A fathers experience that began so negatively.

“Back in 2012 we returned from a best friend’s wedding in Italy. My wife was struggling with the hangover from hell in the hot Italian airport. Life was good. One two-year-old toddler in the bag, career going well, thinking we’d nailed the whole parenting/life thing. We’d been trying for another for a long time and had kind of given up.

So we were delighted (if a bit horrified) that the hangover from hell turned out not to be a hangover at all (well, maybe a bit!). The pregnancy test was done before our cases were even unpacked. It was positive. Our family was going to be complete.

The following March, baby was born by c-section. Another girl who we named Rosie. I was proud as punch and couldn’t wait to show her off. She had some funny looking features but – hey – she was just born, right? New babies all look a bit squashed.

When our eldest was born there were a lot of complications so I was determined to enjoy this experience and be less shell-shocked. So I was cuddling her a fair bit and deliberately enjoying the moment. Until, that is, my wife said “You don’t think she has….Down’s Syndrome, do you?”

I laughed out loud wondering if the c-section drugs had been stronger than I thought. I looked at Rosie once more and my new-dad-filter-on-reality disappeared in a heartbeat to show me what had been staring me in the face the whole time. It was unmistakable. She did, indeed, have Down’s Syndrome.

I put her down.

I refused to believe it of course and clung to the tiny chance it might not be true. I told my wife nonchalantly that I’d relay her concerns to the medical staff to see what they say. Instead I disappeared to the toilet and scrolled through hundreds of Google images under the search term “babies with downs syndrome”.

A doctor was drafted in to confirm our concerns in lieu of the blood test, telling us he was 99% certain. My vision of the future shattered in an instant. As far as I was concerned, the worst thing that could possibly happen had just happened to us. Never have I experienced the fight or flight response quite so acutely. I felt cornered. I’m the guy that always believes there’s a solution out there for every problem if I just think hard enough. But I couldn’t solve this one. I could see no way out. I spent the next few days in a daze. I drank at night and felt even worse the next day. All the while, of course, Rosie was just waiting patiently for me to snap out of it. Thankfully I did. Not in an instant, like in a Hollywood movie, but gradually over a period of several months. During that time I learned that everything I thought that I knew of this condition was to turn out not to be true.

Fast-forward 5 years, another (surprise) child later, and I sit here changed for the better. Our entire family, extended family and circle of friends has been gifted with a new and better value system. No longer are we solely driven by the traditional big-ticket items like academic attainment, careers, cars, money and material objects. These things have been put in their rightful place as a door has been opened in our minds never to be closed. We have been schooled for 5 years, through a unique experience that most others never get the opportunity to try. Our teacher is our daughter, a different kind of person, able to focus simply on joy and on living in the moment who will pass her value system on to her two siblings who will never, thankfully, grow up with the learned prejudice of their dad that took so long to get over.

And yet, to coin a phrase, Rosie and our daily lives are still “more alike than different”. There have been additional challenges for sure but we very much feel now that all children come with challenges. Your challenges are your life. I’m quite sure that we’ll face many challenges with our other two that we never will with Rosie.

This experience that began so negatively, driven by nothing short of pure ignorance, has enriched our lives and defined us as a family. We have made friends that we’d never have met and encountered experiences, thoughts and opinions that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Our lives feel they have meaning in ways that we would never want to change.

We’ve learned so much over the last five years. Most of all I learned that what I thought I knew about Down’s Syndrome was around 70 years old. Based on adults I could think of, probably in their 50’s, from when I was a teenager in the 90’s. But the life experience of a baby born 70 years ago has no comparison to present day. I’ve often likened it to buying a laptop today based on computer knowledge from 70 years ago because the rate of change is just as drastic as it has been with technology over the same period.

We don’t expect anything different for Rosie than our other two children. We want them to fulfil their potential. To be independent. To get jobs. We still expect to have to save for her wedding. But most of all we want them to be happy. Were it not for Rosie – I doubt we’d have had that last criteria. So it’s made us better parents too.

If you’re reading this then perhaps you’re still trying to get your head round things. Putting a brave face on but not really feeling that brave. Know this – if you share your darkest thoughts with your partner – it’ll make them feel less bad about theirs. You’ll also, no doubt, discover that they’re having them too.

I’ll give you one of mine for free – I thought that maybe it would be like having a pet. “You can still love them, even though they’re not as smart.” It breaks my heart to admit that I had that thought, but I won’t hide from it. At the end of the day, it was just my brain trying to make sense of the situation.

Now I often chuckle to myself at the irony of this when I see the kids playing one of their favourite games which happens to be “pets”. They march past me with one of them on a lead barking. The funny thing is that my prophecy was all wrong. Rosie (being the most strong-willed, stubborn, domineering of our children) tends not to be the pet at all. She prefers to be in charge. I don’t think that is ever likely to change!

So here’s some pics of us now. Enjoy the first weeks of your new son or daughter because you won’t get that time back if you waste it like I did. I can absolutely guarantee that the path ahead is going to bring you a wonderfully unique kind of joy. So all that’s left to say is……congratulations!


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