When I started asking for birth stories, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get so many! It started with people I haven’t met – I guess it’s easier to send your story to someone you don’t know! But thanks to the confidence of strangers (and a little bit of coersion on my part), my friends have started to send them too! I recently got a message from, Rachel, saying “Would you like me to write up my birth story with Maddy. The ‘baby arrives on due date by emergency c section and then you realise she is a baby with Down syndrome’ story?”

Rachel and her husband have been friends with my parents since before I can remember. They helped look after my brother and me as young children in Oxford – for a while they lived next door (or down the road – I forget!) and they would take it in turns to pick me up from ballet. Apparently I would always complain that whoever got me was not who I wanted! How rude. One of my earliest memories of being with Rachel is saying “when are you going to have a baby? I’d like someone to play with.” Little did I know how close to the bone that probably was.

I never underestimate how personal and intimate a birth story is and I am thrilled and deeply honoured that Rachel would be willing to write her story for me to share on this blog. Maddy’s birth was very much a shock for Rachel and her husband. Firstly, their precious and much longed for baby would arrive in the world in such a scramble but then, secondly, they would quickly discover that Maddy had Down Syndrome. Despite the shock and fear surrounding Maddy’s arrival and what the future may hold for a baby with Down Syndrome, Rachel’s story is full of hope. 5 years on Maddy was and is still a beautiful gift.

baby with down syndromeMaddy at 1 week old

Giving Birth to a Beautiful Baby with Down Syndrome

Maddy arrived on her due date!

Discovering I was pregnant with Maddy was a big shock. After several failed attempts at IVF we had decided enough was enough. Then, whilst on holiday in France, it suddenly occurred to me that the fact that I felt extremely hormonal and that my period was late meant that I was pregnant. As soon as we got home I did a test (well 3 tests!) and then decided that it must be true so went to see my GP. I was very anxious and my GP arranged for me to have a scan the following day at a private scanning clinic. The scan confirmed that I was 6 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy was very straightforward. I returned to the scanning clinic 4 more times during my pregnancy – just because I could!

So, my due date arrived and I spent the morning pottering about wondering when the baby would arrive. My birth plan was simple. Get the baby out safely and make sure we are both ok. At lunchtime I began to have some lower back ache and odd twinges so I cancelled coffee with a friend and as I put the phone down realised I had had a show. I told my husband at that point but said not to get too excited as babies take ages and a show might not immediately lead to labour…

Within half an hour I was having regular contractions, which got painful quite quickly. I phoned the hospital and they said to have a bath and stay at home as long as I could. We ran a bath and I tried to get in but was really uncomfortable and the contractions were getting longer and closer together. We decided the time had come so by 4.00pm (3 hours after I first noticed twinges) we got to the hospital.

A check by the midwife revealed I was 5cm dilated and I was congratulated! I remember thinking that rather odd as I felt totally out of control! At 5pm – just an hour later – my waters broke. I was sitting on a birthing ball at the time and simultaneously threw up. Not my finest hour.

We called the midwife and then everything changed. I was 9cm dilated but there was meconium in my waters. Instead of pacing around with the odd puff of gas and air I found myself lying on a bed rigged up to a monitor with a room full of medical staff. Very quickly the pain became dreadful. I was desperate to stand up. But the baby’s heart rate was dropping. Everything was happening too fast for both of us! The decision was made to deliver by emergency c-section. Maddy arrived 40 minutes later having been dragged back up the birth canal. I can honestly say I have never been so scared in my life. I was terrified.

I heard the baby yell and could hear talk of cleaning her up (she had done another poo on the way out so was very gunky). It seemed to be forever before I saw her. My husband says it was no more than a couple of minutes. I heard the midwife say her apgar score was 9, which was impressive considering the nature of her arrival. But as I looked at my new daughter I realised immediately that she had Down Syndrome. I kept asking if she was ok and the answer was that she was fine. She was protesting loudly at an enforced bath, but no one was answering the question I was trying to ask. Then I realised I needed to ask the full question.

‘Do you think she has Down Syndrome?’ I eventually asked.

‘We think she might,’ came the answer.

A paediatrician was called from another hospital (our local hospital was a midwife lead unit). We had opted not to have testing during the pregnancy. The baby was an unexpected joy and we would not have done anything to terminate the pregnancy so there seemed no point. The series of scans we had also revealed nothing to cause concern. The paediatrician arrived and checked Maddy over. She agreed that she thought Maddy had Down syndrome and suggested we were moved to the larger hospital with neonatal cover just in case Maddy needed help with anything.

She looked at Maddy and said ‘I think she does have Down Syndrome, but I don’t think she has read the text book.’ Those words have been the basis on which Maddy has lived her little life so far!

‘I think she does have Down Syndrome, but I don’t think she has read the text book.’ Those words have been the basis on which Maddy has lived her little life so far!

We were moved by ambulance at 2am and it was after that that I got my post-birth tea and toast! Maddy was thoroughly checked and her heart scanned. She had 2 tiny holes in her heart, which closed over by themselves during the next few months. Other than that she was fine. I breast fed Maddy for 18 months (Until 6 weeks before her little brother arrived!). We worked hard with her and she had more tummy time that she ever wanted but it meant that she was sitting up on her own by 7 and 1/2 months and crawling by 9 months. It took her until she was just two to finally let go of her walker!

She is now five years old. She has regularly sight and hearing checks and has some glue ear. She has an under active thyroid and is on daily medication for that. She is thriving at school. Now in year one she is reading well (stage 6 of Oxford Reading Tree for those who know what that means!). She is writing, learning her spellings and is a popular, happy girl. She has recently completed her 10m in swimming and adores gymnastics.

Maddy arrived quickly (on her due date!) and with a big question mark hanging over her. She is in the process of writing her own ‘textbook’. I will never forget the fear surrounding her birth and the early days of her life. The wondering about what the future would hold. Now we have learnt to notice and celebrate every step and achievement and to enjoy today rather than over focussing on the future.

Thank you Rachel xxx