We tried to get pregnant for about six months before peeing on a stick that had the positive result we were waiting for. From that moment we were in love with our baby and planning his/her future. The holidays we would take, the music we’d dance too… thinking about the adult child; university, a career, their wedding, the grandchildren… yep, I was projecting that far!
Being pregnant was fun, I had no morning sickness and the cravings were ice cream, yogurt, milkshakes, coconut… the baby was a real kicker which was a lovely way to stay connected and feel reassured. We took hypnobirthing classes and I had wonderful naps to the relaxation CD. Aside from a little bleeding early on (which turned out to be something on my cervix and nowt to do with baby), regular heartburn and some swollen feet, it was a pretty easy pregnancy and I found the whole experience enjoyable.
On Monday 22nd July 2013, 5 days past our due date, I was still very relaxed and convinced the baby would eventually be induced. I don’t know why, but I always felt the baby wouldn’t be early or on time. It was ‘royal baby day’ (Kate Middleton was confirmed to be in labour) and there were a few texts and messages asking me if I’d had any twinges and I told everyone there was no way we’d get our silver penny (babies born on royal baby day could apply for a commemorative coin!)… not an inkling of labour in sight…!
It was crazy hot and I walked into town in a long summer dress to pick up supplies (pineapple to bring on labour, my favourite iced spiced buns from M&S…). I was mildly concerned that baby hadn’t been as active as normal, but decided I was probably over-reacting. I had lunch. Still no kicks. I read online how to encourage movement… drank some ice water, ate some chocolate. No kicks. I watched some Gossip Girl, tried to relax… but a sinking feeling was creeping in; “I do not remember this baby kicking today”. By now it was about 3pm and I decided the relaxation CD (for hypnobirthing) was my best bet… baby always kicked just as I was trying to relax/fall asleep! The CD finished, I woke up and yet again… no kicks. Between telling myself the baby probably kicked at some point without me noticing and crying because I was sure that couldn’t have happened… it got to about 5pm and I called my husband. He was calm and told me I should call the hospital and see if a friend could go with me, he would jump on a train asap.
Even with the tears and the worrying, I still expected to be checked over, told all was fine and be sent home, I remember my friend Becs and I were in a taxi just after 6pm, we were taken into a room on the labour ward triage and two midwives rigged me up to the monitor… the baby’s heartbeat was there! Hurrah! All my concerns fell away…Then the midwife said there were dips and that the baby was possibly reacting to some braxton hicks (tightenings), but it was also possible the cord was being affected and I was asked to lie on my side facing the wall. A doctor came in and calmly explained that the baby was in distress and they would be checking to see if I was in labour and would try to break my waters… Just as this news was delivered Ted arrived expecting that scene of “all ok, go home”, but finding instead our baby was going to be on the way one way or another that evening! It was confirmed I wasn’t in labour, so I was told they would like to proceed to emergency c-section and I’m proud to say my husband asked for a minute alone with me to discuss this decision. He knew a c-section was something I dreaded. I cried, filled with panic and that stupid feeling that a non-”natural” birth was a failure… We asked the doctor if we had any other option… We didn’t. And so I just went with it, if the baby is in distress and needs to get out, then so be it. I still feel so strange that at 6pm I was in a taxi with my bump and by 7pm I was being prepped for surgery.
Our baby was born at 7.51pm – it was all so quick. Baby was delivered and I heard no cries which was an alarm bell. Ted told me it was a girl and I welled up a little with surprise as I was so convinced we were having a boy. He was first to hold her, she was wrapped in a towel and I could just see her eyes peeking out – I just knew from that glance that she had Down’s Syndrome. I kept asking Ted to show her to me – I couldn’t see enough of her face…
I said “She looks like a little monkey!” (she had a shock of ginger hair and had an orangutan quality). They prepped for skin on skin… She was laid on my chest. I could see her clearly now and I just thought “this baby has Down’s Syndrome”. So I quietly said it to Ted. “This baby” – I couldn’t take ownership of her. I remember hearing him say “Er excuse me, but my wife thinks the baby has Down’s Syndrome…” And they took him to the side to explain the signs were there, but they couldn’t confirm either way without a blood test.
It was like an out of body experience, I was removing myself from the situation, from the baby, “this baby has Down’s Syndrome…” as if they’d given me the wrong baby. She was rushed to the baby unit, I was taken into the recovery room. We were apart for hours. I can’t say how many, it’s a bit of a blur. I had a reaction to the epidural, I was shaking quite prominently and my teeth were chattering. I didn’t ask to see her, I was so consumed by the feeling that this shouldn’t have happened to us – I wanted to sleep and wake up to discover this was a dream.
We had chosen our names for our potential girl or boy and our family knew this so they were confused as to why the name was not confirmed. But I was scared. I didn’t think this was Audrey. Audrey to me was delicate and beautiful, I had pictured her and she did not have Down’s syndrome. I suggested our second choice name to Ted, but he (thankfully) said “She’s not a second-choice baby, she deserves to be Audrey”. Oh how right he was.
I was eventually wheeled up to visit her (still in a bed), I still felt so confused and so numb. It was a rocky start. To say I wasn’t bonded to the baby, to say I didn’t feel a rush of love or any sense of being a mother is an understatement.
24 hours after our beautiful Audrey Emily was born, I was taken up to the unit to breastfeed her. This was a moment that made me truly realise I had a baby and I needed to be there for her. I believe that much of the distant feeling was due to the c-section, it wasn’t all about Down’s Syndrome. Ted remembers this moment (seeing me breastfeed Audrey for the first time); as the moment we turned a corner and the bond was set.
It actually didn’t take us long to realise she was our baby; she was the baby that had been inside me all along, she was our Audrey. I will never forget Ted saying (through tears) “I just love her” and his strength in those early days was such a massive help to me and my fears. Once we knew we loved her, our worry was her health. Luckily, Audrey’s heart was ok, she had a little trouble with breathing in deep sleep, so she was on oxygen for 6 months, but that honestly feels like a blip now and so long ago.
We were also lucky with the medical professionals, I don’t remember anyone being negative or saying anything upsetting. The neonatal nurses in the special care baby unit were wonderful. They save babies’ lives everyday and they don’t tend to make a judgement; “This one isn’t worth saving”, they treat them all with the same love and respect, which is a great help when you are feeling fragile about your baby’s future.
As an aside – at our 12 week scan, we (my husband Ted and I) chose to have the “screening”, I don’t remember the way it was pitched to me or the language used, but I felt like it was just a thing you did. You had a blood test, they measured something to do with the neck and you found out if your baby might have Down’s syndrome or a couple of other not-so-well-known conditions. I received a letter that gave us “low risk” (a 1 in 1,000 chance) of Down’s syndrome.
At the 20 week scan, I remember the baby moved a lot and made it very easy for the sonographer to thoroughly check everything and that was that, a healthy baby. I’m pleased we didn’t find out prenatally.
Audrey was in the special care baby unit for 3 weeks, it was a strange start to motherhood. No “drawbridge days” for me. I was sat upright on blue plastic chairs breastfeeding in a room of bleeps and alarms, one week of this was spent commuting in from the other side of town on the bus, waking to alarms to pump in the night.
Once we were home, I had new worries – I thought people would no longer want to hang out with us! I thought that people would shy away from a child with a disability. How (hilariously!) wrong I was!
It is no exaggeration to say; everyone loves Audrey. She was a happy, gorgeous baby and everyone welcomed her with open arms. Our family and friends were awesome. As she continued to progress, we got to see that Audrey is a chatty, outgoing child and she is also gentle and kind. We had our second child (Audrey’s brother Rex), when Audrey was 2 and a half and they are now a great team. They fight like typical siblings, but they scheme together and have a lot of fun.
The biggest thing for me is that Audrey makes me proud every day. Every. Single. Day. She at mainstream school and she loves it. She is potty trained, she happily brushes her teeth each evening, she helps get herself dressed, she is enjoying school dinners and she is full of enthusiasm. She loves life.
All the things I worried we would never share (simply because she has a condition we didn’t expect), we are sharing – she loves watching Strictly Come Dancing. She adores books. She will happily join me in a coffee shop to share cake. She loves going to the cinema and eating popcorn. She loves to sing and dance. She is everything I had wished for in a daughter and so much more.
Audrey is an inspiration. She works hard to achieve things (like learning to walk or drawing with a pencil), it might take her a bit longer than her typical peers, but she gets there. Her achievements are all the more sweeter. She is beautiful inside and out and has been a model for some lovely clothing brands.
How lucky we are that she was that 1 in 1,000.
My second birth was a vbac (virginal birth after c-section), just to show it can be done (although I wish I’d had an elective c-section…) but that’s another (birth) story!