Aug. 28, 2014 at 2:03 PM ET
Rachelle Friedman Chapman had a clear road map in her head of when she’d hit all her adult milestones — but life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Known around the world as the "paralyzed bride," Chapman saw her plans to get married and have children postponed after a playful push at her bachelorette party left her a quadriplegic. Now happily married for three years, Chapman, 28, is about to become a mother.
On Thursday, she heard the heartbeat of her child for the first time .
“That was so cool. It was so fast and so strong —I didn’t know it would be that intense,” Chapman told TODAY.com after returning from an ultrasound appointment with the surrogate carrying her child. “I was trying not to let myself get excited up until this point because I didn’t want to be let down if there wasn’t a heartbeat, but now that there is, I’m crazy excited. It’s so real now.”
The baby is due in mid-April.
It’s been a long journey for Chapman. Four years ago, she was left paralyzed just below the collarbone after breaking her neck from an innocent push into a swimming pool. One of the first things she asked after the accident was whether she’d still be able to have children.
“They told me on the side of the pool, 'You’ll still be able to have kids,'” she said.
But her recovery delayed her attempt to start a family. She and Chris Chapman, 32, got married a year after her accident andeventually started looking into surrogacy. Although many paralyzed women are able to carry and deliver babies, that wasn't an option for Chapman because of medication she has taken since her accident to help regulate her blood pressure.
Soon, Laurel Humes, a college friend, reached out to help. She had been following Chapman's story through Facebook and said she was already considering surrogacy after her husband became a sperm donor for a same-sex couple they knew.
"When I heard Rachelle was looking for a surrogate, I told him, 'You helped a couple. I’d like to really make this offer and see if she’d be interested in me doing this for her," Humes told TODAY.com.
The Chapmans live outside Raleigh, North Carolina, about four hours away from Asheville, where Humes lives with her husband and their 2-year-old son.
"I remember how exciting it was to see and hear my son's heartbeat for the first time in utero. It was really special to be able to share that with Rachelle this morning," she said.
Chapman went through a 10-day IVF treatment that ultimately resulted in Humes successfully being implanted with a fertilized egg earlier this month.
After news circulated about her efforts to start a family, Chapman said some critics questioned whether she could be a fit mother because of her paralysis. Chapman downplayed their concerns.
“No one ever questions the physical ability of a single parent, and yet there are two of us in this effort," she said. "You have Chris, who is completely able bodied, and then there’s me, who maybe can’t do as much as he can — but I can do a lot more than people think.”
Chapman explained that not all quadriplegics are the same. Although she she broke her C5 and C6 vertebrae, "it's not a straight line across the body."
“I have really, really strong biceps, I have strong wrist functions, strong shoulders, so I can push my manual wheelchair with my arms,” she said. The biggest upper-body impediment has been the lack of mobility in her fingers, “but you might be surprised what I’m able to do with my hands anyway.”
While Chapman said she may not be able to jump out of bed when the baby wakes at night, she will still be able to hold, dress, and feed her child, as well as change diapers.
“It’s not going to be easy and we’re completely aware that it may not be 50-50. But this wasn’t just my decision, it was Chris's, too,” she said. The couple also will have help from her mother, who lives nearby. “As a team, as a family, we’ll just find a way to work this out. We all want this.”
Chapman said she knows many people around the world know her as “the paralyzed bride,” and she’s fine with the moniker the media gave her. Though “it’s a little funny now because I haven’t been a bride in three years.”
But she hopes she’ll soon be more known for her parenting skills.
“I want to look up all sorts of baby stuff. I have to read all the how-to books,” she said excitedly. “I just want to read everything and learn everything. I’m excited to apply all this stuff."
Chapman said she used to dream of having two children. But going through surrogacy and IVF treatments is expensive — they have spent more than $15,000 so far, much of it raised from friends through a fundraiser — and she doubts she'll try for a second child down the road.
"So my plan didn’t work out exactly like it was supposed to, but I’m having a baby and that was what I always wanted," she said. "You never know what the future holds. You never know what five years down the road our life will be like."