The Richard Dawkins malarkey

This week there was quite a fuss around some Richard Dawkins tweets. As part of the DS community I certainly took an interest and spent far too long torturing myself with what was said and how people responded.

To save me explaining, here’s a link for more info:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/richard-dawkins-on-babies-with-down-syndrome-abort-it-and-try-again-it-would-be-immoral-to-bring-it-into-the-world-9681549.html

I saw some of the DS tweeters fighting back and the trolls who replied in offensive and upsetting ways, so I certainly had no inclination to reply to him. However I thought it worthy of a blog post.

To all those who explained why they would abort a foetus with DS, I understand your thinking… The old me (pre-Audrey) would have also thought that having a special needs child would mean;

That I couldn’t work.
That the child would have no quality of life.
That we would have a very depressing existence, filled with hospital visits and therapy.
That our friends and family would find it difficult to love the child.
That the child would be difficult to love.

All of the above seems laughable now we have Audrey in our lives.

I work 3 days a week.
Audrey has a perfectly happy life, she’s 13 months, but is a bit more like a 7 month old.
We have had hospital visits and some physiotherapy. None of this (so far, touch wood) has been as bad as I had imagined.
And the love… She is so easy to love and everybody loves her. Our friends and family have been amazing.

I do appreciate that from the screening, you won’t be able to tell if the child will be healthy or “high functioning”, however it’s clear that things have really moved on and children with DS have better lives than ever. Better life expectancy and opportunities overall.

Hayley from Down’s Side Up wrote a wonderful piece that really says it all so beautifully:

http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/5697336

And, as always, Audrey’s face says it all so beautifully for me…

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Future DS Mama…

I was sent an email (along with a handful of other DS mummies) this week… A woman in our area is 16 weeks pregnant and has had a blood test that has revealed a 99% chance of Down’s Syndrome… She has reached out for advice and I was more than happy to speak to her. We squeezed in a ten minute or so telephone chat whilst I wandered on my lunch break and she found a quiet spot in her office. And of course I came away thinking of all the things I should have said…

Unfortunately I couldn’t offer her the perspective of someone who had a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. I simply do not know what it’s like to be told that the life in your tummy is 99% likely to have DS and for that mysterious “bad news” to be hanging over you throughout pregnancy.

Ted and I have always said we were glad we didn’t know. I imagine the pregnancy would have been ruined by the dark cloud hanging over us. But then, is there something to be said about preparation? Would I have felt more joy/relief/love when Audrey was first born, had the DS been expected rather than a shock?

I spoke to the lady in question, starting by letting her ask questions, she kicked off with; “Well my mother said I wouldn’t be able to work if I have this baby, I’ll be at home caring for him/her, but obviously you’re at work? – Does nursery cost more?”

Yes I’m back at work three days, Audrey is at nursery twice and spends one day with Grandma (or Bibi as we have chosen). I said that possibly nurseries find a child with special needs a positive thing – they get funding and guidance on sensory toys etc. but at the moment, her needs aren’t very different, so it’s not a big deal for her to be at nursery.

We talked about health issues (Audrey being on oxygen for 6 months), the fact that once we got over the shock, we just had a baby to deal with… And she told me they have the heart scan for the baby this week so I said that could be helpful in putting their mind at rest. If baby escapes a heart issue, that’s a good sign… She did say they went for the amniocentesis but she couldn’t go through with it – she got upset seeing the baby on the screen. So I guess she’s not keen on termination. However the discussion revealed her partner was perhaps leaning that way.

She was going to meeting with another DS mama that evening and I think there were at least 4 of us on the email. But I still felt I had to get her more help, so I emailed some contacts and sent on the email address of someone who did know they were carrying a baby with DS. I’ve passed on the contact and stepped back.

I desperately want to email her a ton of blogs and websites, as well as say; “No matter what, I guarantee you will love your baby” and basically flood her with positivity in the hope she will keep this baby, but of course that’s not the right way to go about this. She needs space and not some crazy person begging her to keep a child with special needs!

I guess I’ll know which way things go when she either turns up at a DS group… Or we never hear from her again.

What say you?

I’ve read a few posts about the best way to react/what to say when a friend or member of your family has a baby with DS and a year down the line I feel I can add my 2 cents.

As with anything in this world we’ve found ourselves in, I often wonder what I would have been like on the other side of the fence… If a close friend rang me to say they had just had a baby and – shock – the baby had DS… Would I have said the right thing?

A couple of weeks ago we were at my brother’s 40th birthday party. Many of his friends had last seen me when I was pregnant, or even before that, none had met Audrey yet, a few had seen her via Facebook pictures and videos. Now, the drink was flowing and it must be tricky chatting to someone who’s had a child with DS – do you make reference to it or not? But two of my brother’s friends (both male) had similar conversations with myself and Ted that we discussed the following day. To be honest, we just laughed/shrugged it off, but we acknowledged it’s a shame people have this response… The general gist (and they were in no way trying to be offensive, both the complete opposite) of their chat was; how well we were “coping”, how it must have been “devastating” and what “a blow” it must have been… Even typing this I’m thinking, “oh it’s not such a bad response”, and as I’ve said, they weren’t trying to be negative, but the truth is the best responses have been those who either don’t mention it and just ask how she is, how parenthood is treating us etc. or those who ask questions about DS in a genuine ‘what does it mean’ kind of way.

Yes, at the time we probably were devastated, but that seems like such a wrong reaction now. With the knowledge we have now, I’d never describe it as devastating. I’d say we were shocked, but hey, she’s perfection now, so we’re over it. I also wanted to laugh a bit about “coping” because at the moment we are just coping with having a baby… Same as any other parent, no one would mention how a parent of a typical baby was coping so well with handling their little one.

Our friends have actually all been fantastic, we really can’t complain. Audrey has a massive fan club, a ton of love and 99% of the time people say the right thing.

But back to responding when you hear the news that someone you know has had a baby with DS:

1. Congratulate them. Please. This is by far the best response.
2. Ask the normal questions about time of birth, weight, whether the little monkey is sleeping well etc.
3. Do express concern over any health issues etc, but don’t make assumptions about what the DS means (oh you’re breastfeeding? I heard they can’t breastfeed? Does baby cry? I don’t think they really cry much do they?).
4. As time goes on, be mindful that milestones might be delayed (we are constantly asked if she is walking yet and we haven’t got to crawling yet). Perhaps just asking how the baby is doing in general is an easier question for parents to respond to. I’m very proud of Audrey’s rolling, babbling, waving, clapping, kisses… Oh I could bore a lot of people with things she’s achieved, but it’s not my favourite thing to explain we don’t know when she’ll be walking.

Just try to remember, a baby coming into the world… That’s an amazing thing that needs to be celebrated. I wish we’d have celebrated more in those first difficult days… We are certainly making up for it now!