Audrey turns 4!

I can hardly believe it, but I now have a 4 year old daughter!

I'm also wondering why mothers aren't always a blubbering mess on their kids' birthdays. I started reminiscing days before her birthday and it's started to blow my mind that Audrey and Rex both grew inside my body. Woah.

We had a rocky start with Audrey popping out all "extra-chromosomey" so the love we have and the way she is now is extra sweet.

Our next big hurdle is potty training, which she's been potentially ready for for someone (a year maybe!) but I've been putting off and putting off… but once we've nailed that, wow, onwards and upwards for our grown-up girl.

It's a funny time because Audrey's typical peers will be starting school in September (we have deferred her to be the oldest in her year next year), so it's strange that we aren't moving forward in that way. But Audrey needs the extra time and when I look at how far we have come since her 3rd birthday I know it's the right thing to do.

Yesterday we had a great party (a BBQ at home), it rained half the time but we were ok inside. I made a chocolate peanut butter Hey Duggee cake and Daddy cooked lots of meat and made burger buns. Audrey got lots of lovely presents and was out like a light at bedtime, exhausted by a very fun day… the same couldn't be said for Rex unfortunately, he seems to get wired, but he fell asleep eventually.

Happy birthday beautiful clever girl.

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.

World Down’s Syndrome Day 2017

Good morning! Just a quick post to mark World Down’s Syndrome Day 2017. We are busy planning a move, I’m job hunting, both kids are running around like crazies and my mum is ill. So the blog is suffering a little… but I wanted to mark WDSD with a little note.

Audrey is still surprising us everyday, her vocabulary is broader, her stroppiness is increasing, her need for independence (“I want to walk!”) and her loveliness never stops. She is an excellent big sister, but is not so inclined to share toys… but will share a cuddle. Rex looks to her for guidance, he is learning so much because of her. I certainly never thought I’d say this, but our lives are richer and happier with Down’s Syndrome in it. Fact.

So there you are, just be aware; Down’s Syndrome isn’t scary or sad. It’s pretty cool actually.

I missed our local T21 gathering to celebrate (on Sunday), in favour of a mums-only trip to see Beauty and the Beast! But the kids had fun with Daddy and Bibi and here is Audrey enjoying a bit of soft play…

The Wobbles

I spend a lot of my time thinking about Audrey and how much I love her. How great she is. How she has exceeded expectations and challenged my world view and my view of people with Down’s Syndrome. But sometimes I do still have a wobble. I do let negative thoughts creep in and I do worry.

The other week I took Audrey for her thyroid blood test. It’s not a pleasant outing, I know they are going to hurt her (or at least make her uncomfortable) when they take the blood. So it’s a time when I think “it sucks that we need to do this, it sucks that Audrey has Down’s Syndrome”. And so I wobbled. I felt angry about the Down’s Syndrome. 

Whilst we were there, a lady walked by with her teenage daughter. They were both slim, well dressed and they seemed to get on really well. At the time, Audrey was arguing with me over finishing her sandwich. I felt another wobble… that we would never be those two “perfect” mother and daughter types. Such a silly, shallow thought. But I felt sad she wouldn’t be this elegant model-like teenager, making boys heads turn. And as I write this I recognise how unimportant it is that she is “pretty” by typical standards and that boys fancy her. I guess it’s sometimes more that I worry her condition robs her of certain standard life experiences. 

We filled out more forms for disability living allowance, as we can get a higher rate of Audrey isn’t walking. Initially I felt it was pointless – she is walking now. But on further discussion I realised that walking across the living room and then landing on your bum is not walking like a usual 3 and a half year old. She can’t walk down the street to the shops, she can’t walk to the car and climb into her seat. We have made a massive leap forward with the walking, but we still have far to go and that’s annoying!

Sometimes when I’m talking to other parents and the subject turns to when our kids grow up and become difficult teenagers/go to university/have kids/end up looking after us… I feel a little pang inside. I wonder if they are thinking “Yeah, but not Audrey”, I guess I worry about their negative thoughts as much as I worry about my own.

I wanted to post about this to be honest about the fact that I’m not always happy and steady on our path, sometimes I do fret about Audrey’s future. No matter how secure and content I feel about her, it doesn’t change the fact that we face challenges that typical families don’t.

I have to remind myself that nobody really knows what the future holds. No one can be truly secure in what they will become and how their/their children’s lives will pan out. It’s freeing to think that and try to “let go” and continue with the positivity – that Audrey can only get more fabulous. 

Audrey and Rex, December 2016

Great or managed expectations?

I have a question for mothers of children with Down’s Syndrome; is knowledge power? Do you prepare for the worst or simply expect the best?

I follow a lot of families with the extra chromosome in the mix. I see the highs and lows of parenting (full stop). I also see the highs and lows of parenting a child with special needs.

Sometimes I see stuff that scares me. I start analysing Audrey, or worse; start Googling.

Something that has played on my mind recently is “sensory overload”… Children with DS who are unable to cope in noisy/busy environments. Concerts. Parades. Carnivals. Festivals. Stuff that’s fun. 

We’ve had a taste of Audrey reacting negatively to situations like this when she got upset at the (very noisy) Children’s Parade and sometimes she complains when things are “too loud”. The thing is, lots of kids might get upset by a loud parade, but because she has Down’s Syndrome, it’s the condition that gets the blame. 

We went to a pirate birthday party and Audrey was especially clingy and wouldn’t eat her food (even though chocolate, yoghurt and fruit were on offer – her faves!). She only really relaxed when all the kids went outside to hit a piƱata and we stayed inside and “Let it Go” started playing. 

And then there’s the family-friendly gig we went to (with ear defenders) and she just stared with her mouth open the whole time. She at least clapped after every song, but for Audrey, our little groover, it was odd. She usually goes mad for live music, but instead she looked more “special needs” than I had ever seen her.

And I feel it’s a double edged sword – everyone either assuming she’s gentle/placid/agreeable (she’s not always like that by the way) because of the Down’s Syndrome….

Or when she is moaning or whining like a typical 3 year old would, I feel worried about people thinking it’s a kid with special needs losing the plot. That they are looking at me and thinking “Poor woman, I bet that kid is hard work”. If she were a typical child, it would just be that Audrey is having a standard tantrum.

Recently it was bonfire night and we went to a friend’s house for fireworks. We did forget the ear defenders, but to be honest, I don’t think they would have made much difference- fireworks set off in a small garden are and absolute assault on the senses! Audrey didn’t like them at all and Rex wasn’t keen either, in fact Audrey’s 2 year old friend came inside to escape too. But one of our friends was very much singling out Audrey as having a problem with them, you could hear from her tone she was suggesting that it’s an issue for Audrey because she has Down’s Syndrome. And that grates to be honest. It’s frustrating that we can’t escape her syndrome sometimes.

I guess I used to assume everything was just Audrey being Audrey, but as time goes on, I’m wondering; should I prepare for stuff that kids with Down’s Syndrome typically encounter? Maybe I should stop fighting it and accept that DS makes her more prone to being a certain way?

I read a post from a local lady, who was upset because she cannot leave the house alone with her 12 year old son (who has DS); it’s too hard – he runs off. It’s dangerous because he runs across busy roads and she can’t keep up. Other mums commented to say that were in the same boat, one even described her son as like “Iron Man” – she can no longer cope with his strength. I just tortured myself by reading the whole thread – kids that throw things, sit down and refuse to move, don’t sleep until the early hours…

I look at Audrey, our gentle, usually careful little girl and cannot imagine her becoming an out of control runner, toy thrower or rubbish sleeper… But I worry about it regardless. Mostly I see a bright future of cuddles and fun with Audrey, but the worry creeps in sometimes. It’s natural and it’s enhanced when a condition gives you clues as to how human might be. 

And as she grows, she learns and she starts pushing boundaries, so I’m getting used to Audrey causing more trouble than she used to and not being that placid agreeable creature that some people assume she is. So I guess I’ll just try to go with the flow and see how she turns out… Much like with her brother, who has no “syndrome” (that we know of), but is proving to be an active and tiring baby to look after! So do I project and assume he’ll always be hard work?!! No! Let’s just see what happens…!

A World Without Down’s Syndrome

Daddy holding his tiny baby daughter

When Audrey was born, my brother Googled to find out if any celebrities had a child with Down’s Syndrome… and he found Sally Phillips. It was very thoughtful of him to try and make it “acceptable” for me – appealing to my (shameful) interest in celebrities. At the time I read an interview with her talking about her son Olly and it was very positive. But I couldn’t find more than that one interview and I guess I wondered why she didn’t do more. But now I see that it’s a really big deal to “put yourself out there”. 
I have wanted to write about Sally’s documentary (“A World Without Down’s Syndrome”) for weeks, but I’ve found it incredibly hard. The lead up was a draining and consuming time. I felt anxious and stressed about being involved, about making a difference. So much positive and negative feedback, so much going on… And yet I know that this was just for those of us with an eye on the subject. For many, the film may have passed by unnoticed. 

But not me. I was watching it approach slowly, following a behind-the-scenes Facebook group that was prepping for press and publicity around it. I had planned to catch it at my convenience on iplayer, but after watching the beginning, I had to stay up and watch it. I was crying within seconds of it starting!

I was so desperate to write about it, yet my thoughts sort of ran dry. So many reviews. So many reactions. It’s been tiring processing it all. It matters to me – that people would watch it and love it, watch it and learn. But I appreciate why many thought Sally wasn’t the right person to make it – she comes from a biased perspective. However it needed to be made and it needed that positive skew. That was the point – communicating the positive side to having a child with Down’s Syndrome – balance against the negative information and medical condition list you are given at diagnosis. And also questioning a society where we actively look to rid the world of people who are different. Someone has decided that this is a wholly negative condition and therefore it’s worth screening for accurately.

If you watched the film and took it the wrong way (maybe thinking it was anti- pro chioice, judgy or preachy? Maybe thinking it sugar-coated life with a child with special needs?) please be assured that wasn’t the aim. It was a truth, it was Sally’s truth.

And just as Sally shared her truth, I share mine. Audrey hasn’t needed lots of medication or operations. She was on oxygen for the first 6 months of her life because she needed a little help breathing in deep sleep. She needs glasses because she is long sighted and (like me at her age), she has a lazy eye (aka squint). She has low muscle tone which is indeed a bugger and is making it harder for her to walk, but it also means she can practice yoga like a pro (like her Great-Grandmother, Emily, aka the Filleted Lady!). She lacks strength in some areas, but is amazing in others. She is basically a human being, perfect and flawed…yep, she is one of us.

Trying to create a world of perfect humans scares me. It also scares me that the very same brother who found Sally Phillips Googling famous people linked to DS, thinks that it’s a good thing to rid the world of the condition. Yes he said that. How can he of all people not get it? I guess it’s a common view that the world would be a better place without disability. Again, I feel I have too much to say on that subject so I’m struggling to blog about it. But clearly, a world of varied strengths and weaknesses, of light and dark; that’s a better world than one of “perfection”. I can’t even say for sure what perfection is. I had a lazy eye as a child, my sister was diagnosed with MS at the age of 40 – are we so flawed we shouldn’t have been granted life? Eek, what a debate this could be…

My hope is that people simply think about people with Down’s Syndrome as that – people. Understand that they contribute to the world we live in and bring happiness to their families. I’m not a religious pro-lifer, but I feel very blessed to have Audrey. Our lives are richer and happier for having her in it and she’s about as close to perfection as I could ever imagine.

#worldWITHdowns

 

We’ve come a long way, babies

I have a tendency to project. Always wanting to be at the next stage of life, always worrying about what’s next, definitely struggling to live in the now.

Today I sat with Audrey whilst she fed herself a yoghurt and her younger brother napped upstairs in his cot. I took a breath and marvelled at where I sat, how far we have come.

In Rex’s tiny speck of a lifetime (7 and a half months), he has gone from only sleeping in the sling or on me at night, to sleeping in a buggy, cot or sling, sleeping at night (in his Sleepyhead) in a cot from around 7pm to 4 or 5am. He sometimes even settles without a fuss. We sit and eat dinner without the sound of a crying baby and I sleep for one long stretch rather than I’m tiny 1 or 2 hours stints. He is eating well and taking formula happily now the booby is no more. He crawls, pulls to stand, cruises along the furniture, claps his hands and is a happy boy.

Audrey has taken independent steps, continues to amaze us with her language and has an ability to make me cry with joy on a daily basis.

Once upon a time, Audrey wouldn’t eat food off a plate (she was so used to the high chair table). We worked so hard to get her to eat off a plate, but she would only accept one piece of food at a time! I mention this because the other week at Whoopsadaisy I put cheese and crackers on her plate and someone said “She’s having different foods on the same plate now?” And it took me a while to understand what they meant! Because I had forgotten how hard we worked to get Audrey to accept a plate of varied food. Just like I can now give her a spoon and a yoghurt and she just eats (she used to get stroppy and say “Mummy do it!!”).

Audrey asks to use the potty, she often drinks from an open cup. Rex holds his own bottle, he responds well to us signing “milk” and “food”.

They achieve great things and all I can do is think “Yes, but I wish she fed herself every meal time..” Or “Yes, but I wish he was sleeping through until 6.30am…” I need to be satisfied with how far we have come!

I guess sometimes it feels like baby steps (no pun intended), but we are getting there – both of my beauties are coming along and making me proud every day.