It’s July 2010 and I’m getting ready to go see Rodrigo y Gabriela in the Big Top. I’ve booked the next day off work and plan on having a good boozy night out with some mates while enjoying that special buzz that is Galway during the Arts Festival. Except something is preying on my mind. I am late. I am never late. So on the way home from work I picked up a pregnancy test and now I am staring at the thin, blue line that has appeared in the window indicating that I am pregnant. I show my partner. His response mirrors my own – one of stunned disbelief. Kids were not really part of the plan for either of us, now a €6 piece of plastic is indicating otherwise.
Fast forward 34 weeks and we are looking on anxiously as the cardiologist performs an ultrasound on the heart of our newborn daughter. She has Down syndrome and almost 1 out of 2 babies born with this condition have a congenital heart defect of some kind.
The pregnancy had me fraught with worry and terrified at the thought of becoming someone’s mother with all the immense responsibility that comes with it. Seeing my baby’s face for the first time and all those fears evaporated replaced by the deepest of love for this brand new person I had helped to create. To me she was perfect, now a whole plethora of medical staff was telling me otherwise.
There was no indication that she had Down syndrome prior to her birth. The sonographer found nothing to be concerned about at the 20-week scan.
I had never wanted to be a parent, but had trusted that everything would be all right. Now I was mother to a child with an intellectual disability. Everything I knew about Down syndrome, which wasn’t much, was overwhelmingly negative. Joy turned to sadness; hope to despair. How would we cope?
It turns out we coped just like any other new parents would. By facing challenges head on and remaining positive. Paediatric appointments, trips to the physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist, blood and thyroid function checks, visual and hearing examinations came thick and fast. We faced them all as positively as we could and thankfully we have a well daughter with no underlying health issues.
Now our little girl is two years old and is just like any other toddler – full of curiosity and mischief. She loves nursery rhymes, Peppa Pig, dance class and counting to ten. She doesn’t get all the words or actions right but what she lacks in accuracy, she more than makes up for with enthusiasm and charm.
She has an effervescent personality that draws people to her. I am more proud of her than I ever thought possible.
That’s not to say that having a child with special needs isn’t challenging. It is, but the good moments more than outweigh the bad ones.
And me? Well I am now mum to two little girls and really enjoying it. There are days when I feel overwhelmed and wonder what the hell I’m doing but every cheeky smile, every boisterous giggle, every time a chubby little hand fits snuggly into mine, I think there could not be any other life path for me. I have learned not to view a child in terms of what she can’t do but what she can do and every small achievement is celebrated wholeheartedly.
I look back on that summer night where it seemed the world as I knew it was ending and I wonder what I was so worried about.