Please don’t call me a bad mum

When her son was born with an ex­tremely rare con­di­tion, Katie How­bridge, 41, from Hud­der­s­field, didn’t let it stand in his way…

Pick Me Up! Special - - News -

Eyes nar­row­ing, smile fad­ing, the sono­g­ra­pher turned the screen away. ‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ she said, leav­ing me and my part­ner, James Roznowski, 42, in the room alone.

My stom­ach dropped and my mouth went dry.

‘Some­thing’s wrong,’ I croaked to James. I knew this wasn’t nor­mal. James gripped my hand, try­ing to re­as­sure me, but I knew.

Then the sono­g­ra­pher re­turned with two spe­cial­ists who con­firmed my worst fears.

‘It looks like your baby has no legs,’ one said. I burst into tears. I was hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing as they ex­plained I’d need more tests at Leeds Gen­eral In­fir­mary.

My me­mories around what fol­lowed are fuzzy, but af­ter­wards I know I was sick. James held me as I cried.

‘What­ever the prob­lem is, we’ll deal with it,’ he promised.

Ten days later, I had an MRI scan, and the re­sults came a week af­ter that… Bad news.

Our baby boy had a con­di­tion called sacral age­n­e­sis – it meant his lower spine hadn’t de­vel­oped.

He did have legs – they were tucked up around his shoul­ders – but we were told that he’d never be able to walk.

Doc­tors wouldn’t know more about his con­di­tion un­til he was born. They of­fered me an abor­tion. ‘No!’ I gasped. I loved him so much al­ready. My boy de­served a chance. So, in De­cem­ber 2009, Tadeusz was born by Cae­sarean at Calderdale Royal Hospi­tal. I didn’t get to see him be­fore he was whipped away. But as I was sewn up, James went with our boy. ‘He looks just like you,’ I sobbed when he showed me a photo he’d taken on his phone. Even­tu­ally, I was wheeled up to see him. Tad was 6lb 4oz, but looked so tiny in his in­cu­ba­tor. He had no anus or bot­tom, and his legs were lit­tle. But he had a cute but­ton nose and was the im­age of his dad. Tad needed surgery to insert a stoma – a pouch to col­lect his poo – so he was taken to Royal Manch­ester Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal. The six-hour op was a suc­cess. Af­ter, his brother – my son Cameron, then six, from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship – met him. We told him that Tad would never walk. ‘I’ll still love him, and we’ll do other things to­gether,’ Cameron smiled. His strength buoyed me. James and I were taught how to care for Tad and, af­ter five weeks, we were al­lowed to bring him home. It was ter­ri­fy­ing. Then, at three months old,

we had a scare.

Tad’s stoma got blocked and in­fected, so we rushed him to hospi­tal, where we nearly lost him.

But doc­tors were able to clear the block­age, and Tad was able to come back home.

Soon, he was rolling over, pulling him­self up.

‘Clever boy!’ I beamed.

Part of me hoped doc­tors had got it wrong, but al­though his up­per body was su­per strong, he couldn’t use his legs and the con­di­tion had stunted his growth.

At 18 months, we got him a spe­cial­ist wheel­chair.

He wasn’t in­ter­ested in us­ing it at first. But, one day, he shot past me. ‘Wow! Do that again,’ I said, amazed. Doc­tors were shocked when I told them, and they thought he was the youngest child to self­pro­pel in a wheel­chair. James and I were so proud. And Cameron re­ally doted on his lit­tle brother. The pair be­came best mates, part­ners in crime. Tad’s con­di­tion doesn’t cause any cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment – his brain works per­fectly. He grew into a bright, chatty and very funny lit­tle man. Aged four, he was happy to join his older brother at Dal­ton School Ju­nior In­fant and Nursey. The school was ter­rific about han­dling his con­di­tion – Tad was in­volved in ev­ery­thing. But when we’re out, peo­ple can be very judg­men­tal.

De­spite his age, Tad, now eight, is the size of a tod­dler.

Peo­ple stare, make com­ments, and look so sur­prised when he starts talk­ing. I’ve had cruel re­marks, too. ‘Why are you mak­ing your baby push a wheel­chair?’ one said.

We do have a pram for Tad, but he doesn’t like it.

Af­ter all, no eight-year-old would want to be pushed around in a pram...

The worst was in the su­per­mar­ket when Tad was three.

‘What kind of mother are you? Why are you feed­ing a baby a ham sand­wich?’ a woman cried.

It was very hurt­ful, but these days, Tad con­fi­dently an­swers any crit­ics him­self!

Doc­tors don’t know what his long-term out­look is.

Tad’s had sev­eral op­er­a­tions and suf­fers from club­foot.

He’s also had an op­er­a­tion re­cently on his blad­der and now has to wear nap­pies.

He also faces ma­jor surgery on his bow­els and will need metal rods in­serted in his spine.

We just have to take it as it comes and face it all as a fam­ily.

Tad can zoom around in his wheel­chair and do all sorts of stunts.

He’s played dis­abled ten­nis and foot­ball with Cameron, now 15, too – on his hands.

He also loves play­ing rounders at school.

I won’t be sur­prised if, one day, he’s com­pet­ing in the Par­a­lympics!

He’s so strong and brave – both my boys are.

Tad is never sad, and has a wicked sense of hu­mour.

He may be tiny, but he’s mighty!

Strangers made cruel com­ments

Tad’s strength in­spired me

I was so scared

Tad is al­ways smil­ing

The best of friends

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