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.

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Audrey Starts School!

Audrey holding a picture of me at primary school

I’ve just dropped off a piece of me in a classroom with lots of people I don’t know. The little lady has started reception at primary school.

My daughter is friendly, kind and gentle. She loves imaginative play and reading books. She likes routine. I have no doubt that she will enjoy school, I’m just not sure how much I’ll enjoy her being there!

Anyone who knows me that I will cry at TV programmes, songs that come on the radio and a fleeting thought about someone’s sad situation, so it was a huge surprise that I didn’t cry today dropping Audrey off at her first day of school.

Several factors helped – school drop off is not a romantic, sound-tracked moment.; it’s carnage! We went as a family, with a child in a buggy and one on the loose, we battled through a crowd of legs and shouting and hugging and hellos and goodbyes to get to her class. Also, Audrey was very excited. She managed to (almost) walk all the way there (major achievement) and she jumped, sang and hugged her way down the road, she was genuinely happy to be going to school. It’s tricky to feel the true emotion of a momentous occasion when you are in it. It’s actually easier for me to be tearful anticipating it or reflecting on it.

And so, here I am in a cafe. Ted and Rex are off shopping (typical boys!) and Audrey is in her school classroom, with her teachers.

Of course I can’t help but reflect on 5 years with her. 10 months of maternity leave of just us, followed by a mix of us and nursery, us bump and nursery, us Rex and nursery… and now Audrey has her own thing, she is a schoolgirl!

“They” say it goes in a blink of an eye. I don’t know if  I feel quite like that, but I do feel immensely proud of Audrey and how far we have come from tiny baby on oxygen to confident 5 year old.

As I analyse my feelings, I can see what is creeping in… I felt it during maternity leave with Rex. She had her nursery days and we went to groups but I was suddenly a different mum, I was seemingly a mum of one typical child but that was not my whole identity. She is a part of me, a part of me that I am truly proud of and it can feel very strange to be out and about without her. What a mix of emotions this brings and a new chapter for us all – I have handed in my notice at work and plan to work on freelance writing. I am very lucky to have a supportive husband allowing me to take this leap and it also means that I can be there to drop off and pick up Audrey from school.

Happy September and good luck to everyone in their “firsts”, I love autumn and I’m feeling so very happy that its crisp and sunny outside and the leaves will soon be crunchy under our feet. My favourite time of year.

Alike, But Different.

On Wednesday night I woke around 1am to find myself being sick on and off through until 8am. It goes without saying that Thursday was not a great day for me. Thankfully Ted worked from home and my children offered me plastic cups of “medicine” and gave me hugs and kisses (that I should have fought off due to my potential contagiousness!), they also whined a lot and ran around arguing. Being ill as a grown-up with kids is the worst. The best time to be ill is when you are a kid and a parent looks after you.

Brighton Pride 2018

Anyway, I felt a lot better on Friday and we had a good day with the kids (some top secret modelling, but will share more about that at some point!), we took them to the park in the afternoon and met a lady with a 4 year old son who has special needs. We got chatting and we found ourselves in a position we’ve been in before – struggling to empathise with someone who thinks you can. She sees another “special needs family” and shares her story, but we feel, well, like we occupy a different space; Audrey isn’t “severely” special needs, but she’s not typical either. She sits in a space in between the two. I’m not denying Audrey has special needs, she definitely does and you only have to spend time with other 4-5 year olds to know that she is “different”. However we often find ourselves chatting to someone who is offloading about their child (with some form of special needs) constantly waking in the night, struggling to communicate, challenging behaviour, interacting with other children (hitting, tantrums)… for the most part I can only really apply some of these challenges to Rex!

This lady said she was surprised we had chosen to have another child after our first had special needs! Ha! How we laughed about that one on the way home. All children are hard work and of course, children with special needs present a different set of challenges, but Audrey made us feel very comfortable about doing it all again. Rex, however, well and truly scuppered plans for any more kids!

That evening I was very much looking forward to a decent sleep (as even Thursday night I was restless). As discussed with the lady in the park, Audrey is a good sleeper, but Rex sometimes shouts in his sleep.

Around 2am the dreaded sound of Audrey retching reached my ears – I was out of bed like a shot. There she was, sat upright, sick in her bed and bright and chatty “Sorry Mummy” she said as I wiped up the sick. And after vomiting in the bucket I held for her, “Phew! That’s a lot of sick!” She said, brushing her hair back.

She literally couldn’t get any better. After returning to bed and several more leaps back out to her aid with the bucket, I decided it would make more sense for Audrey and I to sleep in the spare bedroom together. So I scooped her up and laid next to her in the double bed, bucket at the ready.

As soon as I laid in the dark with her, I felt around to find her face and gently stroke it. She did exactly the same and stroked my face. She whispered that we were in “Uncle Graeme’s bed” (because he stayed in our spare room for a week during his chemo this year). She has a snotty nose at the moment, so within minutes she was asleep but snoring like, well, like her Uncle Graeme. I realised that I was really going to struggle to sleep, but do you know what? I strangely didn’t care. I could smell her sicky breath, but I could also feel her warm body right next to me and I felt so lucky to be her mummy. To be her protector.

In the morning I was awoken by many things (Audrey’s feet kicking me, the light coming through the half-closed blind, Rex thrashing about in his cot), but it was magical to wake to the sound of Rex saying “I want Audrey back!”.

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!

General update

So much to write, so little time.

I just wanted to check in and say; we are surviving. Still get hit with the “my mum’s gone” slap in the face every now and then, mostly pretending she’s still here.

Job on the horizon. Weather too hot. Short break away with friends coming up. Trying to put my positive pants on and not be a wreck.

Audrey and Rex both thriving. So much talking! And climbing! And singing! And whining! I’m exhausted and struggling, but they are the best and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Friday the Physio Part 2

What a difference a week can make. After our last physio experience at the new Friday sessions, that left me tearful (to say the least), I knew I had to tackle it again and make the best of it…

We set off on the bus and Audrey was full of beans as usual. Waves and kisses, requesting singing. 

We arrived at the group and we kicked off “walking” over to a table of stuffed toy dogs. The ladies were there welcoming and smiling, I explained how hard I found it and kept saying things like “I’m no good at pushing her, which is why I know it’s good to be here, because you are comfortable pushing her” and “Oh she is really going to hate that” – they (rightfully) picked me up on this and explained I needed to be more positive. We are “encouraging” her, not “pushing” and take on each task telling Audrey “this is going to be fun!” Rather than anticipating her hating it!

Actually, I was surprised at myself, because in general, I do think of myself as a positive person.

Today I was thinking about the ability to look on the bright side. I am generally a glass-half-full person without really giving it much thought. I mean, I don’t think of myself as always upbeat and full of smiles… But the fact is; I am a positive person by nature.

When Audrey was born I remember thinking (when wrestling with the news that she had Down’s Syndrome); what would be the worst thing that could have happened – would I rather this baby was dead? And of course the answer was no. I kept reminding myself that we were very lucky she was alive and that was the most important thing. Was this ‘syndrome’ really the end of the world? No.

Then when we had to deal with her coming home on oxygen, I kept reminding myself that we were so lucky she didn’t need any surgery and that her heart was healthy.

And now we have a bum-shuffler who cannot stand unaided, but I’m so very grateful that she is mobile at all and I focus on her other achievements which feel more important. Audrey can’t walk or stand, but she can ask for food and drink and she understands so much of what we say. Communicating is an amazing thing and it really helps us feel connected to her.
Her nature, just the way she is, naturally gives us reason to be positive. Smiles, giggles, kisses and cuddles – for the most part, that’s what our time with Audrey is all about. There’s no need to dwell on blood tests, physio sessions, developmental delays… In fact, I’ve seen many other parents of kids with DS revel in the fact they get a baby for longer. Time flies, but it’s flying a little slower with Audrey.

Onwards and upwards in our physiotherapy (I say this as Daddy and Bibi are taking her this week!!).

This was us taking a toilet selfie after speech and language therapy last week -which went very well by the way. We are working on two word phrases and since the session Audrey has said “more please” and “more toast please” woo hoo! 

  

Things Audrey has taught me…

It’s funny when you realise how much you can learn from a life experience. Funny because it seems like such a cheesy cliche, but hey ho…

Audrey has taught me many things by coming into our lives. I guess number 1 would be that I am stronger than I thought I was and can handle more than expected.

If someone had said “You will have a baby with DS”, I would have said “No way, I couldn’t cope!” But the reality is, life throws something unexpected at you, but you just get on with it and cope.

I knew I had a pretty great husband, but Audrey came into our lives and I realised I have an amazing husband. I never really understood the phrase “He’s my rock” until Ted became my rock. From the moment the doctors said “emergency c-section” Ted was everything I needed. He was calm and strong and by my side the whole time. Whilst our minds were filled with confusion and worry over Audrey’s DS, he quite simply said “I just love her” and was there for her from the very beginning. He stayed strong when our world was turned upside down and I it suddenly dawned on me… This is what it’s like to have a “rock”!

She’s also made me realise that perfection isn’t what you think it is… I guess perfection is much like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. She is perfection to us because your baby always will be, no matter what. Ted and I actually discussed before she was born; “Do you think we’ll know if our baby is ugly?” and although I’m pretty confident anyone would agree Audrey is a beauty… I don’t think anyone would ever think their baby was ugly, even if it looked like a potato to everyone else.

The beauty of your baby is unlike anything else in the world and I feel like I know that even more so because the Down’s Syndrome that was all I could see when I first looked at her face, is now something I can barely see. When I look at her now I wonder if other people can tell… when I look at her now I just see our beautiful Audrey.