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

 

My world 


OCTOBER = Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month.

This seems to come around so quickly and  I worry I’ve got nothing new to say. Or that I’ve said it all throughout the year in my general posts. 

Just know that we (the DS community) raise awareness because we care. We care about the people in our lives with Down’s Syndrome and we fight for them. We fight for others to become “aware” – to try and make them understand that DS isn’t necessarily what you think it is. We look for balance – for dark and light, Down’s Syndrome isn’t a depressing life sentence, but it’s not unicorns and rainbows either. That’s just life full stop.

I sat and thought about what I wanted to say this year and realised I want to talk about whether we can ever really get someone outside the circle to fully understand. Can we ever really make Down’s Syndrome appealing? Can we ever make it ok and not negative?

Close friends of ours got pregnant. They had the screening for Down’s Syndrome. Mum-to-be says to me “So we had the test and I told the lady that we weren’t really that bothered about the result because of what happened to you..” – at this point I start to feel all warm and fuzzy inside; that they would feel ok with a high chance of DS because they know and love Audrey. Ahhhh. But then she continued; “Because, well, you got ‘low risk’ and it didn’t mean anything – Audrey had Down’s Syndrome”. Oh. She was making a point about the test not being worth doing because it’s not accurate, not that it’s not worth doing because they’d be ok with a child with Down’s Syndrome. Of course this was an opportunity for me to push back and question her, but I didn’t. I just smiled and nodded like a fool. I don’t really like confrontation, but I suspect she would have backtracked and it would have been awkward.

My point is, even people close to us (on the edge of the circle), don’t necessarily feel ok about Down’s Syndrome, so how on earth can we spread a balanced message of hope and positivity to pregnant women who have no connection to DS?

Well, maybe we can’t… But maybe we can, so we’ll keep trying.

We can fight for better language (a baby with Down’s Syndrome, not a Down’s baby. Low or high “chance” not “risk” of Down’s Syndrome), we can fight for better knowledge (facts about people with DS attending mainstream schools, leading independent lives) and share our positive stories to outweigh the dated negative ones.

And so I’m going to point you in the direction of this (highly anticipated in our community), documentary; 

http://bbc.in/2dkMib6 

And this great article;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/sally-phillips-my-son-has-downs-syndrome—but-i-wouldnt-want-to/

And I’m going to continue writing my blog and sharing our lives in the hope we reach the right audience. It certainly can’t do any harm to keep on keeping on… We live in a rich and varied world. Life would be so boring if everyone was “perfect” and “normal”.

I can only present life as we know it and our experiences, but I know someone who had an adult son with Down’s Syndrome that was in nappies and only had a few words – the kind of “worst case scenario” if you will. But they loved that son/brother/grandchild and never regretted having him. They would have had every right to be bitter and angry about the life he had/they had, but they weren’t. Love doesn’t necessarily conquer all, but it has a bloody good go at doing so.

One thing I’m 100% sure about is; my world is better for having Audrey in it. 

#worldwithoutdowns

Audrey’s Magical Powers

The other night I had half a glass of wine and cried because I love my daughter so much.

It was Friday night; Ted arrived home with fish and chips. We arrange a little portion for Audrey, stick Rex in the bumbo, get the music turned up and enjoy ourselves. After stuffing our faces we all retreat to the sofa and dance. And sing. And laugh.

In amongst this pretty fabulous (but not out of the ordinary) scene, I look at Audrey and start crying (with joy). She senses the tears immediately; “Y’ok Mummy?” she says, arms outstretched for a cuddle. “Better?” she asks, patting me on the back.

You see, I just get struck now and then by these scenes of happiness. Of our “normal” family life and the light that Audrey brings to it.

As we continue with our second parenting experience, it can feel strange to be out and about with my “typical” baby. I feel like I don’t have my “special needs mummy” badge on display, that no one knows that I have an extra special family with a different experience of how things go. How nothing should be taken for granted. Rex is 4 months old and seems so sturdy, almost ready to sit up, stand… Talk. Now I see clearly how hard Audrey has had to work at things that just happen for typical kids.
But somehow because of this extra chromosome Audrey has a magical way that just makes things special.

She does some classic sympathetic crying when other kids are upset (oh her famous bottom lip!).

She says “Thank you” when children steal toys from her.

She can get a smile out of some of the grumpiest looking people. And on that note…

She doesn’t judge. She waves and says hello to tramps, teenagers, people covered in tattoos, people who look unclean, the old, the young, the fat, the thin, men or women, black or white – Audrey just likes people and that makes me proud.

It’s also fabulous to witness how she can light up a doctor’s waiting room or bring out smiles to grumpy people on the bus or in a queue. 

Her dance moves are a sight to behold.

Her cuddles melt into your body.

She just pretended to hurt both her feet so I would kiss them better.

She has started using “one more” as a way of getting me to continue playing/feed her biscuits/extend bedtime reading.

She regularly shuffles over to help Rex reach his toys.

There’s so much to say about Audrey’s wonderful nature (and her cheeky attitude), but I’ll leave it there for now. And please know that she is still trying lots of toddler stroppy tricks on me and is getting to be quite a handful these days. Still, I predict Rex’s toddler tantrums will be a bit harder to handle…

World Down Syndrome Day 2016

  
Here we are again, our third World Down Syndrome Day. I feel like I’m always banging the DS awareness drum, I really hope it’s not a bore to people.

This time around we’ve got tiny Rex with us, depriving me of sleep and making me a little bit insane (well the hormones post-pregnancy are). So it’s a crazy time. But one thing Rex has done by crashing into our world and turning things upside down; is shine a light on just how wonderful his sister is. I’m not saying him being difficult makes us realise how good Audrey is… Well… I guess I am a bit… But I know he doesn’t mean to, he’s just being a demanding newborn, wanting to feed and to sleep in our arms, crying too much and pooping and weeing at the wrong time… But in amongst the stress and tiring times, we have a beautiful little girl who is unaffected by the chaos – but has the sensitivity to ask if we (mostly Rex and I, the criers!) are ok. She’s offering cuddles and (heartbreakingly), saying and signing “Mummy sad”. She is playing happily by herself, casually saying “Hi Rex” when we bring him into the room, offering him cuddles when he cries. Her emotional intelligence is incredible.

And so, on this day, I celebrate Audrey for being our daughter, someone we love now more than we ever thought possible, who happens to have Down’s Syndrome. And if you let that define her or you make a judgement about what she might be like based on this syndrome, you will be way off the mark. Because I know there are many who are having scans and taking the screening test to find out their chances of a baby with Down’s Syndrome… And some are doing this to “prepare” (they have no intention of aborting), but want to know what’s coming. But many are geared up for aborting if the chances are high – they are thinking they couldn’t handle a disabled child. They may even be worrying about all the difficulties  they’ll face. They will probably be wondering what kind of life can someone have with a learning disability? Some may even say that livng with a disability; “well that’s no life at all”. Of course I can’t guarantee things won’t be hard, that their won’t be health issues and struggles, but I can tell you about our daughter with Down’s Syndrome. I can tell you that our experience has been so amazing and that her life – wow, she loves it to the max. She’s having a great time and we love Audrey more and more each day. Now that Rex is here, we look at her as a big sister and we are so proud and excited by the prospect of them being friends forever. We are also thinking about how much she will teach him. 

Happy World Down Syndrome Day everyone! 

  

Feel the love

  

Last night Audrey wouldn’t settle on her own, which is reasonably rare and after a cuddle and sing song with Daddy, the crying started again. So it was my turn to have a go. 

She cuddled me with one arm tucked around me, with her other hand on my hand, interweaving fingers. I told her we were holding hands and she whisper-giggled with me at the fun we were having in this dimly lit room. I rocked in the chair silently and we gazed at each other whilst playing with our hands. A moment of perfection. I could feel our love. Her face – just the most beautiful little girl I’ve ever seen, her gaze fully locked on my mine, looking very much like a child who is not sleepy and will not be rocked to sleep!

Yes, it crosses your mind: er, excuse me miss, we had just started a new series on Netflix, I was about to put my feet up with a glass of milk (a pregnancy heartburn must)… But at that moment I just felt such bliss at being there for her. Being her mother. 

I’m sure I bang on about this in every post, but it’s a heightened feeling when you’ve had such negative thoughts about your child and your imagined relationship in those early days. It scares me to think that a “syndrome” label made me question the love and connection I would have for my daughter, but it did.

In fact, I’ve just recently been filmed sharing thoughts and feelings after diagnosis for a short film that will hopefully help new parents. And on an email calling for more contributors, a mother with a grown up son with Down Syndrome questioned her involvement – she wouldn’t want him to see her talking negatively about his life. Which I completely understand. However, I really hope to explain to Audrey one day that the reason I’ve shared so much online (including some pretty upsetting thoughts and feelings) is that I want society to move forward and I want to take as much of the negativity away from other parents as I can. And I want her to know that it’s because of her, because of her fabulousness, that I feel so strongly about banging this drum and changing perceptions.

Of course, in an ideal world I want someone to receive the diagnosis and think; ‘Who cares?’, but I appreciate it won’t be that simple. But how about, after the initial shock/upset/confusion, you quite quickly move forward by thinking about a family you saw online…? A mother who wrote about love, beauty and fun… She showed that your life with your little one might just be how you had expected things to be pre-diagnosis; singing songs together, reading books and cuddling before bedtime, sharing in a peekaboo joke… The path is a smaller deviation from the original than you might think and the overriding fact that should help take the negativity away is: you are their parent and you will love one another no matter what life throws at you. 

I’m thinking that’s parenthood as standard though, isn’t it?

  

NIPT: Don’t Screen Us Out

NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing) is being hailed as an amazing breakthrough now available on the NHS in the UK, that will save so many babies. The theory is, women will be offered this testing and there will be no need for an amniocentesis – which carries a risk of miscarriage. No need for further testing because this non-invasive test will give you an accurate answer on whether the child you are carrying has Down’s Syndrome (or Edward’s Syndrome or Patau syndrome) and then you can be prepared for their future (aka you can abort). Ok, that’s harsh, but when you consider 9 out of 10 woman abort when finding out their child has DS through amniocentesis (generally quite far down the pregnancy time line), how many will choose to abort when having this accurate test at 12 weeks? 

This has rocked the DS community because we are basically heading towards the elimination of Down’s Syndrome altogether. Which feels like a pretty crazy concept when you actually have a child with DS. We’re part of a community that will cease to exist, but not only that, it will cease to exist because society decided that babies with Down’s Syndrome have less value than ‘typical’ babies. That their lives are so tough(?) troubled(?) unhealthy(?), that they are better off not living. How do we explain this to Audrey?

I do of course have to acknowledge that 80% of babies with Patau syndrome will die before they turn one. I do understand that some of the conditions identified early will be extreme conditions that are not the same or similar to DS, so a breakthrough like this may save heartbreak further down the line. And I don’t want to wade into this debate without acknowledging that we are screening for abnormalities and health problems. It’s just that I spend my days immersed in a world where people with Down’s Syndrome are making a difference, they are enriching lives and fulfilling a role within society. They are not something that needs to be screened out of existence.

Let’s imagine you are given power and options when you are pregnant and you can fill out a questionnaire choosing various traits and facts about your fetus – shaping them and their future. What boxes would you tick?

Would you like this child to be born disabled?

Would you like this child to wake up at 5am a lot? 

Would you like this child to be a fan of One Direction?

Would you like them to be slutty?

Would you like them to become a member of UKIP?

Let’s face it, we have little control over what that fetus will become. We can do our best to nurture a good human being. Someone fun, kind, clever… Someone who finds a perfect career and true love and happiness. Someone who looks after themselves and their family. But nothing is guaranteed. The only thing I can guarantee about having a baby, in my limited experience, is that you will love them unconditionally. They will be the best thing you ever did. The most beautiful thing you ever saw. The most valuable life to you. 

It scares me that a screening test will tell you your fetus has Down’s Syndrome and that’s what will define the baby. You’ll imagine a disabled child. You won’t know anything else about them. The screening won’t say their face will light up at the sight of yours. That they will dance like crazy to even a hint of music. They will clap and cheer and cuddle their teddy and say “They did it!” when someone wins on a gameshow. They will stroke your face and say “lovely”. When they hear you say “kitchen” they’ll do the Makaton sign for “chicken”. They will constantly crack you up, surprise you and frustrate you. Your world will revolve around their happiness and wellbeing and you’ll love it. 

The world needs diversity. Ups and downs. If we screen out conditions that cause complications and make people different, where will it end? How bland will life become if we can eventually make everyone “perfect”? It’s a sad future without more people like Audrey, that’s for sure. #dontscreenusout
 
   

  

Aim of the game 

Today I am attending a Mothers Meeting (http://mothers-meeting.com). I got my ticket after a friend vaguely explained the event to me and said I had to go as she is on holiday and can’t make it.

As far as I can gather, it’s a networking event for like-minded mummies; those of us that like clothes and coffee and design and cool stuff. From what I’ve seen on IG, a lot of the mums attending are creative types with their own businesses. I’ve had an email that says we will all have a little opportunity to say something about ourselves(!), so I thought I’d talk about this blog. This is the closest thing I have to ‘work’ at the moment!

So it got me thinking, what is my aim with this blog? How will I describe it? It’s not just mummy ramblings… Honest!

My main aim is sharing the ups and downs of life with a child with Down’s Syndrome. More than anything I just want people to understand that is nothing like you might imagine. 

Imagine having a disabled child. Depressing isn’t it? Picture the mother of a child with special needs. Is she mumsy? Is she Florence Nightingale?

I guess I want people to know it can happen to anyone, rich or poor, cool or uncool, caring and uncaring. Kids with special needs are born all the time and the people that have them, love them and do normal things.

One thing that always gets me a bit ‘ranty’ (apart from too much red wine), is the fact that 9 out of 10 women in the UK (and I believe it’s the same in the US) abort after a near-certain Down’s Syndrome prenatal diagnosis. So the majority of kids with DS that exist were surprises. 

I guess there are two reasons to raise awareness; 1. To support those of us that had the surprise (share our feels of disappointment, grief, guilt, confusion and how we moved on) and 2. Help women who receive the prenatal diagnosis make a decision based on what it is really like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome (it’s not as bad as you imagine! I promise you’ll love them and they’ll be amazing!).

I appreciate we get a lot of love from pro-lifers, but Audrey isn’t here because we are anti-abortion (although I don’t think we would have aborted, I’m not anti-abortion in the right circumstances). But I do think it’s terribly sad that couples might make the choice to abort a child based on fear and a stereotype of what ‘disabled’ or ‘special needs’ is.

I mean, ‘special needs’ isn’t cool. It’s not sexy or fun, it sounds awful to me. I’m hoping our Instagram and blog can help people realise that it can be cool! And yeah, maybe one day Audrey will want to be sexy (and we’ll still feel icky about it, just as my parents did when I started wearing mini skirts and crop tops), but a part of me will also be thinking “Yeah, go Audrey!”, because she can be whoever she wants to be and that’s exciting!

Today I’m going to meet some cool mums and (hopefully without coming across as a ranting crazy), bang the drum a little for Down’s Syndrome. Let them all know that it’s not the end of the world and that it can be cool. I mean, look at our cool little dudette…