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…

   
   

#DSAM2014

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I love a good hashtag so… #DSAM2014.

Raising awareness, (as I believe I’ve already rambled on about), is important because it helps new families and anyone who might come in contact with someone who has Down’s Syndrome feel more comfortable.

I appreciate there are tons of blogs raising awareness and giving important information on DS, in fact, there are too many for me to read! Yet I know that outside of the DS bubble, they are likely to go unnoticed. I certainly never noticed DSAM pre-Audrey!

But when Audrey was just days old, I gorged on birth stories – reading those was such an amazing, cathartic, experience. It was also a little like poking a bruise – reliving those overwhelming, negative emotions. I guess it feels ok to have had crazy, negative thoughts if other people felt that way too… Especially if, look! they’ve made it out the other side and are so happy! There was so much positivity to cling to and help us through those confusing first days/weeks/months.

And even though we are only 15 months into our journey, I still feel like we’ve come a hell of a long way and also that I have a responsibility to give back… That I should be sharing our story just in case someone else finds it useful/a comfort/interesting. I also want to make sure that sharing out story seems ‘normal’ (whatever normal is), but you know, not too special-needsy. Much of what we experience with Audrey is just what everyone is experiencing with their little ones.

In fact, I got so motivated to spread DS awareness this week I did something I thought I’d never do…. I joined Mumsnet… dun dun dun!

I thought I could start a thread, offer up a Q&A for women who had either just had a baby with Down’s Syndrome unexpectedly or answer some questions for women with a prenatal diagnosis or ‘high risk’ screening. I was worried that rummaging on the dreaded Mumsnet might actually upset me – that there would be a lot of negativity and discussion around ‘high risk’ results and planned terminations. I only looked at one thread relating to the screening and someone sensible advised the expectant mother to look at, or comment in the special needs section of the site. Aha, so I had underestimated Mumsnet! They have a special needs section in the chat forums! I sort of felt like I wasn’t needed! More on mummy forums in another post… I have a need to rant about them, but now is not the time!

Down Syndrome Awareness Month has definitely helped me picture a better future for Audrey and helped me get through some tough early months… So now a year on from our first DSAM, I hope our story is helping some other new mama feel a bit better about it all.

And here she is… A very popular picture of Audrey (over 200 likes on IG) from Saturday…

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Upsetting news

I mentioned a few posts back that I was in touch with a woman who had prenatal screening that advised 99% that the foetus had Down’s Syndrome. I couldn’t offer her the perspective of someone who knew they were carrying a child with special needs, so I put her in touch with someone who could. Today we found out that she decided to terminate.

I am NOT saying she shouldn’t have terminated or that our input should have made her want to keep the baby, I’m just saddened that it’s so scary to have a child with special needs that there’s a way to opt out. I’m saddened that this is the norm. 92% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of DS, terminate and whilst I don’t know what it’s like to receive the news whilst pregnant, I do know what it’s like to feel like the diagnosis is the worst thing in the world and soon find out it’s not.

In this particular case, the woman in question met with several families, spoke to/emailed others… so she probably had more information than most before making the decision. I guess that’s really why I find the news so upsetting; even with support and positivity from the Down’s Syndrome community; she still felt she couldn’t keep the baby.

Whilst I know the decision wouldn’t have been taken lightly and I think she was very brave to contact DS families to help her and her partner make the choice, it still feels like we all failed to convince her it would be ok in the end.

This experience has made me more determined than ever to raise awareness and get people falling in love with Audrey. I hope our family can be a source of comfort, inspiration and hope for anyone wondering what life with a baby with DS is like.

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.