‘I refused to abort my disabled baby’
Tuesday 05 July 2011
Determined Abby Ryan shatters the stereotype of the irresponsible teen mum – by juggling nappies with exams and working towards a career.
Not only that but her son Riley was diagnosed with brain damage before birth. Brave Abby, 16, refused a termination aged 15, and has no regrets, despite Riley’s neurological condition. She even went on to take 13 GCSEs.
“Being a mum at any age is hard – especially to a disabled child,” Abby admits. “But I don’t regret my decision. I’ll finish my education and get a career. Teen mums aren’t all irresponsible.”
Despite taking the Pill, Abby from Farnborough, Hampshire – who’d been with her boyfriend Jake Faulkner, 17, for five months – missed her period aged 15 after taking antibiotics, which can stop the Pill working effectively.
Revealing her mum, Lara, 42, cried when the pregnancy test was positive – and Jake “went quiet” – Abby says: “I was terrified – but I felt abortion was wrong, and Jake said he’d stand by me.”
The pair decided Jake would finish college and work part-time, while Abby would live with her mum and finish school.
“We were so excited,” says Abby, who has a sister Paige, 10, and twin siblings, Emily and Charlie, three. Her dad Lee, 40, split from Lara when she was two.
But, heartbreakingly, Abby’s 20-week scan showed her son had swelling on the brain.
Doctors couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, but tests revealed there was an 80 per cent chance he’d be severely disabled.
Abby says: “I was hysterical – doctors advised a termination and for a second I thought I couldn’t cope with a disabled baby. But when they said I’d have to take a tablet to stop his heart, I couldn’t. I’d already named him and bought a cot – he was my baby.”
Abby’s family and friends supported her decision.
When Riley was born naturally last June he wasn’t breathing due to a lung infection, so he was put on a ventilator.
Abby says: “He looked perfect. It broke my heart seeing him covered in tubes.”
Riley had club feet, webbed fingers and enlarge cavities in his brain, but, incredibly, he was discharged a week later, though doctors warned more symptoms could emerge.
Abby admits motherhood was a struggle. She says: “Riley didn’t feed easily and I was so tired. I’d break down sometimes, but being a mum felt natural. Jake stayed over and Mum helped loads.”
Three weeks after his birth, Riley was fitted with plaster casts to correct his feet. And, two months later, Abby returned to school to study for her exams.
“It was difficult – I’d be up all night with Riley, then off to school,” she says, revealing her mum claims income support so she can care for Riley while she’s at school. “But I had to get on with it – Riley is relying on me.”
Riley was recently diagnosed with Moebius Syndrome, a brain condition that means he struggles to form facial expressions and sit up, and will take longer to walk.
He regularly attends hospital appointments and physiotherapy, but has astounded doctors with his progress. He’ll have an op on his webbed fingers next year.
Abby says: “He’ll take longer to learn things, but he should live a normal life. He’s adorable and cheeky, and starting to babble.”
Abby says Jake often stays over to help, and reveals they’ll live together when they can afford to. She adds: “I’ll study beauty at college. I want a job. You hear about teen mums who have more kids and claim benefits, but it doesn’t have to be like that. I wouldn’t recommend having a baby in your teens, but you can make it work.”
By Emily Retter
l Underage And Pregnant, 11 July, 8.30pm, bbc Three