Just after she had given birth, Catherine Howarth felt understandably groggy from the labor medication and the effort she had put into delivering her baby. As a result, she thought her eyes were deceiving her when she first saw her newborn baby; he was much different than she had imagined him to be.
Catherine and husband Richard had only just wed when they found out their new family would be gaining another member. Specifically, the couple, based in Milton Keynes, England, were expecting a son.
Then, in 2014 financial analyst Catherine endured an exhausting labor at a hospital in her hometown. On top of that, as she told British TV show This Morning in 2014, she was “so drowsy on the pethidine” – a drug that mothers-to-be are often given to make childbirth as pain-free as possible.
But it was Richard who was able to see their newborn son – whom they named Jonah – first. “They placed Jonah on Catherine’s stomach, and that was when I saw him first. And then they gave him to Catherine,” he recalled on This Morning.
Meanwhile, Catherine remembered her first sight of her son and how it had engendered an unexpected feeling: shock. When the midwife handed her the newborn, Catherine looked at her son and said through her tiredness, “Is this my baby?”
Of course, the midwife had just delivered the child, so she knew that she had the right baby. And on This Morning, Catherine recalled the medical professional laughing and explaining that Jonah was indeed her son. “I looked and I said, ‘Wow!’” Catherine said.
Catherine went on, “You know, as a first-time mother, I said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I created him.’ And I just fell in love with him instantly.” But despite her awe, she knew that there was something different about her baby, considering the way he looked in comparison to his parents.
After all, Catherine’s husband Richard has pale, white skin and red hair. On the other hand, Catherine told the Daily Mirror in 2014, “My parents were from Nigeria and, for as far back as anyone can remember, my family have all been black.”
Yet the son they had together didn’t have a skin tone somewhere in the middle of his parents. Richard later explained, “[Jonah’s] complexion was very pale due to the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck when he was being delivered.
And although biracial babies do sometimes appear lighter at birth, eventually their color becomes clear in their cheeks. Yet while that was the case for Jonah a few hours after his birth, Richard revealed, “Catherine and I noticed his complexion was very similar to mine and were surprised it was light.”
What’s more, Jonah’s complexion remained pale even further down the line. Catherine said to the Daily Mirror, “Some children get darker after a few weeks, when the skin color they will have for life starts to become obvious. But you can see from the color at the tips of their ears what that will be. We saw straight away [then] that Jonah was fully white.”
But the Howarths’ doctors had an explanation as to why Jonah had come into the world with light skin. And it wasn’t anything to do with albinism – a genetic condition that strips the body of the melanin pigment that colors an individual’s hair, eyes and skin.
Instead, Catherine said, “We have been told that I must have been carrying a recessive gene. At some point, there must have been a white gene in my family that has remained dormant for years and years – until now.”
And, Catherine revealed, the chance of that recessive gene coming into play was “very, very rare,” according to the research conducted by Jonah’s doctors. “They had only found two similar cases, both in America, that had been reported in recent times,” she added to the Daily Mirror.
In fact, the doctors said that Jonah being born white was a one-in-a-million occurrence. They also told the Howarths that if they were to have more children, there was an even slimmer chance that they would be as light as their older brother.
So when Catherine gave birth to her second child in March 2016, she expected a newborn who appeared very different to her son Jonah. But, once again, the midwife handed Catherine her new baby, and the mom looked down in shock.
Speaking about her newborn daughter, Catherine told the Daily Mail in 2017, “When Sophia was born with white skin and blue eyes, I was more than taken back. It seems the odds of it happening twice are millions to one. No one has heard of a black mom having two white babies one after the other.”
And, once again, Catherine’s doctors couldn’t believe that she had given birth to a baby with such light skin. “Each time, doctors and midwives have all commented on our babies’ amazing coloring,” the mother of two said.
But Catherine also faced confusion from strangers who didn’t know or didn’t realize that she was indeed mom to two white children. “People often get confused when they meet me with the children for the first time. You can see them doing a double take, wondering if I am their mom,” she admitted to the Daily Mail.
But ultimately, to both parents, the most important thing is that they have a healthy family. After the birth of his son, Richard told the Daily Mirror, “The color of his skin is no concern; Jonah being a healthy and happy baby is what matters.”