The Down Syndrome Diary

Back in 2014(!) I remember vividly that I was walking Audrey around in her buggy when I received a message from Jamie to see if I’d be interested in writing in a “physical diary” about Down’s syndrome – to put pen to paper and tell our story. I was very flattered and of course said yes straight away.

Audrey cuddling the Down Syndrome Diary

I had found so much comfort from Instagram accounts and blogs that I found (relating to DS) in those early days. I was inspired to share our family life and so adding to a travelling diary seemed like a great idea.

Jamie started the diary and began to send it around the world to gather family’s heartfelt stories, but I don’t think anyone could have know how long this might take or that so many people would want to be involved; she’d have to send off lots of other diaries to meet demand!

Once the diary finally arrived my house (I was definitely feeling scared to have it) I thought I’d add my entry and pass it on to the final contributors. Simple. Maybe a week to turn it around?

But, just like everyone else, it took me a while to get going with the writing. I needed to read the other entries. Then I needed some pictures of it with Audrey… but she wasn’t playing ball and oh how precious a real book of heartfelt stories is, I couldn’t let the kids have free-reign with it!

Finally I put pen to paper and wrote my entry (slightly disappointed by my handwriting!), but I must admit the words didn’t come as easily as I’d have liked. I felt a lot of pressure not to repeat what other families had written and also not to repeat things I have written in my blog over the years.

I’m very proud to have taken part, added our entry and pictures of Audrey, but of course I feel like I could have done more. Poured my heart out more, stuck in the best photographs, said something deep. And I forgot to take pictures of my entry and/or type up my words, so I can’t even tell you exactly what I wrote! Oops. Oh well, it’s with the penultimate contributor now, before hopefully winging its way to a (famous) advocate to write the forward to what will hopefully be a published piece of work!

One thing I do know, is that writing makes me happy. Advocating for Audrey and people like her makes me happy. As she begins her new journey from toddler life to schoolgirl (!), I too shall be start my new journey to pursue my writing. To devote time and energy to it, but also have the flexibility needed to work around Audrey’s school life. So far (fingers crossed), Audrey loves school and is throwing herself into it all will full enthusiasm and making me proud like she always does.

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!

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:

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:

And, as always, Audrey’s face says it all so beautifully for me…


Changing sides

Since Audrey turned 10 months I have started to find the prospect of another baby less terrifying… Still terrifying, but just not as scary a thought as it was a few months back. So as my mind turned to thoughts of baby number 2, I couldn’t help but wonder… What about the screening for DS? Ted and I discussed and decided there would be no point having the tests second time around, as it will make no difference. However, I then started to wonder about the screening… Why do we screen for Down’s Syndrome?

Is it about the serious health issues associated with DS (heart, bowel etc)? Is it about being prepared for a “different” child? I even considered the possibility that the NHS might want to guide someone down the abortion route in order to save money (would a DS baby need a lot of additional care/medication/operations?).

The fact is I’m only wondering about this now because I have a beautiful baby with DS, who escaped the heart and bowel problems and is doing well and is a joy. Rewind to this time last year and I would have thought it perfectly reasonable to screen for DS… After all, I was someone who had made the declaration that I “couldn’t cope” with a child with DS! This blog post by Hayley of Down’s Side Up explores this area…

What struck me here (other than the horrible quotes where women were treated badly after deciding to keep their DS diagnosed foetus), was explaining to our children in the future why we screen for DS… Something I thought was perfectly acceptable (to screen for), has now become… Shocking. I guess this is because we (DS parents) could never explain to expectant parents that they will love that child no matter what… It will be ok, you will cope! The coping and the loving will only really kick in when that baby is in your life.

Not sure what the answer is here, the screening is there and a foetus testing positive for DS has a slim chance of survival… All we in the DS community can do is try to spread the message that there is happiness and joy in our family life and take away some of the “fear” if we can. I definitely found huge comfort and positivity in looking at blogs such as Down Side Up and Kelle Hampton’s Enjoying the Small Things when I was coming to terms with Audrey having DS. I was literally thinking “wow, they still eat out/dress well/have fun” – because at the beginning I felt like DS = end of the world. We need to show that it’s not the end, it’s the beginning… The beginning of a different world, but still a very fun/fashionable/foodie one!