It’s never a nice thing, or an easy thing to be told that there is something wrong with the baby you have waited so long for.
There is no kind way of breaking difficult news. But whatever it was, I seemed to be surrounded by people who were looking out for me and Sam.
I remember when Sam was a tiny little baby it seemed to be constantly raining. For days, I did nothing but gaze longingly out of the window, in between feeds and nappy changes, wishing the torrents of water that streamed down the patio doors would hurry up and go away.
I wanted the sea of mud that surrounded me to dry up, in part so that I could get outside and shake off the cabin fever, but also so that I could play with my lovely new travel system (great colours and suspension) and show my lovely new baby off. For a little while there, it was like a Keep Nancy In conspiracy. Everyone who came to visit told me I was mad to want to go into the bleak February outside. And, once I was home, I had a LOT of visitors.
It took me a while to escape the clutches of the hospital, but once they were sure that I wasn’t going to wobble down the stairs and break my leg, and that Sam didn’t have a heart defect such that we would have to swap one hospital ward for another, I was allowed to return home, and take my baby with me. Where it seemed that everyone wanted to visit. Almost the entire family, from long-lost aunts to my parents and sister, came to coo before the first two weeks were out, but, after the restrained hullaballo of the maternity ward, it was quiet.
For a while there it had seemed as if I would never get home. There were blood tests for me, blood tests for him, debates over feeding, debates over whether or not he had Down’s at all. It took three days for the test results to come in. We had been told, the day he was born, that it was likely that he had a chromosomal abnormality, Trisomy 21 being the chief suspect, but up until the moment when a gaggle of medics with long faces headed up the ward to my private room, I refused to quite believe it.
I mean, I decided that I didn’t care, that I still loved him, that I was still proud of this baby I had managed to produce, but still; every time I went near a bath, the tears leaked out, and I wrestled with my deep desire not to have to take on the added responsibility of bringing up a child with additional needs.
I can still vividly recall that moment when they confirmed what everybody really knew. There was a collection of them, dressed in the NHS uniform of beige trousers and lavender/bluey shirts and one of them had an accent that reminded me of the character in the Fast Show, the painter, who didn’t like the colour black. ‘It could be worse...’ kept flitting through my brain, the ridiculousness of the situation filling me up with an inappropriate desire to laugh.
It’s never a nice thing, or an easy thing to be told that there is something wrong with the baby you have waited so long for. There is no kind way of breaking difficult news. But whatever it was, I seemed to be surrounded by people who were looking out for me and Sam.
There was the midwife who took him onto her knee to help her with reception so that I could get something to eat. There was the midwife who helped me to get him started on the journey to breastfeeding, who chased away the one who stuck a bottle in his mouth. And when I got home there were all the visitors. Our new GP came round (we had only just moved house a week before). The community paediatrician came round (she had to endure a lecture on woodwork from my father-in-law). The community midwife came round – for longer than she needed to, and brought colleagues with her, to introduce them to me and my baby. And the health visitor.
Health visitors come in for a lot of stick, but mine, she who bustled in and out of my house with her scales and measuring whatnots, she who refused to let me come out into the rain and cold and go down to the clinic for I can’t remember how long but it was ages, she sat with me, she drank cups of tea with me, we talked.
These people - this amazing team - they knew that I was working hard to assimilate my position, to figure out what I was supposed to be doing; they surrounded me, protected me. They joined with the women I had met through NCT antenatal classes and they heard the inner me, the one who knew that there was no such thing as normal, the one who didn’t care what anyone else thought and yet at the same time was worried about her ability to navigate the possibly stormy waters ahead.
They never pitied me. They never made a judgemental statement about Sam (other than to inform me that his hair was not, in fact, blond, like his father’s, but sandy red, like his uncle’s, or poke him when he refused to wake up for his 6 week check). They confirmed my desire to be pleased with him, to be glad that he was here, to celebrate the fact that we both made it out of the delivery suite in one piece. They let me find my feet. They showed me there was solid ground.