A letter from a disabled son to his mum: 'Thank you for believing'

Alex as a baby, and with his mum Helen today.
Alex as a baby, and with his mum Helen today.  Photo: Supplied

A week after Alex Taylor was born 16 weeks early, weighing under 900 grams, his mother penned a letter to her friend, expressing her worries over whether he would survive, and, if he did, what kind of life he would lead. To mark the UN's International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Alex - who is now 25 years old and has cerebral palsy - wrote this moving reply.

Dear Mum,

I recently came across a letter you sent one week after my birth. I am the "Baby Taylor (no name yet)" you speak of, "stable but with so many things happening to such a small, little person". You write how you and Dad were "living from day to day, dreading each morning in case he is no longer there". Over the next few weeks, things won't get easier: I'll be resuscitated numerous times and put on a life-support machine, unable to breathe alone.

This is what comes of impatiently arriving at 24 weeks. Doctors will even say that, next time, they won't try to save me. Yet, despite all the odds, you and Dad keep the faith; I climb aboard and begin to breathe independently. Thank you for believing.

I say thanks knowing this resilience will be tested again and again. Dad has told me of "Doctor Death", the figure who steadfastly stated I would never read, write or think. I don't blame her - people with a cerebral haemorrhage like mine aren't supposed to buck the system. Pity she forgot there's always an exception. That's something you remembered when you fought against the local council to get me into mainstream education.

People looking from the outside never understand the impact this grit had upon me growing up. It formed my personality, I gradually internalised it. At primary school I was the only one in a wheelchair. This somehow heralded the spectre of "special needs", two words that hung around me, and a girl in my class with Down syndrome, like a bad smell. When my teacher refrained from asking me questions in class, ignoring my raised arm, it left me upset and determined to prove myself. You demanded I view myself the same as everybody else.

This outlook supported me as I got older. It's funny, before hormones began to hit, adults were the most prejudicial. That changed as girls and boys started to feel more insecure. When I started secondary school, local boys I'd known for years emailed me. The message, addressed to "spack legs at the mental home", said I should "get some real legs" because they "wished I had never been born". I wanted to stay strong, but broke down in tears days later, revealing all.

An apology came that afternoon. I now know you emailed back from my account, threatening to speak to the boys' parents. "Don't let anyone push you around," you said. The next time someone called me a spastic, I rammed them against a wall with my electric wheelchair.

What I truly wish to thank you for is how you gave me the chance to live, to experience the good times when I discovered girls, parties and rock and roll - even if that meant dropping me off at some godforsaken club. More than that, you and Dad were by my hospital bed during the numerous operations; willing to pay for physiotherapy when the government system gave up on me aged 15.

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Today, my life at 25 mirrors many of my generation. The housing market makes things difficult, but you and Dad have been kind enough to put me, and my carers, up while I scrape together the earnings to move out. Cerebral palsy continues to be part of my day - I will never stand or walk unaided - but the disability does not define my life. And that's because you and Dad were, and continue to be, there for me, as I am.

Your letter ends in concern over "a nasty wound" on my foot caused by me pulling one of wires out. You "hope infection won't set in". I didn't develop gangrene, but it did leave a small scar on my ankle. A constant reminder of how I came to be, and who I am today.

Your proud son,

Alex Taylor

The Telegraph, London