Talking to midwives; Tell it Right


In the last few months I have had the pleasure and privilege of speaking to midwives about the language used when a baby is born with Down’s Syndrome. The Down’s Syndrome Association arrange “Tell it Right” training days where parents of children with DS can share their experiences (good and bad).
The first time was in April at the Eastbourne campus of the University of Sussex, speaking to student midwives and then more recently, (this month) at the Royal County Sussex Hospital, speaking to qualified midwives and those involved with the screening process.

At both talks I gave a raw and honest account of my feelings when Audrey was born, how those feelings changed and what life is like for us as a family today. As I came away both times feeling like I’d missed certain details, I’m writing this post to cover everything I said and also everything I wanted to say. I hope this proves useful for anyone (NHS professionals, friends and family, new parents…) involved in the birth of a baby with Trisomy 21 (ooh I don’t use that term much, it’s the medical name for Down’s Syndrome).

My pregnancy with Audrey was lovely. I had no morning sickness, felt relaxed and happy and just had a bit of heartburn to contend with. We had the nuchal fold screening at 12 weeks – our chance of a baby with Down’s Syndrome was “low risk” – 1 in 1,000. We received that news in a letter and thought nothing of it.

The day Audrey was born was a scorcher in July 2013, I had concerns over lack of foetal movement, so I ended up at the Royal Sussex County Hospital just after 6pm with my friend. I was hooked up so the baby could be monitored, they soon decided she was in distress and needed to come out, I was not in labour so the only option was an emergency caesarean. It was a very quick turnaround, this news was delivered to us at around 6.45pm when my husband walked through the door. Audrey was born at 7.51pm. 

My first sight of her was wrapped in a towel in Ted’s arms. I saw her eyes and I saw it then; Down’s Syndrome? She was laid on my chest for skin to skin and as soon as I had full view of her I knew; I said “This baby has Down’s Syndrome”. I felt sick inside. Ted went to speak to someone (even though he felt silly asking, because clearly our baby wouldn’t have Down’s Syndrome), but they said that indeed, there were “markers” – a hand crease, a toe gap, the eyes… but then she was whisked away to the baby unit for care and I was left to recover. We were shell-shocked. It was a bad dream… wasn’t it?

No one said anything stupid at that time. I say that because people do. I’ve heard lots of examples, from “he’ll never give you grandchildren” to “some of them even read nowadays”. These are not helpful statements. Ever. But certainly not in the minutes/hours/days since your baby has been born. How about we just treat this situation like we should; a human baby has arrived. One that has a condition that tells us a bit (but not all) of what they might be like, of what challenges they might face. No one is born with a life CV. Can you imagine getting a note with your baby that says “Will have a series of dead-end jobs, have two failed marriages, get fat, get diabetes and struggle with an alcohol problem”? Doesn’t sound like a baby you’d want to raise. But there are no gold star life guarantees with a baby. 

Whenever I revisit Audrey’s birth I cry. I want to go back and take away the fear, take away the dread and the denial. We had chosen her name before we knew she was in there, we had a name for our potential girl and a name for our potential boy. I put a “pause” on that when she popped out. I asked Ted if we could use our back up name. I felt this wasn’t my Audrey. She wouldn’t be pretty or delicate as I imagined, she was now something else. Something ugly. I’d have to have another daughter without Down’s Syndrome to name her Audrey… Thankfully Ted stood firm and made me realise; she wasn’t a second choice baby, she didn’t deserve a second choice name. She was our Audrey, we just hadn’t realised. And wow, is she more Audrey than I could ever have imagined! A child so beautiful and delicate – my heart swells with pride and joy everyday because of her and how she is. I never could have imagined in those troubled 24 hours just how lovely she would be, but more than that, how she would exceed our expectations and make us proud to be her parents.

Audrey needed oxygen (it’s thought due to a floppy larynx), for 6 months, but had no other health concerns and she breastfed (I’ve also heard stories about people being told babies with DS can’t breastfeed, but that isn’t true). Having her attached to machines, looking so helpless, well it kind of helped us gain some perspective. It was certainly better to have this baby with a condition than no baby at all – you can quickly push a syndrome aside when you are worried a baby might not live.


I’d like to add that having Rex gave me a new perspective on Audrey’s birth- because I felt a similar numbness, shock and confusion at the sight of him and he clearly didn’t have Down’s Syndrome. A woman who has just given birth is in a crazy place mentally – it wasn’t a rush of love and perfection for me at either birth. The Hollywood movies lie. Both times I was surprised by the baby I saw, I had somehow projected so far that I had pictured my baby and the moment they arrived and nothing could ever measure up to that expectation. What a bummer.

But I’m not trying to disguise the fact that having a child with special needs can be challenging. It was tough to have a baby in hospital for the first 3 weeks of her life. Of course we didn’t enjoy her being on oxygen for 6 months and I found it frustrating when she still wasn’t walking at 3, but that time and those struggles seem like a small blip now. 


We have a walking, talking almost 4 year old who likes books, dolls and music. She attends  mainstream nursery, which she loves. She squabbles with her younger like any other little girl would, loves chocolate cake and Mr Tumble. 

She comes out with some of the best phrases;

“Mummy’s making me happy”

“Take your shoes off!”

“Oh Mummy I love your jumper”

Just yesterday she told her daddy he was “Looking fresh!” and this afternoon she said (to a 17 month old who had visited us) “Goodbye! Thanks chunky legs!”.

She cracks us up!

So what do you say if a baby unexpectedly pops out with Down’s Syndrome? First, congratulations. Yes of course deal with/discuss any immediate health challenges, but if the baby is healthy, you could mention that they have a “naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement” (thank you Rose Mordi, President of the National Down Syndrome Foundation of Nigeria).

Then you could go on to say that you’ve met families with children with the condition and they had a lot of positive things to say, but above all, they loved and enjoyed their child. Their only regrets; that they could have known from the beginning that this wasn’t bad news, it was just different news. 


We adjusted to our new path quite quickly really, Audrey went from the worst thing happening to us at that moment, to being a baby, to being a baby we loved, to being this awesome child that we get to raise! Now we show her off at every opportunity and we marvel in all the things she is teaching her younger brother. We are so lucky to have two beautiful, wonderful children, both of whom are a challenge(!), but that make us  happy.

Sometimes the lows make the highs much sweeter – I truly love that I have gone from fretting about her lack of future (in those early days) to being excited by all that she can and will achieve.

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General update

So much to write, so little time.

I just wanted to check in and say; we are surviving. Still get hit with the “my mum’s gone” slap in the face every now and then, mostly pretending she’s still here.

Job on the horizon. Weather too hot. Short break away with friends coming up. Trying to put my positive pants on and not be a wreck.

Audrey and Rex both thriving. So much talking! And climbing! And singing! And whining! I’m exhausted and struggling, but they are the best and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Mummy blogging

Once upon a time our mothers mothered. They had no smart phones, no all day kids TV, no internet… they would make plans with other mums by calling on a landline or  (can you believe it?) going around to their house and knocking on the door! 

Now take a moment to think about what “we” have. Not just the technology, the means to entertain our kids, organise ourselves and find our (sorry, cringe) “tribe”; but the information. Wow. We have come a really long way since the stiff upper lip nonsense. Now we share. And share. And share. 

I’m starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of content there is for mothers. It’s at a level where I can’t possibly keep up with all the Instagram pics, blog posts, events and debates – I would need to not have kids to have the time to read and interact with others about what it’s like to have kids.

I’m not knocking it. New mothers are being “created” every day. So the conversations need to stay public, because from c-section to child-unexpectedly-has-special-needs to post-natal-depression to refluxy-baby-puking-every-where to I-don’t-know-who-I-am-anymore; there is always something that can be helped by sharing. 

In fact, last month two things happened on the sharing front;

1. A mother I know on Facebook posted a very saccharine sweet status about how her 6 month old was the best thing in the world. Apparently being woken at 3am was fine because this baby is just so wonderful. Life has changed but oh so much for the better etc. etc.

2. The Daily Mail attacked some famous Mummy bloggers for being “scummy mummies” asking why it was suddenly ok to brag about being a shit mum? 

The former annoyed me because I felt this mum was letting the side down with her rose-tinted-spectacle view. The latter annoyed me because clearly these sharing mothers (instagrammers/bloggers) aren’t rubbish mothers; rubbish mothers don’t brag about it online. Rubbish mothers are too busy being rubbish. In fact, as they swear and smoke a fag over their little ones whilst handing them a coca-cola, they don’t consider confessing they’ve behaved in this appalling way because they probably don’t think it’s appalling. 

Of course I’m backing the “scummy mummies” all the way. One of the bad parenting examples was giving kids fish fingers. Which was basically my main diet as a five year old… And now my kids have fish fingers at least once a week and I don’t see that as shameful. It’s something they happily eat and if you’ve ever experienced a fussy toddler, you’ll know sometimes you just want them to eat. No bargaining, no choo choo noises, no tears, just happy, scoffing children at tea time. Many mums stood up in #solidaritea and posted pictures of their fish finger tea time, and Bird’s Eye used it to their advantage in an online campaign – good on ’em!

Back to the happy mum; well, good for her. How funny that my immediate thought was “you’re lying”! She is entitled to be enjoying those first 6 months and to feel good enough about it to brag online, but I’m so used to reading the opposite mantras of “it’s so hard”, “you got this mama”, “it’s tough but worth it” – it’s honestly a bit shocking to just read a positive post about having a baby – just saying their baby is a joy, no one is doing that – how odd!

But of course here I am over-sharing with the rest of them. My children are a joy. There are moments in our days together where I think I might burst they are so lovely. However, these are moments mixed in with all the other stuff that comes with parenting; the child that will not lie still whilst you deal with poo-mageddon, a melt down because you’ve put a book back in the wrong place and all the other bizarre moments on the rollercoaster that is looking after small children. It’s tough. It’s a also a joy, but yeesh, it’s mostly tough. And that’s where I can’t complain about the insane amount of parenting blogs. The over-share is there to help us through the tough times, remind us that everyone is going through similar stuff. 

So, keep on blogging you mothers (but don’t expect me to have time to read it all)!