to have as natural of a birth as possible, meaning a vaginal birth. And I was really surprised by that, especially because I was pregnant with twins, which by the way was a complete surprise. Maybe we need to back up and talk about that.
Lozada: When did you find out about that extra challenge?
Lozada: That extra curveball that came into the picture?
Izzie: Yeah, yeah. Let me tell you, when I found out that it was twins, I was overjoyed and horrified at the same time because I thought I had it all figured out. “Okay, I’m a quadriplegic, but I’ve got this. I’m going to be able to take care of a baby and here’s my plan.” And then they told me there were two in there and all my plans flew out the window. All my plans flew out the window. Oh and by the way, and at that moment, it did become a high-risk pregnancy, just having multiples is considered high-risk I found out. So more high-risk than being a quadriplegic apparently.
Lozada: How far along were you when you found out you were having twins?
Izzie: Maybe like 10 weeks.
Lozada: So 10 weeks sounds really early.
Izzie: Yeah, it was early.
Lozada: So then you know you’re having twins, your doctor’s saying, “You’re high risk in that situation, but we’re still going to shoot for a vaginal birth.” Fast forward as to how things started, how did labor start?
Izzie: Well, yeah, that was interesting because with my spinal cord injury and having paralysis, I have reduced sensation. I actually have some sensation, it’s just not 100%. So I really wasn’t sure what labor was going to feel like. And this was another one of those big questions that I just didn’t have answers to. And also as a person who lives with chronic pain, I ignore pain on a daily basis. And I knew that this could be a dangerous habit in this situation, being pregnant, it’s probably not a good idea to ignore your aches and pains because you never know what that could mean. So it was very tricky.
Izzie: Anyway, the morning I went into labor, I didn’t know. My water broke, but I thought it was incontinence, because incontinence for me is normal, it’s part of my life. And especially during pregnancy, the incontinence was out of control. So I went into the bathroom to do my usual routine. I used the bathroom, I got in the shower. I use a lift to get into my shower. And I’m showering and I’m having these contractions, but I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions since I was 20 weeks pregnant. And I also have a lot of spasms due to my disability, so again, I didn’t know. It wasn’t until I got into my wheelchair and more water kept coming out, more like fluids, and I was like, “Wait a minute, did my water break?” So I called the doctor and yeah, they told me, “You should probably come in. Sounds like you’re in labor.”
Lozada: How far along were you then?
Izzie: I was 34 weeks.
Lozada: So earlier than expected?
Izzie: Well, it was difficult, because I was told with twins, there’s a pretty high chance that they can come early. And also there’s not much research on it, but I really felt that women with my disability experienced preterm labor more often. Now, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a statistician or a doctor, so I can’t say that that’s really true, but just based off what I was seeing in my groups, it really seemed like a lot of the women were saying they went into labor early, women with spinal cord injuries just like me. So I was like, “Well, this is a double whammy. I could go into labor early because I’m carrying multiples and because of my disability.” And so when 25 weeks hit, I was on guard. So I made it to 34 weeks. I actually think that’s pretty good with my situation.
Lozada: Well now that that you’ve explained it to me, absolutely, it does sound it. Usually when I hear 34 weeks, it sounds early to me, but no, this totally makes sense. Thank you for clarifying.
Lozada: So then your water broke, you go in, what happens next?
Izzie: Yeah, so I accidentally took my time before I left for the hospital. And I can’t explain to you why, I don’t know why I did this. I blow dried my hair. And I don’t know why I did that. I think maybe the pain wasn’t intense enough for me to feel worried, maybe just being naive about pregnancy, I’m not sure. But I sat there and I blow dried my hair because I didn’t want to be cold when I got to the hospital because I’m always cold because I’m quadriplegic and the air conditioning in the hospitals is always way too high for me. So stubbornly, I sat there and blow dried my hair. We start driving to UVA. It’s 45 minutes away. So I still had time to get there. Then I finally feel it where I’m like, “Okay, whoa, these contractions are getting stronger and the waves are happening.” So I definitely felt the feeling that I wasn’t sure if I would know what it felt like. Well, I did, I did feel it.
Lozada: You’re like, “Ah, this is it.”
Lozada: Yeah, that.
Izzie: This is it, yeah. And my husband started speeding. And then unfortunately, a police man started pacing us because he was speeding. Yeah, so we had to drive the speed limit and we finally got there. And I still wasn’t in horrible pain, and I think it’s just my pain tolerance. So I kind of went into labor and delivery and they didn’t really make a fuss. I told them that I was in labor, but they didn’t fuss. And they sent me to a room and I just kind of waited patiently. And then finally, someone came in and hooked me up and checked the babies. A doctor came in, the doctor performed a cervical check, and he looked up from between my legs and he slowly stood up and he ran out of the room. He said, “I’ll be right back.” He ran out of the room. And all these people came running back into the room and they’re like, “We need to get you in the OR now. You are eight centimeters dilated,” or whatever it was. Pretty far along. And yeah, they told my husband to wait and they rolled me in there alone and I was absolutely terrified. I was terrified because, actually I remember now, my main obstetrician who I had really grown to trust was out of town. And he really knew all the details about my disability. And he was coordinating everything with the other doctors and the other specialists. And I just felt, “Are they going to be able to handle my case without his guidance?” I was really worried because I’ve had so many negative experiences in the past with sloppiness in doctors’ offices and just sometimes poor quality of care in regards to my disability, confusion, things like that. So I was really worried. We were able to phone my obstetrician and he talked to them. And honestly, after he talked to them, everybody seemed to calm down a little bit, because they were very, very frenzied when they got to me. And they were asking me questions that were basic. And I was like, “You guys don’t know this? We’ve been talking about this for months.” But anyway, once he talked to them, I could see things settle down.
Lozada: That does sound terrifying.
Lozada: Dani, what made it, at that point, what was the circumstance that made it so that you required a C-section? Because what I’m hearing is up to then, the plan was to have a vaginal delivery.
Izzie: Yeah, yeah. The reason that they told me was because baby A, the one that was going through my vaginal canal at that moment, was breach. I think actually her butt was coming out first. And they were worried about her position and they were concerned about baby B. They didn’t want any delays to happen and endanger the second baby. So they just wanted to minimize all risks and that’s why they chose C-section.
Lozada: So after they talked to your doctor, that helped calm you down and calm everybody down. And what happened next?
Izzie: My husband was allowed into the OR and he held my hand. The anesthesiologist administered a spinal. And that was great. I liked it. I liked that it took the pain and anxiety away and I felt better during my C-section than I do on a regular day of the week. Like I said, I live with chronic pain, so it was nice for me to escape that pain for once in my life, to experience this birth pain free. And I know that’s interesting, because I know a lot of other women feel differently. They want to feel the pain, and I get that, but yeah, so I had a little bit of a different experience with it.
Lozada: Well, I can totally appreciate having the reprieve from this chronic constant pain and being able to then really be present for the birth of your kids.
Lozada: How was the experience in the OR? You had the spinal, that felt really good. Did they do gentle cesarean practices?
Izzie: I don’t know what that means. I know that they had to be very careful with my cesarean because of my bladder reconstruction. They had to be very meticulous. They took extra time. I was watching them hovering over my abdomen, discussing with the urologists how to go about conducting the C-section. And I was really impressed, I was proud of them and I trusted them. I saw their minds working. And the urologists were really taking the lead with directing how it needed to be done. So once they established a plan, they started working. And I think my C-section took a little bit longer. I think they had to cut in a little bit lower down on my abdomen, but they had to cut further into my muscle above my pelvis.
Lozada: How big were your kids?
Izzie: So the girls were four pounds each.
Lozada: And then did they necessitate a NICU stay?
Izzie: Yes, so this was the difficult part. This is the part that was very hard and traumatic for me. I didn’t mention initially to you that one of my dreams was to have my babies right after they came out and have them put on my chest. That was what I wanted so badly. And I wanted to let them search for my breast and maybe even nurse them if I was lucky and it couldn’t happen. I saw their faces for, I mean, I saw them lift them out of my body and that was amazing, but I only got to touch them for a split second. They put the babies near my face, we touched cheeks I think for a couple seconds, and they took them away. And that was hard, that was really hard.
Lozada: Yeah, that sounds really hard. How long were they in the NICU for and how welcomed were you into the NICU to help with taking care of your babies?
Izzie: They were in NICU for two weeks. They did very well. I was in the hospital maybe two or three nights. I was not able to see them for 24 hours, which really upset me. And it wasn’t because of them, apparently it was because of me, because my vitals were not where they wanted them to be. And this actually really upset me because I deal with erratic vitals every day and I’m used to it. And these doctors don’t understand that I know how to deal with the nuance of getting my vitals to stabilize, and I know how to do it without medication. I do it through movement and positioning. And this is something that’s specific to having my type of spinal cord injury, where this is possible, where I can do this. So they didn’t understand this so I had to fight to stay out of ICU myself. They wanted to put me in ICU and I was like, “No way. No way.” Because I knew that that would throw me into a panic. I was worried about COVID because it was right when the pandemic hit. It was April 2020 when they were born. I didn’t want to go to an ICU. And I knew that they could make it worse. And I was having blood pressure issues, the last thing I wanted to do was get stressed out and be in an ICU. So I refused to go and they wouldn’t let me go see the girls. I felt like they were punishing me for not complying to be honest. And maybe that’s not true, maybe that wasn’t really, but I just didn’t see. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just go see them. And now I ask myself, what were my patient rights at that moment? Could I have just asked my husband to get me in my wheelchair? Couldn’t I have just rolled down there? And I’m not sure why I didn’t just do that.
Lozada: Well, and let’s also consider that you just had a C-section and your body’s gone through all these processes and that in itself, you’re recovering from a lot of things.
Lozada: That I don’t think the onus should be on you on trying to make sure you’re well taken care of and united with your family, right? That should be part of the institution and it doesn’t sound like they gave you good reasons why this separation was happening.
Izzie: Yeah, no, not really. I didn’t understand.
Lozada: That sounds really hard and I am so very sorry. And I want to say, and unfortunately it’s not as unusual as it seems, especially during the time of COVID. I have heard many people’s experience of having, when their kids end up in NICU, of having this separation for 24 hours or longer without proper explanation.
Lozada: And it’s really frustrating that that happened, more than frustrating.
Lozada: It’s really so sad, especially when your dream was to have your girls on your chest immediately.
Izzie: Yeah, yeah.
Lozada: So when you finally got to see them, how was that?
Izzie: It was surreal. When I went down to see them, it was surreal and it didn’t really hit me until I held each of them. So I held one for a little bit and then I held the other and the love just flooded into me and I just felt so deeply connected to these beautiful new children. And I was just so happy, and so in awe, so at peace.
Lozada: Dani, you are amazing because these were challenges upon challenges upon challenges and you have not only figured out how to navigate them, but also documented it for other people while in the process. What is one thing you want to make sure people know about your experience?
Izzie: Yeah, okay, let me tell you, because it comes right to mind. I wrote a blog entry once that was titled Disabled, Pregnant, Powerful, and that’s the word, powerful. This whole birth experience for me, as a disabled woman especially, was so powerful and empowering, to be able to have my body that is always seen as malfunctioning, to have it create these babies. And to be able to give birth to them was just for me a life changing experience. And it shifted my identity and it really helped me come home to myself and my body. And it was a beautiful transformation and experience and the girls are wonderful. We’re just in love.
Lozada: Dani, thank you so, so much for sharing your story with us today.
Izzie: You are welcome. Thank you so much for having me.
Lozada: That was Dani Izzie, who is a disability advocate, wheelchair user, and new mom to twin girls. You can find Dani on Instagram at daniizzie and that’s spelled D-A-N-I I-Z-Z-I-E. I hope your main takeaway from our conversation is that Dani in particular, and birthing people in general, are beyond powerful. I really loved hearing about the deeper appreciation she has for her body that grew and gave birth to twins. Oh, and at one point, Dani mentioned that she didn’t know about gentle cesarean options. So to help with that, we’ve linked in the show notes an episode on family centered cesareans with Dr. Pamela Berens. One thing you can do for you is challenge ableism when it comes to disabled parents and parenting, first by informing yourself. Dani has a blog that describes her experiences, including notable posts challenging misperceptions like the one called, quote, “’She is so selfish’: Facing Ignorance as a Disabled Parent,” which links out to the Disabled Parenting Project at disabledparenting.com. Then the one thing that you can do for the rest of us is support the documentary Dani’s Twins, which follows Dani’s and her family’s journey through pregnancy and early postpartum. This documentary provides crucial representation of disability and disabled persons and really is a landmark narrative considering that Dani is one of the very few quadriplegic people who have ever given birth to twins. Go to danistwinsfilm.com or at @danistwinsfilm on Instagram to learn more. We’re also going to be linking these in the show notes. You can connect with Birthful on Instagram at @birthfulpodcast. And to learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes, go to birthful.com. Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and this episode was produced by LWC Studios, Paulina Velasco, Jen Chien and Kojin Tashiro. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Apple Podcast, Goodpods, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen, and come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Stories] Giving Birth to Twins as a Disabled Person.” Birthful, LWC Studios. July 26, 2023. Birthful.com.
About Dani Izzie
Daniela (Dani) Izzie is a disability advocate and wheelchair user, wife and a mom to twins. She holds a Master’s in English Literature with a focus on Disability Studies, and is a digital marketing professional. As the founder of Access Social, Dani’s mission is to help companies meet the third largest market segment in the U.S. Living with a disability herself has also immersed her into the world of grassroots advocacy where she has worked with organizations on local and national levels including United Spinal Association, Women Enabled International, and Georgetown University to educate and craft and promote solutions for inequities faced by disabled people on a day-to-day basis. Most recently, she co-produced and starred in a documentary film and spearheaded an impact campaign amplifying issues faced by disabled pregnant people.
As an advocate, her work centers on elevating voices of disabled parents and she is the subject and producer of the documentary film Dani’s Twins, about pregnancy and motherhood as a quadriplegic during the pandemic.
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