Kate, my 2 year old grand daughter, sat with me waiting for the phone to ring. Her new baby brother or sister was due at any time. Finally, a very proud and excited dad rang to say we had a little boy and that mother and baby were doing well. As soon as they were settled we could go to see him. A little while later dad rang to say that the doctors thought the baby had Down Syndrome.
I cannot describe the emotions I felt in those first few seconds before I had to answer. As a professional who had worked with young children for many years, I was not fazed by the baby having Down Syndrome, my thoughts were for my daughter and her husband. For me, from the time you have your own children you spend much of your life trying to keep them safe and happy, hoping their lives will go well. I knew I had to be strong, positive and supportive. They were already great parents and the baby could not have been born into a better family. I also knew that there would be much laughter and tears for us all in the years to come.
For me and Kate, seeing the baby for the first time was the best. He was her baby brother and my first grandson. Nothing can take that feeling away.
Life with Sam, as he was named, has been a wonderful and varied experience. I moved South to be closer to the family and have never regretted it. There have been anxious times due to medical issues and developmental delays. On the other hand, each step he achieved felt like he had won an Olympic medal. I have watched him enter mainstream school where he has grown in confidence and made good progress. Watching him, from the side lines, play football, rugby and cricket, with his friends, for his school team meant so much to me. His many performances in the school plays, dancing and in stagecoach always makes me cry along with all the other families. Sam, like all children, loves to succeed and show his growing independence. We are so proud of him. He is funny, cheerful, polite and most of all very empathetic and loving. He has certainly changed my outlook on life. Although family life has changed because he has needed more support and attention than usual the rewards are enormous. I feel that as a grandparent I have been able to help with this as well as being a listening ear when needed. Wherever I go with Sam he brightens someone’s life and certainly makes me smile.
Having Sam has taken all our lives in different directions to that we may have planned. However, our lives have been enriched not only by having Sam in it but by the many friends we have made along the way. I have been privileged to be involved in the setting up of DIGBIES for PSDS and working with children and their parents for some years. I have seen how the support, input and opportunities being created by PSDS have greatly helped the children reach their potential at each stage in their development. As a grandparent I am welcome and encouraged to come to all events and meetings where support is given to all family members. This has been great in helping me to support my family as Sam makes his way through life. For me, it has been brilliant to see how PSDS has responded to the changing needs of the children as they grow older. Being able to take part in a growing number of out of school activities with his friends is proving very popular!
Sam is very lucky to have such strong, loving parents and especially lucky to have a great sister in Kate. She is very protective of him but equally treats him like any other brother! So, going back to the beginning, my worries for my daughter will obviously never go away. She will continue to face challenges for Sam for years to come. However, being lucky enough to be closely involved over the past 11 years has made me confident that their lives, though different, have been greatly enhanced by both of their children in their own different ways. I am a very proud granny.
I was asked if I had any advice for grandparents just learning that their grandchild had Down syndrome. I wouldn’t even begin to offer advice but all I would say is that all our grandchildren are very special to us and they are children first. Being there for the whole family and enjoying time spent with them, is just part of what we do as grandparents.