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…
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