Like many expectant parents we took part in anti-natal classes in preparation for the birth of our daughter and as I was new to the town I was keen to meet other new Mums. At the beginning of the first class we each had to talk about our pregnancy, due date and such as an icebreaker. Each expectant Mum took their turn and talked of how they coped with pregnancy and their excitement and nerves about the birth. I wasn’t sure what to say when it came to my turn. Should I tell them about the complications? That we knew there was a possibility that our baby might be born with some problems? Would that make everyone uncomfortable? Or should I just skip over that bit? I opted for a brief explanation without too much detail but to focus on how excited we too were about the arrival of our baby. I’m not sure how well I pulled that off, I was feeling pretty nervous at that point and we already knew there was a good chance Scarlett would have to be brought early.
We only made one class, I was induced a couple of days later due to complications and Scarlett was the first of the group to be born. We emailed the other couples a day or two after Scarlett’s arrival to announce her birth and also to tell them that she had Down syndrome. It was a difficult email to write. We didn’t really know these people but we were intending on meeting up with them once all the babies were born. We wanted to share our delight at the birth of our beautiful girl but felt it was best to say about the Down syndrome diagnosis by email rather than when we met up with them. The telling people bit in those early days was something we both found difficult – how to do it, what to say. It was difficult to choose the words that conveyed how we felt when we didn’t really know how we felt and how we felt seemed to change from hour to hour. We wanted people to know how very much in love with Scarlett we were, that although we were scared and overwhelmed we did not feel sad. We didn’t want people to feel sorry for us, we had lots of feelings but sorry wasn’t one of them.
Those first few weeks for us were tough as we tried to understand Scarlett’s diagnosis of Down syndrome and her heart condition. We felt like we had a mountain to climb but didn’t really have the right equipment or expertise to do it. We were so wrapped up in our own story it was difficult to comprehend that life was still going on outside our Down syndrome bubble. The first few times I met with the Mums from the anti-natal group was difficult for me. As they discussed the challenges they were facing in feeding and sleeping I wanted to scream “at least your baby doesn’t need open heart surgery”. As they talked over the pro’s and con’s of reusable v’s disposable nappies I wanted to shout “it doesn’t matter what nappies I use, Scarlett has Down syndrome”.
I persevered. I could have slunk away and mixed only with other Mums facing the same challenges as me, but something made me stay. And over the following weeks and months I learned something very important from this wonderful group of ladies. I do not have exclusive rights to worrying about my child. We all worry. We all watch closely for clues that our children are going to be alright, we all read crap on the internet we shouldn’t do and we all worry our babies are developing at an expected rate. We all had the same anxieties about leaving them with a sitter for the first time or starting them at nursery. We all have insecurities about if we are doing a good enough job (we are, all of us, we’re brilliant Mums) and we all struggle to manage our often complicated lives filled with work, relationships, housework, family, paying bills and all the other things that are part of life. We all worry, we are Mums and that’s what we do. And even though some of my worries and challenges are different, they are not any more significant or important than anyone else’s.
And I realise more and more that Scarlett isn’t always the one falling behind, she has strengths and weakness just like all the other babies. While she may be the last to crawl and she isn’t as sophisticated in her play yet, she is one of the best sleepers in the group – and a good night’s sleep cannot be underestimated. She is also a fantastic eater, willing to try almost anything despite her mother being a less than proficient cook. She gives the best cuddles in the world, she wraps her arms around tight and pushes her little nose into my neck in a way that makes me never want to let her go. Her speech is also coming along nicely, she babbles away and even understands a few words. And while the other babies are off exploring with their new crawling or walking skills, Scarlett spends her time focused on people and faces (as is quite common for babies with Down syndrome). I often hear that people with Down syndrome can be more emotionally developed than the rest of us, more in tune with others feelings and moods and so while she sits, less mobile than the others but still taking it all in, she is laying the foundation for important social skills later in life.
So in this last fifteen months, this wonderful, diverse, laugh out loud, kind and sensitive group of wonderful women have become some of the best friends I’ve ever had. We swop tips on feeding, weaning, recommend toys and online sources of lovely baby clothes. We talk about how motherhood has impacted our careers, relationships, bodies and social lives. We laugh at our poo stories and cry when it all get too much. We get drunk on girls nights out. We celebrate each and every success our babies achieve – as they learn to sit, crawl, walk and talk. Yes, sometimes I feel a little pang that Scarlett is often the last to learn some of these skills, but that short little stab is far outweighed by how happy it makes me to see her playing with the other babies as just one of the “gang”. And I love those other babies, I feel happy when they reach another milestone and I look forward to seeing them grow and learn and spread their wings. The fact that this group of friends do not completely understand what it is to have a child with a disability, for me, is a positive thing. They remind me and allow me to focus on just being a Mum, having a family, doing all the things that everyone else does.
So as much as I hate to admit it because it isn’t very interesting or very glamorous …. It turns out we’re really not that different. We’re pretty ordinary, my wonderful family and I. And I might not have realised that quite so easily if it wasn’t for my awesome Mummy friends.