Things are a bit hectic at the Izzie home in rural Madison County. The dogs offer a loud greeting. Downstairs, Grandpa Alan is watching Masha and the bear with the kids, and his son-in-law, Rudy, is on the phone with his office. Upstairs, Danielle Izzie, a marketing professional and blogger, shuts down her laptop and begins to cook dinner. At first glance, the Izzies look like so many 21st century families, but it turns out their story is surprising and inspiring.
Dani, for example, needs a wheelchair to get around and has limited use of her arms and hands.
“I am quadriplegic following a spinal cord injury,” she explains. “I slipped and fell in the bathroom and broke my neck. It paralyzed everything from my chest to my feet.”
The recovery was difficult and she had to accept the prognosis: she would never walk again. But she clung to the dream of having her own family.
“I didn’t really see myself as a domestic goddess,” she recalls. “I hadn’t planned my wedding years in advance or anything like that. I saw myself as an adventurer and a traveler, but I definitely always wanted kids.”
She was a grad student in California when she returned home for a visit and met Rudy online. Their first date included an unbeatable combination – ice cream, whiskey and romance.
“You know, I left the first date without a kiss, and I was about 100 yards away when my phone went off, and she told me to come back and kiss her,” he laughed. . “So I turned around and came back and kissed her, and I was probably pretty addicted from then on.”
Physically fit and a serious weightlifter, Rudy had no qualms about helping Dani navigate the world, but they needed a doctor’s advice on having children.
“She gave me her blessing. She said, ‘Go ahead! Go ahead!’ A few months later we started trying, and I got pregnant right away.”
During their first ultrasound, the technician watched Dani’s stomach as she began the procedure, but Rudy stared at the screen – trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
“And he says, ‘Why are there two? “And the tech looks up at the screen and says, ‘Wow, you’ve got two babies in there. We were just like, ‘No, you have to be kidding!’ It was the biggest shock of our lives,” says Dani.
They were thrilled but frankly scared. Nobody had heard of a quadriplegic woman giving birth to twins, so they found an expert on high-risk pregnancies at UVA – Dr. Robert Fuller.
People with spinal cord injuries often have fluctuating blood pressure. Too low and babies could be deprived of oxygen. Too high and Dani risked a stroke or heart attack, but Fuller reassured them.
“Both babies have normal heart rhythms. Both babies have normal fluids, and there’s no evidence they’re having any trouble getting along in there.
Yet the couple faced another medical challenge. It was 2020 and the pandemic was setting in.
“I’m a bit high risk, because I have 30 per cent lung function, so I can’t get pneumonia. I can’t even get the flu. I have to be very careful.”
That meant foregoing visits with family, friends and a video crew that had begun recording Izzie’s story for a documentary.
“So yeah, I filmed myself giving birth.”
And labor, of course, came six weeks early. Rudy and Dani rushed to UVA – at least 45 minutes from home.
“And can you believe a cop flagged us down and followed us to the hospital, making sure we were within the speed limit, even thinking my husband rolled down the window and said, ‘She’s in labour,'” Dani recalls.
Shortly after their arrival, thanks to an emergency caesarean section, the babies were born. They were healthy but only weighed four pounds each, so they had to spend two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. When they finally came home amid the COVID pandemic, Dani and Rudy were still alone.
“Rudy, I need help. Huh. Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakie,” a sleepy new mom called to the sleepy new dad. Over time, they shared the duties of parenthood.
“He takes care of the diapers. He gives them baths,” says Dani. “He dresses them. I choose the outfits, always. And I do a lot of the administrative stuff: enroll them in school, make sure they have doctor’s appointments and I make sure they do I can cook, I can clean, and I do all the research in books and parenting, so we both have our talents.
Giorgiana and Lavinia are now two years old – happy, healthy and compassionate children.
“They kind of know that mom needs a little extra help sometimes,” she says. “I never ask them anything. I never want to put them in the position where they have to take care of mum, but they’ll watch me and say, ‘Are you okay, mum?’ Like the other day, I was going down the path and it’s a bit steep so I’m going slowly, and Giorgiana asked me, “Are you stuck, mom? She came behind my chair and tried to help me.” They do it naturally and I’ve heard from my other friends who are in wheelchairs similar things about their children – that they are naturally very considerate and helpful.
And she hopes the film they helped make – called Dani’s Twins – will begin to change public attitudes towards parenting for people with disabilities.
“Custody rights for people with disabilities are not equal. Parents can be discriminated against on disability alone in a third of the states. I’ve had comments from people telling me I shouldn’t have kids, that it’s t is selfish, how could I take care of the children if I could barely take care of myself. What I have learned on this journey is that it is not so much my physical abilities that matter. C “is ingenuity. It’s how I figure out how to get things done despite everything. It’s the relationship I build with my husband and with my children, and it’s the love I give them.” “
The film premiered at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride last week. As seen elsewhere, Dani and her family hope this will change popular perceptions of parenthood and disability.
To see a trailer for the film and photos of the Izzie family, go to https://www.danistwinsfilm.com/