O'Neill, 32, of Des Plaines, spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since she was awarded custody of her toddler, Aiden, about the challenges she faces as a single mom.
"It was a surprise when I found out I was pregnant. It wasn't a planned pregnancy. I was actually on birth control pills, it was a shock and I can remember thinking, 'Wow. How am I going to do this?'" O'Neill said.
O'Neill has minimal use of her hands and arms after what she calls a "freak accident." She was a 21-year-old Navy airman apprentice in Newport News, Virginia, when Hurricane Floyd blew her off a balcony as she was trying to remove furniture.
"For about two weeks, I don't really emember anything. When I did wake up, my first question was can I still have children?" O'Neill said.
O'Neill said she always wanted to be a mom, so even though her pregnancy was a surprise, she was determined to make it work. Aiden was born without complications 21 months ago. His father, David Trais, was supportive, O'Neill said, at first.
"We were a team. He was coming here from 7 at night to 7 in the morning, helping with Aiden. I never got any indication that he didn't think I could do it," O'Neill said.
When Aiden was just 10 weeks old, Trais sued for full custody because of O'Neill's disability. The battle went on for a year-and-a-half before both parties came to an agreement that gives Trais visitation rights.
"But I'm disappointed that the courts allow for someone to question your ability to have custody based on your disability," O'Neill said.
With the help of a live-in caregiver, a service dog and adaptive equipment from the Rehabilitation Institute, O'Neill makes motherhood work.
"He adapts to my abilities. It's amazing. If he wants me to read a book, he brings it, puts it up on my tray," O'Neill said.
O'Neill said there have been many pleasant surprises to being a single mother.
"Aiden learned how to walk holding on to the footrest of my wheelchair as I rolled my wheelchair back," she said. "So you can't really plan on what you can do or what are your challenges. It is not the way to live your life."