Tiaras, Medics and Monkeys: Let's MiXit for Positive Choices '15

Tiaras, Medics and Monkeys: 
Let's MiXit for Positive Choices '15

Mia and Natty meet the famous inclusive pop group MiXit

"Learning disability is everyone's business," said LDAA nurse Sarah O'Donnell.

"Everyone has equal worth," asserted the brother and sister team Jane and Jonathan as their shared the tragic details of Paul's Legacy with us all.

"Together we are better," Helen Laverty repeated, as she brought together 400 delegates at Positive Choices '15, a learning disability nursing conference held in Cardiff this year.

"This is my story!" shouted inclusive pop group MiXit.

And so went the flavour of the day.

It had been an exciting build-up for us all week, as we prepared to attend our first conference as a family. We made the unusual decision as we planned to tie in a visit to family and friends in Wales. Then Mia, 11, volunteered to speak alongside me, and the wheels were set in motion.

Then the nerves began to kick in. I wondered how children and conferences would mix. Would we lose Natty? Would she compliment a nurse on her breasts, as is her wont these days? Would it be difficult to talk about our journey since her arrival in our lives with both children listening in the audience? Natty also declared that she didn't want to go, as she didn't like Wales because they were scary just like sharks...

That, and the usual race to fit everything in the days before we went, raised our stress levels. The technical hitches, the deadlines for Powerpoints, a poorly croupy child, packing, arranging a dog/chicken sitter (thanks Peter!), homework, sleepovers... the usual drill.

The girls were made to feel very special at Positive Choices 15 in Cardiff

We arrived in our room in Cardiff and were treated with 2 bags of presents for the girls. Helen had filled them with every conceivable treat such as Welsh dragons and activity books, jewellery, craft kits and music. She very quickly became known as Aunty Helen after that...

The conference began and the kids loved it. They set up a stand with our book I Love You Natty and the Fink cards Conversations for New Parents: Talking About Down's Syndrome, as well as our support group's Looking Up book and soon were inundated with requests for signings. 

Mia and Natty sign copies of I love You Natty

Natty made everyone howl with laughter, calling out 'Next!'

One of the highlights of the event for us was watching inclusive pop group MiXit in action. Nothing had prepared me for the emotions that their performance with a message would unleash. Tears became wracking sobs pretty quickly, quite embarrassing as I was sitting in the front row. You can see MiXit in action over on YouTube here. 

Downs Side Up meet Annie Laverty from MiXit

Then we got to know the amazing Monkey Wellbeing, who was created by Mum Helen Sadler to make children's experiences during life's new and daunting challenges easier. Monkey comes with stories that explain various procedures in hospital or at school and is also ideal for children with learning disabilities who are visual learners.

Monkey Wellbeing supports children through challenging times

As the day progressed I began to wonder if I could even do my presentation at all. Paul's Legacy and MiXit had left me tear-stained and shaky. I couldn't stand on that podium and blub! So I took myself to the green room, drank tea and did some deep yoga breathing. I had to get through this.

Hayley Goleniowska laughs through the tears delivering her Your Words Count talk

There were tears of course, but I soon noticed little white flashes throughout the crowd. Yes, they were wiping their eyes too, the flashes were tissues. They were crying with me, and together we shared the feelings, the emotions, the injustices and the determination for change.

Natty's big sister Mia takes to the stage at Positive Choices '15: A Sister Just Like Yours

When Mia took to the stage and I felt nervous seeing her standing there. I know the vulnerablility of speaking publicly as an adult, of wearing your heart on your sleeve, would she cope at 11 years old? It was a short presentation that she had prepared as a school project. She'd done it just once before. We hadn't had time for a run through.

But I needn't have worried because she had everyone laughing within minutes. She was even ad libbing and making asides to camera. She had the student nurses in the palm of her hand and I was bursting with pride. They cried with her, we all cried with her. Natty lifted Bob's glasses from his eyes and wiped his tears (in the back row because we couldn't have done it if we'd been able to see their faces) and then, the ultimate accolade, a standing ovation!

Immediately afterwards Mia said she wanted to do the whole talk again, then she declared that she wants to be a children's nurse when she grows up. Now there's a successful nursing conference if ever I saw one...

Home safe, tired and inspired

Finally home, stopping for lunch with Welsh friends and popping in to see our sleeping grandson en route, we all collapsed, happy, inspired, exhausted. Today has very definitely been a day of slippers and slobbing out. The adrenaline has abated, leaving aches in its wake and we've all been very quiet, processing the events in our own way. Natty even slept til 10.27am this morning, a world first. 

But was it worth it? You bet it was.

You might like to watch our film, dedicated to all the learning disability nurses here.

With special love, hugs and thanks also to the amazing:
Helen Laverty and Ruth Norway for organising
University of South Wales for hosting Danshell Group team
Penny Green at Downs Heart Group
the trailblazing Scott and his colleagues at SeeAbility
Peter Salisbury and his BILD colleagues
Dave Atkins
Daniel Marsden
Ben Thomas and his team
Mencap Cymru
Paul, Sarah and Sam at Team Shiny!
We LD Nurses
and all the fabulous, committed student LD nurses, the medical angels, who travelled from across the UK to be at Positive Choices 2015.

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