On Mother's Day last year, Penny Roberts was pregnant - and alone. Three years after suffering horrendous spinal injuries in a sky-diving accident, she was paralysed from the chest down. Twelve months ago, suffering morning sickness, she had little idea of the battles she was to face in order to keep her son. Now Penny tells Jan Winter about the ups and downs of the past year and her feelings as she approaches her first Mother's Day as a mum.

AT SIX MONTHS, Penny Roberts's baby Peter is a blue-eyed delight, full of gummy smiles and gurgles. As he sleeps peacefully in her arms, the new mum looks a picture of happiness.

But the last year has been a roller-coaster ride for the 36-year-old, who was forced to take on the establishment to prevent her baby being taken from her.

Penny was always convinced that, with the right help, she was the best person to care for her son. And she is now thoroughly enjoying the early months of motherhood.

Mother's Day last year sticks in her mind, says Penny. "I didn't have enough care and I was alone, with morning sickness. I rang the Red Cross and they sent a volunteer to sit with me.

"I didn't even have a wheelchair because it was in for repair, so I couldn't get out of bed. I just wanted to cry.

"Then the volunteer went to church and because it was Mother's Day, they gave out little bunches of flowers for mums, and she brought it for me, saying: 'I thought a mum-to-be could have some flowers instead,' and that was lovely.

"I had nothing and didn't know how I was going to get through it all."

The battles Penny fought during her pregnancy have been widely-covered. She turned to the media when Bradford Social Services discussed putting Penny's unborn baby into care from birth.

Detailed reports were prepared which would determine the future for the young woman and her child, and it was only days before the birth that the final decision was made to provide enough care for Penny and Peter that they could stay together in her home at Steeton, near Keighley.

That decision was made so close to Peter's birth, by a Caesarian operation, that Penny had no time to find the rota of permanent, 24-hour-a-day carers she now has. "Nothing was ready. I had a new-born baby at home and total strangers coming in and looking after my baby. The care was good but they were people I didn't know, looking after my baby. I didn't have enough care so I relied on friends.

"Now it's not like one carer clocks on and another clocks off. We're friends."

Penny's carers do many of the practical things for Peter, but Penny holds him and cares for him too - she has use of her arms, although there isn't a lot of strength in them. He is breast-fed, providing another special bond between mother and baby.

Peter seems to know by instinct which person can offer him which care, contented to sit happily on Penny's lap at some times, and at others, shouting at carers to be moved elsewhere.

"He's beautiful. He's such a good baby, he's such a blessing. Physically, I'm limited and what I can do for him varies from week to week, really.

"When he's a bit older I will be able to play with him more and hold his attention."

On a shopping trip to Keighley, Penny experienced one of the nicest things which has happened since Peter's birth, when he wanted to sit on her lap instead of being pushed in his pushchair by a carer. That gave Penny such a feeling of pride, and made her feel like other mums, instead of people seeing her and thinking she was unable to care for her son herself at all.

"Before, I had such a feeling of powerlessness. They could literally take him away from me and I couldn't do anything, and that's a very vulnerable feeling," Penny remembers.

"Last year, it wasn't even as if I was in a tunnel with light at the end of it. I couldn't see how I was going to get here at all.

"I used to sit here on my own and sometimes I used to think it would be better if I was dead, because he would be safe and I would be safe, and there wouldn't be this problem. They were really dark days."

Penny feels positive about the future, with spinal research progressing and bringing new developments. And she is determined Peter will not become her carer as he gets older.

"The situation is so different and so positive now. Now Peter's six months old, he will be looking around and he'll turn and catch my eye, and he smiles, and I know that he recognises me and that smile's for me."

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