Shmuel and Rivkah Klein have all the hassles of being new parents. Their twins don't sleep through the night, and with all the feedings, baths and diaper changes, they have difficulty finding time for themselves.
But the Kleins have an added challenge: They are both paralyzed, and they need to care for 8-week-olds Yosef Netanel and Yaakov Aryeh from the confines of their wheelchairs.
"Years ago, when I was growing up, I wondered how I would be as a mother," said Rivkah Klein, 27, who became paralyzed from the hips down after she contracted polio as a child. "But once my sister got married and had children, I became the second mother to them, and I was changing diapers and helping feed them. Then I realized that I am capable of doing anything another mother can do; I just do it from a sitting position instead of a standing one."
She met 41-year-old Shmuel, a graphic designer and tutor, on a blind date in 2001. He was able-bodied until he was 22 years old, when he broke his neck in an accident and became a quadriplegic. As a couple, they bonded over their shared disabilities, their commitment to religion (they are both Orthodox) and their desire to have children.
"When Shmuel and I were dating that was one topic we discussed," Rivkah Klein said. "We both wanted children, and it wasn't a question of whether we would be able to, but rather finding the right way to have them."
After about a year of marriage, the Kleins started investigating fertility options.
"We covered all the bases, from homeopathic to in vitro," she said. "There are many options for people with paralysis. The key is to find what might work for you, and not to get discouraged."
The Kleins ended up conceiving the twins through in vitro fertilization, and the pregnancy was not without its challenges.
"Rivkah was all baby," Shmuel Klein said. "It got hard for her to cook and lift a pan, get into the van and climb into bed."
At 33 weeks, Rivkah Klein thought her water broke. She went to Cedars-Sinai, where she remained on bed rest while taking steroids to speed the maturing of her babies' lungs.
The twins were born on July 1 via c-section; Rivkah was 35 weeks pregnant. Yosef, born first, weighed 5 pounds, Yaakov followed two minutes later and weighed 5 pounds, 3 ounces. Although premature, both babies were born healthy.
At home in their Pico-Robertson apartment, the Kleins have a round-the-clock nurse, who helps with all the regular baby care tasks, as well as some extra ones. The Kleins have both slowed down the speed of their wheelchairs, so the babies would not feel a rushed and hectic environment in the house.
In lieu of Shmuel Klein holding the babies in his arms, the nurse holds them close to him so they can get used to his smell. That way, he can bond with his children.
"What Shmuel cannot give them physically he makes up 100 fold by what he can give them spiritually," said Reuven Fauman, who is making a documentary about the Kleins through his production company, Sightline Video, which he hopes will air on PBS. "When I was filming his daily routine I couldn't stop weeping one day, when the attendant took off his leg brace, and his foot started to spasm uncontrollably, but Shmuel just looked at the twins and this look of pure joy came over his face. These parents, whose bodies have betrayed them, have these two children who are so perfect, and when you see the faith that [the Kleins] have in God, and their positive attitude, is just so inspiring."
Whether it will become more difficult for the Kleins once their twins are ambulatory remains to be seen, but both the Kleins and their doctors seem confident about the future.
"I think children who grow up with handicapped parents accept the fact that the parents are handicapped and to them it is normal and not a problem," said Dr. Harold Peart, the Klein's obstetrician at Cedars-Sinai.
"The things that make me nervous are when I look into the future," Shmuel Klein said. "I want to go to shul with them on Shabbos, but I need someone to wheel me there. So who will be taking them? It is obviously doable, but until it is actualized I don't know [how we will do it]. My biggest thing is that I want to know that we will be a family. I just want to know that we are a family unit sitting at a table, just the four of us eating dinner. That is really my goal."
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