Just over ten years and a few weeks ago, our youngest daughter Natalia quietly and swiftly made her entrance into our world. A gentle birth, a soft soul and a rare delicate beauty came together that day.
|Reunited with the nurses who changed our lives|
The identification of Down's syndrome and a heart condition was a shock to us, something we weren't expecting, or at least had shut from the consciousness of possibility.
But there she was, vulnerable yet with immense strength and determination, a unique individual ready to smash her way through stereotypes, a tiny person in need of support yet our greatest teacher in the making.
|Natty's early days in NICU seem so long ago|
And while we floundered pathetically, grasping for acceptance, climbing the learning curve from naivety to reality, it was a skilled team of experts who held us all afloat. They were our safety net. The teams of neonatal staff in NICU not only stabilised Natty, got her well enough to learn to feed and come home with us some weeks after her slightly early arrival, but held us all together. They made us bond.
I often describe having a baby who has to spend time in hospital care as feeling as if they aren't yours somehow.
You are afriad to touch or help with their care for fear of hurting them, or doing the wrong thing. You ask permission before holding them close, changing a nappy or helping with a feed. The environment is wholly alien, clinical, sterile with the smells and sounds that accompany that. I remember the bins lids shutting, the beeps of monitors, the smell of antibac and squeaky floors as clearly as if it were yesterday.
I recall too the heart-stopping fear each time the phone rang if I had popped home to shower, change clothes or cuddle Mia with a book before bedtime. Each ring surely meant that our baby hadn't made it.
Cold shudders too the morning I arrived and found our baby's bay empty. What had happened in the night? Where was she? Hearing that moving up the bays meant she was improving was one of the happiest days of my life.
And all the while the constant, firm confidence of the teams who smiled and listened, who told stories of other families, their experiences, who brought tea and slowly but surely filled us with the knowledge that we could indeed do it. We were up to the job of being Natty's parents.
Role Model Nurse
One woman in particular played a vital role in this. A neo-natal nurse with a difference. She has a daughter who also has an extra chromosome and just at a point when we couldn't imagine a way forward, when we could never again envisage a trip to the beach, a walk in the park or a typical family party, she leant us a small photo album. The book had been seen by many other families before and contained the pictures of her ordinary family events.
I recall the joy at seeing children digging sandcastles together, siblings sharing a bath, sitting round on a living room floor near a Christmas tree. I spent hours soaking up the 'normality' of these photos and trying to look ahead to where our own family was heading.
Looking Back with Gratitude
So when a decade came to pass since we left that safe setting and trusted ourselves to cope with naso-gastric tubes and heart monitors and ordinary every day baby care at home, we felt it was time to return and properly thank the teams for all they had done.
A crowd-sourced basket of gifts was filled. By which I meant that I asked Downs Side Up readers to make suggestions, thank you all.
All manner of teas and foot sprays, hand creams and bath bombs, not to mention lots and lots of black pens (who knew they would be such a hit with medical staff!) and a copy of our I Love You Natty book were taken back to that ward in our local hospital.
As we rode in the lift the memories returned of how hard it was to walk past visitors to the maternity ward arriving with balloons and fluffy bears, at a time when we were yet to receive a congratulatiory card.
The kindly nurses who had cared so perfectly for us all were still there. They even remembered us. I struggled to say just how much we owed them, it all became a bit jumbled. I knew they were busy and thankfully we didn't actually go in. For I left a mass of deep emotions behind those secure doors that are probably best left untouched.
Fate Reunited Us
And as we returned home I talked idly of the nurse who had shared her private snaps just to help us in our time of need, a nurse who in truth inspired this blog at the very beginning with A Photo Gallery of Hope. She hadn't been there that day. I hoped she would get to read the card I left for them all and know just what she had done for us.
Next day she was again far from my mind as I stood in a packed supermarket with my weekly shop. A jovial older couple stood behind me, and for some reason I let them go in front of me. They only had a few bits, it wasn't fair for them to wait behind me. We chatted, they gave me a hug. I'd done my good deed for the day... or had fate stalled me?
I was slow to load my purchases and a lady behind me offered to put the last few bits onto the conveyor belt as I packed at the other end. How kind. The karma was in full flow.
We chatted and laughed, her easy smile such a rare delight. Such a comfort. So familiar somehow.
She must be a teacher or a nurse I thought to myself, someone in a caring role.
And just as I pocketed my credit card my mouth uttered, 'You look familiar, do you work in neonatal care?' It came from no-where, without my brain mulling it through.
She nodded, and in a second I knew it was her, the photo album owner. I hadn't seen her for 10 years and here she was helping me with my broccoli.
For the second time that week I flustered my thanks, how much she had changed our lives, how much I appreciated her gesture. I didn't say enough, I didn't hug her, or did I? The till operator smiled, piecing together our story.
The same album is still being used, now along with our book.
|10 years on and we are regular beach combers|
And right there fate had brought us full circle, right back to where we began exactly a decade before. It had showed us clearly how far we had come, lay the then and the now side by side for comparison. It had reminded us of the gratitude we must all have for the support we receive from others and that now, we in turn have a tiny part to play in paying it forward and helping others on the road behind us.