Ever thought about getting married in a wheelchair?
I didn’t imagine that I could get married in a wheelchair. First of all, because I am not one of these girls who dreams about getting married to wear a glorious princess dress, the kind Cinderella would wear. Actually, as a young girl or even later in my teenage years, I didn’t fantasise about my wedding. I started to picture my own wedding about a decade later, a few years after I met Franck. And even at that time I wasn’t ready to have specific expectations about my wedding organisation. But of course, once Franck proposed in London, it only took a few days to start thinking about dozens of decoration ideas, meals courses, ceremony rituals and songs. Thanks Pinterest!
© SamVa photographie
Then, If I have used to not imagine myself getting married in a wheelchair it’s clearly because I expected that I would still be able to walk, at least enough to not require a wheelchair. But, unfortunately, we can’t control everything in our lives and especially not the progress of a degenerative disease! So in January, after Franck’s proposal, I quickly accepted that I would get married using my wheelchair and my walking stick. Indeed, even if I can still walk a bit, I can’t spend all day standing up.
Wedding and disability: doubts and concerns
After a few days, as I started to get back to earth, my first doubts and questions regarding disability quickly came in mind.
The wedding dress
Like many other brides-to-be, one of the first thing I thought about was my wedding dress. Especially as we didn’t have any time to waste: we decided that we would get married only 9 months after Franck’s proposal!
Of course, I was looking for a wedding dress that I love, in which I would look more beautiful than ever. But my future dress also had to be practical which is not to bother me when I walk, be able to move easily in it and to avoid tangling up my walking stick in the dress.
As I would use my wheelchair on my wedding day I wanted to avoid to wear a dress too bulky in order to prevent it to be stuck in my wheels and get dirty. So there was no way that I could wear a princess-sized wedding dress… I could picture it: me standing up in my dress, stretching my arm as far as I could manage to reach my walking stick, walking with hesitant steps… A fall could easily happen. But that wasn’t an issue, I wanted a body-hugging dress, elegant and delicate. My search went very well as I found the perfect dress.
© SamVa photographie
The only thing I regretted was to not be able to have a train. I was afraid to walk on it and get it stuck in my wheels or loose my balance or even fall. But I was wrong. When the seller took my measures, I tried to move around with the train still on my dress and that was a success. My train was short so I could manage it easily. I was really happy. You might think it is insignificant but for me it was a victory. A comforting moment. Like when you enjoy a hot chocolate wrapped in a blanket during a rainy Sunday in December. After all, there are not many occasions to wear a train!
© SamVa photographie
Everything was perfect. I just needed to find accessories. What worried me the most? Shoes. I wanted sandals but these kind of shoe can be problematic with my condition. I need strappy sandals to hold my ankle and heels needs to be at a specific high and width… plus I wanted those shoes to be elegant at the same time. Indeed, I prefer to avoid orthopaedic shoes! So I made up my mind: I was ready for a shoe-stores marathon! I even thought to get tailor-made shoes if needed but surprisingly I found my shoes way more quickly than what I expected.
So only one last detail needed to be taken care of: my walking stick. Mine is usually a dark red one. That would have been in sharp contrast to my wedding dress. So I simply bought the same in white colour.
© SamVa photographie
And what about the wedding dresses shops accessibility? I’m sure you wonder if at least some of them are wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, none of them. Only one had an accessible entrance but all the wedding dresses were upstairs and there was no lift. All the other shops had one or two steps at the entrance and quite often a few more inside. As for the fitting rooms, most of the time they are not designed especially for wheelchairs. Though they are spacious, sometimes enough to fit in a wheelchair in it.
The bride bouquet
One of the main events of a wedding is when the bride tosses the bouquet. Before my wedding I didn’t realise this was so important for many guests. Keeping a bouquet in hands is not practical at all when using a manual wheelchair or a walking stick, so I decided that I would not have one. Consequently, there would not be any tossing for the other single women. But, as the wedding was getting closer, my friends started to talk about how eager they were to grab my bouquet. Some of them were even planning some strategies to improve their chances! This is when I started to realise this moment is much more important than what I thought. Then, a few weeks later, our photograph Samuel asked me about my bouquet and the tossing. He explained to me that this is a special moment. So, I changed my mind. I’m glad I did it: I really enjoyed looking at my friends and sisters being so excited about it and I had a lot of fun tossing it!
As I would only have my bouquet during 5 minutes over the course of the day, I wanted to have another floral decoration with me. So looking for an idea I remembered a photo of Melanie from Little Miss Turtle who had her wheelchair backrest embellished with flowers. It was magnificent. So I ask my florist if she could do the same with the flowers we chose for our wedding. Look at that!
Getting married in a wheelchair necessarily means to find wheelchair accessibles places. The town hall has had a lift for many years so there was no problem. As for our wedding celebration venue we needed one accessible with adapted restrooms. We couldn’t have done otherwise. Especially as one of my sister and my mother are also in a wheelchair. Indeed, living with a disability is a family trait!
So we had to find a wheelchair accessible wedding venue with adapted restrooms and a reception room spacious enough to roll in a wheelchair between tables. Also we needed a wide dance floor. Wide enough for our opening wheelchair dance.We found the perfect place : the “Manoir de Prévasy“. This old renovated farm matched exactly our needs and was available. The only flaws are the gravels in the courtyard. It is not easy to roll on them but that wasn’t a big deal as I always had someone to help me if necessary. However the bedrooms are nor accessible nor adapted.
© SamVa photographie
The last thing I was worried about my spasticity. My disease comes with having some spasticity in my legs ; meaning sometimes my legs become tense and shake and I can’t control that. This might happen when I’m tired or just randomly. But there are two circumstances that I know almost for sure will trigger spasticity: when I am emotional or when I am stressed. During our wedding day, obviously I was emotional on several occasions. But I was very lucky as I almost never had any spasticity. So I have been able to walk down the aisle with my dad and getting out the city hall standing near my husband. Surely those happy moments brought peace to my body.
Wedding opening dance in a wheelchair
“How Franck and Aurélie will manage the wedding dance?”, “Do you think they will do an opening dance?”, “Maybe they plan to slow dance… Like this it should be easier for Aurélie”… These are thoughts some of our guests have had during the days leading to the wedding. As for us, we started to prepare our surprise many weeks beforehand!
In fact, we knew from the start how we would handle the wedding dance despite my disability. For a few years now we wanted to try wheelchair dancing as a couple: me in my wheelchair and Franck standing. So our wedding was the perfect time to try. But even if I was eager to discover this activity and share those moments with Franck, I also dreaded to dance in a wheelchair. I was scared not to be able to keep my feelings under control. I was afraid to be sad. Why? Because when I was a child (and then a teenager), I did dancing for 8 years. I didn’t stop because of my disability. But a few years later, when I wanted to start again training dance, my disability already appeared, preventing me from doing so. So I put dancing aside. I knew that wheelchair dancing existed but for me it was not the same. I would have to dance on my feet, the same way as I used to do, or no dance at all. Clearly, I wasn’t ready. Despite that I learned and accepted to live with my disability, dancing stayed a difficult topic which frustrated me.
And eventually when we started to plan our wedding I figured out that I really wanted to try wheelchair dancing and to share that with Franck. And of course we wanted a beautiful wedding dance! So we looked for a dance company working with disabled people and we found one: the Aramis dance company. We reached out to Françoise, the choreographer and she immediately offered us to meet her. We talk about our project, her way to teach dance, my disability and our love story… A few days later Franck and I had our first dance lesson. In total we needed 13 two-hours lessons. During practice, Franck and I learnt a lot and a new kind of bond grew. During some lessons we tried new moves, learnt new lifts and put aside others as there were too difficult for us.
At the end, after a few months of training and an amazing moment shared with our guests, I can tell you that dancing while standing and dancing in a wheelchair are not the same. It’s different but as fulfilling! It is a wonderful experience which enhanced our couple and I will keep forever. So will many of our guests who were filled with emotion. Some of them even told us that it was the most beautiful moment of our wedding. According to them, a moment which showed the essence of our couple, our bond and our strength.
So eventually I would say that getting married in a wheelchair is the same as living with a disability: it requires a good organisation and planning, while raising many doubts and questionings. Anyway, being in need of my wheelchair and my walking stick didn’t stop us from having a wonderful wedding. This day was even more magic that what we expected.
A big thanks to SamVa Photographie for his amazing photo coverage of our wedding and to grant me the right to use his photos for this post.