In El Salvador, where I was born, there is a saying that ‘Every baby comes with a loaf of bread under their arm’.
My name is Rita, I’ve been married for 35 years to my husband Michael and we have 10 children. I’ve also had 5 miscarriages. When we were first married, I didn’t think I would be able to fall pregnant, because it didn’t happen straight away and you expect that it will. When I did fall pregnant we were very happy, and continued to have more children as we believed in welcoming as many children as God gave us. My pregnancies and births were routine and unproblematic, until my seventh child, the birth of which was a difficult and traumatic.
When I fell pregnant with my eighth child, I became very anxious. From the 3 month mark, I cried every day because of the fear of the impending birth, feeling that psychologically and physically, I was not able to go through it. In those days, epidurals were not easily given and elective caesareans were not an option, and the anxiety of the upcoming birth lasted the entire pregnancy. At the birth, I did have an epidural, and found it to be a magical experience! However, when I fell pregnant yet again, I suffered the same anxiety, fearing that I may not make it to the hospital in time for the epidural, and became depressed. After each doctor’s visit, I would come out crying for one reason or another. I pleaded with the doctor to perform an elective caesarean, however he refused, saying that if he did, he would take the liberty to tie my tubes. This is where I also experienced harsh criticism of my life choices and what I felt was the belittling of myself as a person.
This experience of intense and extreme anxiety prior to a birth, may be something that other women can possibly relate to. And in that situation where you are already vulnerable, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to have a support person at every doctor or midwives visit, because to hear even some small negative piece of news or criticism, can send you into a crisis situation. Back when I had my children, I had a great deal of wonderful support from the midwives, who would help with the baby at the hospital, where you were able to stay for as long as or longer than a week. I relied largely on friends, and the family culture that was more prominent in those days. Today I don’t think that culture exists to the same extent, and so for new mums of today I would highly recommend mother’s groups, playgroups and friends for that same support. My advice would be to become as informed as possible by speaking to other women and mothers, and even researching different topics on the internet.
The birth of my tenth son was an experience much like the previous 2, filled with anxiety. When Jos was born, initially we joyfully saw another baby just like the rest of his siblings. I remember commenting on how I had forgotten how ‘floppy’ babies are when they are first born, thinking all was well. However, within hours, it was discovered he had respiratory issues, and was taken away to be examined. It was also discovered he had blood abnormalities which were causing his body distress. We became very worried and wondered whether he would make it.
On the third day, the doctors performed chromosomal testing, and on the fifth day, it was confirmed that he had Downs Syndrome. We were, in fact, relieved to know that his condition was something that he could live with, that he would survive through and we would be taking him home! Nevertheless, it was still what I would describe as a ‘mega shock’. Some of those we encountered in the medical profession in those early days seemed to be of the opinion that I had given birth to a problem, rather than a child, and that was disappointing.
My faith helped me enormously in that time, not only to have had the courage to give birth to 10 children but to know that it was a beautiful path I was being led on. With the birth of Jos I discovered a new world, a beautiful world – something that when first faced with the shock of having a child with Downs Syndrome, you’re not told. Instead you are told that it will be a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of time and unknowns. It is that, but more than anything, it is beautiful in a way I never imagined. My whole world opened up, I discovered the beauty of humanity, and developed an appreciation of the medical profession who care for sick children, stemming from a genuine passion and love.
The challenges of having a child with Down Syndrome are much like those of having any child, however there are the added societal issues – an apparent fear of what is different. Jos however, is someone who wakes up happy, whose whole goal is to enjoy life. His attitude is priceless. I would rather have 10 children like him than one teenager! My husband and I often comment on where we would be without him, as he is our steady companion, now that the others have grown. For our family, I believe he has been a blessing, who has helped his siblings to not live superficially. For Jos, life is so uncomplicated – he lives life with a joy unique to him.