Layla, Carlyn, Rose and Lucy…
These are the names of Lorraine and Derek Cridge’s four daughters.
The couple adopted all four young women, each at the age of five or six months old. The Cridges wanted a typical family life, with parties and picnics and days at the beach. They wanted to attend sports days and Christmas concerts. They wanted a family life full of fun.
Just one other detail. All four of their daughters happen to have Down syndrome.
Lorraine always knew she wanted to adopt a child.
I knew from quite a young age that I would adopt children, she explained. I was one of those very empathetic kids who worried endlessly about children living in poverty or hunger.
After she and Derek had been married for ten years, they took the plunge and at the ages of thirty-three and thirty-five, decided to begin the adoption process.
We chose to adopt a child with Down syndrome, much to the shock of social services counsellors.
Derek and I thought, Why not leave those ‘perfect’ babies for people who felt they couldn’t cope with anything viewed as ‘less’? We knew we wanted loads of fun and birthday parties and holidays and days out and, as we all know, nobody knows how to have fun better than a child with Down syndrome!” The couple adopted Layla who Lorraine describes as “the perfect baby,” always smiling and sleeping like a dream.
Lorraine and Derek couldn’t wait to adopt another baby. Their social worker had other ideas – they should adopt two more babies – and along came twins Carlyn and Rose.
This time there were some medical challenges because the twins had been born prematurely at twenty-nine weeks. But with the loving care of their parents and big sister Layla, the little ladies grew stronger. Once Carlyn and Rose reached their second birthdays, Lorraine and Derek thought:
Let’s do it again! and completed their family with Lucy.
The Cridges now had four children, all under five years old, and all with Down syndrome. It’s safe to say that some family members were concerned and thought Lorraine and Derek had taken on way too much, but as Lorraine explains: “It was all Derek and I wanted, and we were very happy.”
Life carried on for a couple of years, and then tragedy struck. Derek suffered a catastrophic brain injury. After many weeks in an intensive care unit and rehabilitation, Derek came home. Lorraine now found herself with five people to look after. But as a family, they got through that tough time.
Derek was unable to return to work and could no longer drive. He also needed Lorraine’s support as he suffered from confusion and memory loss, which continues to this day. So Lorraine, who had worked as a secondary school teacher before welcoming the children, returned to that profession, this time teaching in a special educational needs setting. Lorraine secured a position at the same school her daughters attended and was there to watch every Christmas performance and to cheer them on during each sports day. This had been part of the family dream.
When Layla was eight years old, the family encountered another challenge. Layla was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Lorraine has always felt that this diagnosis was “harder to deal with than a learning disability”. But, as had become their way, the family undertook the necessary diet and medication plans in order to take Layla’s diabetes in their stride.
All four girls have always remained very active and engaged in activities such as trampolining, gymnastics and drama in addition to their schooling. All four girls went on to further education in college and stayed until they were nineteen.
These days Layla (33), Carlyn (31), Rose (31) and Lucy (29) still live together in the family home which Lorraine and Derek sold to a learning disability housing association. They receive 24-hour support from a small team of Adult Services support workers. While Layla, Carlyn and Rose are quite independent within their home and play a full part in the domestic running, Lucy has significant learning difficulties and needs a lot of support. At the weekends, Lorraine, now retired, and Derek take over and try and take them all away on mini-breaks as often as they can. Like most other families, the Cridges are facing the challenges imposed by Covid restrictions.
Although I was worried that the girls would become depressed at their active world shrinking away, they’ve coped quite well with lots of Zoom and Skype sessions and trips to the park, says Lorraine. The absolute worst has been no holidays to Butlins for the first year since 1992! The family hopes to make up for the lost holidays next year.
Life is good for the Cridge family, just as Lorraine imagined all those years ago.
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