My name is Heather. I'm 30 years old and mum to a wonderful little boy Blake, now two years old, who has Down’s syndrome.
I've worked at Mencap for over ten years, and if I hadn’t I’m not sure I would have gone through with the pregnancy because I might not have known what a good life he could lead, and I might not have believed I’d have the strength to do it. The system certainly doesn't make it easy for people to make a choice – it is just assumed that you’ll have an abortion.
That is why I want to use our story to raise awareness, to try and change things for future parents and parents-to-be so that they are fully informed when they have tough choices to make. I'm also just a proud mum and want to show off about my little boy!
When I was 14 weeks pregnant, my partner Simon and I were told our son would have Down’s syndrome. We never even considered an abortion.
My decision was based on my work with people with a learning disability and their families – knowing the happiness that is possible, and knowing just how much people with a learning disability can achieve and enjoy in their lives.
I think for Simon it was a bigger leap of faith, but he really trusted me and my experience and supported me all the way.
We were referred to a bigger hospital for specialist support, but I was shocked to hear “I'm so sorry” from so many doctors and nurses. You’re just sitting in this blank canvas room, and you don’t get any positive or balanced information – just “I'm sorry.”
I said “well I'm not sorry – I'm going to be a mum for the first time and I couldn't be happier.” I think they were a bit shocked by that, but they kept their thoughts to themselves from then onwards.
I'm not saying it was easy – we had a few scary points during my pregnancy and we have been in and out of hospital since Blake was born as he has had some health complications. Blake underwent an emergency operation to save his life when he was a month old at the Children’s Heart Unit in Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital before spending the following two and a half months in the special care baby unit at Darlington Memorial Hospital trying to gain weight. But they were amazing and really looked after Blake and he’s getting stronger all the time.
At the beginning people were warning me that it would be a ‘lifelong commitment’ but I feel like any child is a lifelong commitment. And I'm determined to support Blake to live independently when he grows up if that’s what he wants to do.
I also know how loud you have to shout at times to get what you need from health and social care services, but I’m prepared for that.
If I could change anything, it would be to have more balanced information in those early days. I think it would be wonderful if parents-to-be could meet other families with disabled children, or even grown up people with a learning disability who are getting on with their lives. At the very least, there should be leaflets that tell you what will happen if you choose to have the baby, not just a stack of abortion leaflets. Of course everyone has the right to choice, but let it be a balanced choice.
At the end of the day, all that matters is that Blake’s a happy boy. And we’re happy parents.