A disability has never stopped me from living life to the full
By Heather McIntyre, 41, from New South Wales, Australia
A huge smile spread across my daughter Myfawny’s face. She’d just been given a special pair of pink glasses.
So when she raised her arms in excitement and reached for her toy, it was a magical moment. At 14 months old, she’d just seen something for the first time in her life.
Myfawny was born with congenital cataracts, meaning the lenses in her eyes were covered in a cloudy film.
Doctors performed a procedure to remove the cataracts when she was six weeks old, but her vision was still very limited.
But with her powerful glasses, she could see light and colour for about 30cm in front of her.
I knew just how delighted Myfawny felt because I was born with the same condition. In fact, I could only just make out her bright shape and happy movements.
The cataracts are a hereditary condition. My mum Lynn and grandma Margarette were blind too. As well as the cataracts, my family suffers from a common complication, glaucoma, which also causes vision loss.
But it’s never stopped me living life to the full or being a mum to my own kids. In fact, I have 10 of them!
I met my husband Garry, now 56, when I was 19 and working in telemarketing. Then, I was completely blind and couldn’t even make out shadows.
I started chatting to Garry at a house party and we instantly clicked. At the end of the night, he asked me out.
‘Would you like to go to the cinema with me?’ he asked. ‘Yes, that’d be great’ I said.
I was thrilled he’d ask me to watch a movie because it showed he didn’t think I was different to anyone else. He didn’t assume anything about me, I realised happily.
We had a great time on our first date, and just a year later we got married.
‘When you’re this happy, why wait?’ I said.
We were over the moon when I fell pregnant soon after. But deep down I had some worries about whether I’d be able to be a good mum without my sight.
Will I be able to change nappies properly? I wondered.
Then I remembered how well Mum had managed with my three siblings and me. If she could do it, so could I.
There was something else to consider too. I was the only blind child in my family, so we didn’t know how likely it was that our own baby would inherit cataracts.
While we hoped our baby would be fit and healthy, we never saw blindness as a devastating condition.
‘After all, I’ve had a happy life,’ I said to Garry. ‘Being blind hasn’t stopped me.’
When our little boy Kurt, now 20, was placed in my arms, it was an amazing moment. ‘His eyes are fine,’ the doctors said. I was elated.
I’ll take care of you just like any other mum, I vowed.
Romper suits were a bit of a challenge. Sometimes it was hard to tell which part was for the arms and which part was for the legs – but I always got there in the end.
I also got the hang of nappies. I couldn’t push a pram in front of me so I carried Kurt while I used a guide dog.
By the time Kurt started crawling, I’d come up with a plan to make sure I knew exactly where he was. I dressed him with rattling bracelets and put bells on his socks. There was always a way to do what I needed.
Garry and I adored being parents, so we knew we wanted more children. Sebastian, now 19, was born 19 months later. He did have cataracts, but we knew it wouldn’t hold him back.
When he was three, he had surgery to allow him to see colours and shades very close up. It was a success, so I had the procedure done soon after.
While I was still legally blind, I was amazed by the improvement. Being able to tell the colours of baby clothes was wonderful!
The boys were followed by Jacqueline, 16, and Kirima, 13. Then came twins Lance and Quillan, 11, who are blind too.
And we didn’t stop there!
Quintessa, eight, Jacinta, five, who is blind, and Arnold, four, added to our brood. Then we welcomed our final addition, Myfawny. She has a lively little personality and the older kids adore her.
Despite the fact half our children are blind, we always make it work. The children who can’t see, do their school work in braille, which we also use to label appliances around the house.
As a stay-at-home mum of 10, organisation is vital. Each family member wears a different type of sock, so I can tell whose is whose from the shade, style or texture.
I do four loads of laundry a day, and it can take time to work out who a T-shirt belongs to, so sometimes we colour code those too.
I make all the sandwiches for the week on a Monday and freeze them. And I bake big batches of muffins.
The children help wash dishes after dinner and bath the smaller ones. Like any siblings, they have the odd squabble but never fight.
Our family is close, and includes my guide dog, Narjee, and our retired dog, Hero. Garry is a personal trainer but living on one wage means we need to make sacrifices to pay the mortgage and bills.
We don’t have a car or take any holidays, but we always go on fun day trips together. While some people might baulk at the idea of having 10 kids, I love every moment.
I’ve even started thinking about baby number 11. What can I say, I was born to be a mum!
Heather walks to the supermarket several times each week for the family’s groceries. Her shopping list includes:
✔ 10 loaves of bread
✔ 35 litres of milk
✔ three bunches of bananas
✔ 80 apples
✔ two kilos of flour
✔ 24 eggs and 24 sausages
✔ two kilos of meat, plus some lamb and steak
✔ 20 rolls of toilet paper