Party time

The first time Audrey was invited to a birthday party (by a child who’s parents we didn’t know – a nursery friend), it was a real example of how she was accepted and liked by her “typical” peers. It was a big deal.

When we went to the party, we all had a good time overall but Audrey did show signs of being “different”. She wouldn’t eat (and the food on offer was the stuff of dreams: crisps, blueberries, chocolate cake, sausages…) and she asked to go home. She wasn’t crying, distressed or upset, she was just… uncomfortable.

We had a couple of other party invites and basically decided it was important to always get out of her comfort zone and see how she got on (rather than say no and miss out through fear). Again, we saw Audrey not eating (despite the selection of food being perfect), asking to go home or complaining it was too loud, but we never let it stop us trying, because she often enjoyed a little dance and she always left happy.

And then it happened- she ate at a noisy party. She joined in. She didn’t complain. We had a great time.

Now both our kids live for parties! (Because they love music, presents and cake).

So we were pumped last weekend to be offered a chance to go to Big Fish Little Fish at Stanmer Park for a – wait for it – family drum n bass/jungle afternoon rave. As we set off to drive up the road we realised that (yet again), we had left the kids’ ear defenders. We have them for events just like this and we literally never remember to take them, so the kids just have to make do and deal with the noise.

We arrived on a very sunny day to the amazing marquee of bubbles and play tunnels and a very loud sound system and I admit, I was a little worried. But Audrey (and Rex) bossed it. They came in, ran about exploring and got stuck in. Audrey showed a wobble initially when she had no interest in having some apple juice (funny this is a measure of how uncomfortable she is, but it is!), once she had settled she took a sip and I knew we were ok.

She showed enthusiasm for the face painter, again, something I shamefully would associate as something she “might not like because she has special needs”, but I knew she had dabbled a little at nursery and she seemed keen, so we queued up. When I sat her in the chair, the face painter asked me if Audrey had had her face painted before and she was just very considerate and gentle with her. Audrey was a really good girl and the face painter was so fast that before I knew it, I was looking at the most beautiful tiger in the world!

Aside from dancing, drinking juice, climbing through tunnels and rolling out play dough, there was also the fabulous outdoor space filled with “rustic” climbing frames and slides for the kids.

Audrey was unsuitably dressed for this in her fabulous Tootsa McGinty dress and Next tiger wellies, but oh how she surprised me with some supreme climbing! Rexy too (but it’s extra tough for Audrey with her low muscle tone).

As someone who regularly sticks to routine, taking the kids to the same groups/parks/cafes that I know “work” for us, it seems a little crazy to be saying this, but it’s good to step out of your comfort zone sometimes. Kids love routine and it can be hugely stressful if you do something new and they hate it or misbehave, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Last Sunday we went to see my Nan (the kids’ Great Grandma), which I thought would probably be stressful/chaos, but was actually great. She has just been moved to an old people’s home and she is almost 99 – Audrey’s middle name is Emily, after this nan. Emily lit up seeing Audrey and Rex, but so did all the other old people in the home, they looked so happy to have children running around, it was great. The kids loved the piano there (and made quite a bit of noise, but no one minded).

That same day, we were going to the seaside, the kids were excited (because, despite living by the sea we rarely go down there). I thought that would be a really fun activity, but instead, the sun disappeared as soon as we pulled up (literally, a weird sea fog arrived and the temperature dropped). We got down onto the sand and Audrey’s nose was running, the cold wind was blowing and no one was having any fun, we were all shivering. But at least we tried!

Next week are trying a new dance class at the marina. Watch this space!!

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(Belated) World Down’s Syndrome Day 2018

I always think this day comes around so quickly and that here I am again (eye roll) talking about World Down’s Syndrome Day… but then I realise that every day is #WDSD for me. So for those of you not regularly “exposed”, let’s learn a few things. Firstly, it’s 21st March and I didn’t finish this post in time (forgive me).

This year I threw myself in a little bit more than usual- we were in a printed magazine!

A piece came out in Take a Break:

This came about from The Specials “If I could go back…” video we took part in, (writing a letter to myself to talk about what I wish I had known when Audrey was born).

I also submitted a list to Mother of All Lists. An honest “Instamum” I am a fan of. I actually found it quite hard to write as I found myself getting quite ‘ranty’ (aka passionate?) when talking about DS. However once it was out there I had such a fantastic response, I was really pleased to have done it. It’s scary exposing your personal story (especially one that touches on Down’s syndrome screening and abortion), but it was a great way to reach an audience of mums who might otherwise have no knowledge of where society is with screening for DS or that humans like Audrey exist; being fabulous.

We had a party the weekend ahead of WDSD with Brighton and Hove families. Soft play, a disco, party food, music man, a raffle… great fun but exhausting. At the party a child was using Audrey as a step-up (climbing on her!!) and Rex threw himself in the way saying “That’s Audrey!”. I mean, he would happily climb on her himself, but he will also defend and protect her when needed! So lovely.

Audrey’s next EHCP meeting was looming, school in September seems close and scary. She’s seen an episode of Topsy and Tim and seems to think she’ll get a bike and a helmet to go to school with! She cracks me up. Once we had the meeting however, I felt so much better about it all. The SENCO was lovely and it felt… doable. I could imagine her at a mainstream school and not start to feel sick!

We are doing our monthly table tennis sessions thanks to our local T21 group (Trisomy 21 is the medical name for Down’s Syndrome) and loving it. Naturally the kids don’t really play table tennis, but they have a good runaround in a community space and it’s an inspiring place to be (given that they have 3 coaches with DS there – the only 3 qualified sports coaches in the world with DS!).

I’m always full to the brim with things to say about Audrey, about Down’s Syndrome, although I feel I’ve neglected the blog a little lately (which I’ll try to rectify!), but just know that this little human of ours is doing really well and we #wouldntchangeathing

Mental Health and Mumming

Once upon a time I was a happy-go-lucky human who couldn’t get their head around how people who felt depressed couldn’t just think about happy stuff and snap out of it. Yep I was that naive.

This was before kids. Before 3 members of my close family died of cancer. Before I realised that sometimes it can all just become too much.

After my mum died last year I would find myself sat in the mornings feeling unable to motivate myself to get dressed and do stuff with the kids. I would stare into space. I would feel despair. I would feel “what’s the point?” And I’d feel scared by those feelings.

The first time I ever had these kind of depressing thoughts were actually after having Rex. The sleep deprivation and his general unhappiness as a baby made me feel like we had ruined our happy family by introducing this child. But I was functioning, showering, seeing friends… and I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want Rex to die. I just wanted it all to be fixed.

And so according to the test “they” (doctors, health visitors) get you to take; I didn’t have post natal depression. Clearly I was depressed, but not badly enough for any intervention.

This actually leads me to another example of why I get so frustrated by those who talk about the “suffering” of a sibling if you choose to continue with a pregnancy after a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis – that you are willingly choosing to bring a child into the world that will require more attention and cause your other “typical” children to be neglected in some way. We had a lovely child with Down’s Syndrome, she had all the love and attention she could want. We gave her a typical sibling and yikes, he was needy! Audrey’s needs were on the back-burner. She watched CBeebies a lot. And even though we’ve come through dealing with a very needy baby, Rex is still very much the one who causes upset. He’s the one that needs more attention in general.

At bedtimes there have been many times when magical cuddles with Audrey have happened to a soundtrack of Rex having a tantrum over socks or some other nonsense. He has much more of a temper than his sister, he likes to push boundaries and in fact, he has started pushing and hitting and Audrey does so back. She has learnt a lot of bad habits from him – she never would have climbed on the coffee table pre-Rex and she never would have hit me. She had never attacked the toilet tissue before Rex showed her how it’s done! Having a child with special needs can be tough, but having kids is just tough anyway.

They are now both perfect siblings – holding hands and plotting together one minute, crying and fighting over a piece of cardboard the next. Lovely, exhausting little… angels.

And so, with the level of adulthood I have now reached (bills to pay, important people to mourn, feral children to discipline), I find myself in therapy. I am attending counselling sessions, which is actually great. I find it particularly strange that it started about grief and soon became “good god my kids are driving me insane” and is now “please help me figure out how to be confident and do something with my life”. Well, at least we are progressing!

What you learn in therapy (or rather what I’m learning), is that “me time” is crucial to mental health. Doing what you love or doing something that makes you happy, regularly, will keep you sane.

I am fully aware that if I am lacking in “me time” it’s usually my fault. I still find it difficult to not think of the kids as entirely my responsibility. So whenever I leave them with someone (even my husband!) I feel guilty or like a clock is ticking and I need to get back to my job as mum. Crazy but true!

To briefly summarise the journey of a mother: pregnancy gives you a passenger/parasite to deal with, dramatic body changes and hormones. The baby then remains a parasite of sorts and your body is still different and very much not yours. Once they finally become a walking, talking more separate human, they create a lot of stress and mess and you perhaps still don’t feel like you can be yourself. I put on a new dress last week and by the afternoon Audrey had jumped on me and knocked my (thankfully not hot) tea all over me. I regularly find play doh on my jeans. This morning I was applying eyeliner in the bathroom whilst two children attacked my legs. I very often wee whilst being harassed by them both; “Mummy! Mummy? Do you need tissue? Are you finished? Wash your hands! Dry your hands! Mummy!”. It can feel all-encompassing and unescapable at times. How can I find the time to be me and not “Mummy”?

Thankfully, we have good settlers and our evenings are our own. I need to prioritise more time for things that keep me sane and also remember that although my day is peppered with stress and lunacy, it’s also full to the brim with beauty and love. I mean; look at them:

Stuff! And Things!

Hello! Yet again real life and raising children somewhat takes over from blogging. So here’s another quick update on anything and everything I can think of.

They both had haircuts and behaved so well:

The other week Audrey was feeling poorly with a high temperature, laying on the sofa under a leopard print blanket. I came down having got dressed and she said “Mummy, you’re the same as the blanket!” I was initially confused, I explained I was wearing a cardigan, not a blanket… when I realised my t shirt was leopard print! How proud I am of Audrey and these simple moments.

The winter has already meant a steady stream of germs, but there is no escaping it when they both go to nursery and we spend our lives at play groups and music groups with dirty toys.

Audrey’s current favourite song is ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus. It’s worth noting as we’ve been through various favourites;

‘Black Magic’ by Little Mix

‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice

‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber

‘We Built this City’ by Starship

They both currently respond well to Hot Chip.

We watch ‘Trolls’ at least three times a week, but just a month ago it was ‘Moana’ a go go, so who knows what they’ll be onto next?

Rex is currently obsessed by cars, lorries and fire engines. Audrey is very keen on books and dolls. They both love handbags.

I am starting to appreciate them both more and more. Just looking and listening and seeing how wonderful they are. This is when they are not fighting over a toy or throwing a tantrum over something incredibly minor.

They both love Christmas (the build up) so far and I’m excited to enjoy it with them.

Audrey was recently a poster girl for a local charity (Amaze), which we were thrilled to see.

Will try not to leave it too long before my next blog post, we have a lot going on (Down’s Syndrome Awareness wise and in general).

If I Could Go Back…

It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month (predominantly in the US, but happy to embrace it as I always do), so what better time to direct you to a short film I had the pleasure of contributing to.

I have mentioned The Specials before (an online series that also aired on OWN in the US), they have been a fabulous, fun part of our journey with Down’s Syndrome.

I used to work for a company that sold documentaries internationally and we represented The Specials before I was pregnant with Audrey.

It was quite a moment for me, when, back at work visiting colleagues with my small baby, I bumped into Katy (producer of The Specials) and for the first time, I felt excited to tell someone that my baby had Down’s Syndrome! I knew that she would get it.

Anyway, the company I worked for went into liquidation, time passed, but I thankfully remained in touch with Katy because she’s just one of those lovely-type-people you stay in touch with.

She asked if we (my family and I) might be interested in being filmed for some content for The Specials website. They were interested in representing a different part of the Down’s Syndrome journey – the early part with a little one like Audrey.

Of course I said yes, I am always thrilled at the prospect of showing off Audrey and reaching people with our story – showing what life is like.

Katy started filming us the summer Audrey turned 2 and continued into the winter when I was heavily pregnant with Rex.

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a short film that came from some of that filming: a project called “If I Could Go Back…” that has given a voice to a variety of parents of children with Down’s Syndrome, explaining what those early days are like and what we’d like to say to ourselves if we could go back…

Click here to view on YouTube

It’s a perfect film to share during Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month and one that I hope will be useful to new mothers, fathers, grandparents… basically anyone who fears what it might be like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome in their life. What we thought “then” and what we know “now” = just wow. I could literally talk all day about what I thought it would be like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome and what it is actually like.

Audrey makes me so happy, so proud and she continues to surprise me every day with what she is learning and has achieved. So different to the fear in my heart that moment I first looked at her face.

More links to come no doubt, but for now, I hope you enjoy this one, it’s certainly emotive!

Late for school

This week you will no doubt see pictures of beaming children in their school uniforms for the first time all over your social media feeds. Unless you don't know anyone with school age children. Or you're not on social media.

But there will be no picture of Audrey in her uniform.

Just six weeks dictated Audrey would be one of the youngest in her school year, instead of one of the oldest. So when school selection time came around (and the formulation of an Educational Health and Care Plan), we weighed up our options. The new system for summer born babies and children with special needs allows you to apply for a deferral; so that your child is the oldest in Reception and progresses through school in that class. Since Audrey is both a summer baby and a child with special needs, we knew we had a great chance of getting a deferral to start Audrey in September 2018.

We made a list of pros and cons and to be honest the only pro to Audrey going to school this year was a saving in childcare costs! More important than that was the chance for Audrey to "catch up" a little with her typical peers (since we have chosen mainstream schooling). She isn't potty trained, she hasn't really been walking unaided for a year yet and she still needs assistance in many areas… She's also very small and quite delicate, the thought of her in a class of typical 4-5 year olds is pretty scary!

I should consider ourselves lucky in that we know she can progress and close a gap (even if only a little), but for some children with special needs, a year might not make a difference to their ability to settle into mainstream school. Mainstream might not even be an option. So yes, we are lucky, but here we are, watching her NCT and nursery friends go off to school and I do feel emotional about it. It's a huge step, a big change and we've dictated that it's not her time. We've changed the path. I think I'm struggling a little with the fact that this is a different path from the one I had expected "our child" to take, like mourning the loss of an expected reality.

The thing is, I am excited about that first school uniform picture of Audrey, I am excited about her starting school, but I also know that starting now is not right for her, she isn't ready.

So another year of nursery. Another year of music classes. Another year of swinging in the park. This reality is not a loss for me I guess, but a gain…

Good luck to all the September 2017 school starters!

Special needs 

Gemma Mount Photography

Most of the time I'm a mum. But sometimes I'm the mum of a special needs child. It's actually quite rare that I'm fully aware that Audrey has special needs. It doesn't impact our day to day life as much as you might think.

I recognise that she needs more help than her typical peers when it comes to various things (eating, navigating obstacles, potty training…), but I guess I'm just used to her progressing slowly and she just seems a bit younger. I don't really think of her as "special needs" child. 

Most of the time I want people to look at her. She's beautiful, funny and friendly, so I like to show her off. But every now and then…

Audrey and I went to a mum event last month. Run by MumstheWordOnline, it was a talk and book signing with Clemmie Hooper, the midwife, mother and blogger who is "instafamous".  I set off with Audrey in the sling, both giggly and excited by our alone time. Stopping to look at pretty flowers before we caught our bus to town. It's rare I can travel on a bus and sit Audrey next to me – sat up high so we can talk about what we can see out of the window. These are the parenting moments you drink in. Those perfect moments of excitement and happiness over the simplest things.

We met our friends Louise and Harry and walked to the hotel venue. Audrey was snuggled into me and I could tell she was a bit sleepy. 

We collected our name badges and then entered the room. It was then that I realised bringing Audrey was a mistake (bringing Rex would have also been a mistake but for slightly different reasons, but I digress!). The mum chat volume was high. The room was crowded and chaotic, it was warm and everyone was moving around in limited space to chat and get coffee. Audrey was instantly asking to go home. 

I thought that once we sat down to listen to Clemmie speak, Audrey might be content on my lap, but it soon became clear that wouldn't work – they had a PA system and Audrey covered her ears and said it was too loud. She started to cry. More than anything at that point, I felt so terrible having put her in this position. We moved to the play area but she didn't want to play with any toys, she just wanted to go home.

At the very back there was a room for buggies. This was furthest away from the noise, Audrey was much calmer in this room, but basically wanted to leave via the fire exit because she could see the street. After a bit of back and forth, I realised it would be easily solved if we left. A brief freak-out (on her part, obv!) as we left through the main noisy room and then we were in the hotel lobby; she was immediately fine. We popped into the large toilet right there and Audrey said "Phew!" And was back to her usual happy self. We left and she was all waves and smiles to the hotel reception staff.

We went to the library, then onto a cafe for lunch, Louise and Harry joined us, calm was restored. Lou tried to make me feel better by informing me Harry also asked to leave and handed her her handbag(!), but the fact remains he wasn't emotional, he wasn't stressed, just bored.

However it's moments when she's upset that I feel like a special needs parent. I feel eyes on me, I worry about pity, I think people see our life as hard. I feel like they see Audrey as difficult, as a burden and I hate that.

I accept that she is different. Our life will be different. But I hate the thought of anyone seeing a fleeting moment of stress as "the way things are".

These past few weeks have been tough. Not because Audrey has Down's Syndrome but because both my children have hit hideous phases of tantrums and tears and er, "wilfulness"! Two under 3 has been tough and despite the fact that Audrey is now 4, it's still very tough. The fact is, most of the time Rex is the main cause of stress, but he is typical and no one would bat an eyelid to his tantrums. Maybe no one bats an eyelid to Audrey's, but that's not how it feels when you are a special needs parent.

Calm restored in a fancy toilet.