Downright Joy

Discovering joy in unexpected places – a journey into Down's syndrome, Dyspraxia & Autism


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Rainbows & unicorns

rainbow in trees

Missing Person:

Goes by the name of Hope.

Last seen somewhere around New Year’s eve.

Reward for anyone who has information on her whereabouts.

I wanted to give my first child the name Hope – or at least her middle name. I didn’t in the end. Husband said at the time that the name reminded him of a hospital; a kind of Mercy Mission of Hope reminiscent of his former Catholic upbringing. So we opted for something else.

(Apologies to anyone reading who is called Hope by the way – I still think it’s a lovely name.)

Hope is the reason I write this blog. I may not possess many academic qualifications in life but I do possess hope. And I think I am qualified to speak about it.

Hope is what I have been given over and over throughout my life, in so many situations. Even when there seemingly was no hope. I was given it. I didn’t create it. I didn’t fabricate it. I didn’t conjure it up. It was given to me and I took it. But I did look for it. More than I looked for anything else.

I was given it when I thought I’d never be able to have children.

I was given it when I was hours from death in Intensive Care as all my major organs were shutting down. Intensive Care is a place that, understandably, generates fear for many right now. For me, it generates hope more so.

I was given it when my daughter Hazel was born with Down’s syndrome. My GP gave it to me. He told me what I needed to hear over and above the voices of doom that had told me what a terrible thing it is to have a baby with Down’s syndrome.  He gave me hope that life, although never the same, would still be worth living…and not just at some point in the future when everything was back to normal. It would never be back to normal. But it could be, would be worth living.

Hope was given to me when Hazel was so very seriously ill and we did not know if she would survive.

And here’s the thing. The hope I had was not reassurance that she would be ok, that I would be ok,  or that we would be ok. We weren’t ok. Neither was she. She was very, very ill. Dangerously so, and I had been too.

The hope I was given, was that through it all, somehow, fear would not have the final word. Fear of what was happening would not define how we lived, how we responded to each other or to the situation we found ourselves in. Hope meant that the fear we were so readily inclined to feel would not have the final say in our thoughts and uncertainties we carried about the future. We knew things could get worse, we did not live in some kind of false hope that all would be well. It might not be.  But life would have hope. Hope is about the here and now as much as it is about the future. If anything it matters more, here and now, than in 2, 3 or 10 or 20 years down the line. Fear is to be expected but hope is vital. Now.

And Hope is missing.

Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, hope is being looked for but it is largely being concealed by fear. Fear seems to choke the life out of hope. Fear grips like nothing else can. Fear is spread whether through word of mouth, news images, misinformation, or simply because there is danger and we are afraid. Fear is the natural response. There is real danger. People are dying and families are hurting; I do not seek to minimise anyone’s pain or suffering for a moment.

But fear does not have to be the only response.

The hope I have is that my life and the lives of those I know and love, however long or short, will not be dominated by fear. It’s the life I see my daughter who has Down’s syndrome living too. She lives a life of daily acceptance. It is a life that is permeated by hope, not fear. Yet she has had more than her fair share of difficult experiences. Still she does not fear the way most people do.

Hope has been given to me out of love. When I was so ill it was from people who lovingly did their job and saved my life. People who cared and people who knew that my fears, however well founded, were not the only thing at play. My faith too plays a part. A God given hope that can confront fear even when facing the threat of death itself – which I have – of my own and that of my children both inside the womb and out.

And perfect love drives out fear – a simple, yet profound bible verse I choose to take hold of and speak out over my own life, my own fears.

It is vital that people are given hope. Not false hope, but real hope.

Hope doesn’t necessarily mean a way out of something, such as a vaccine,(important though that is) or even a way through something. Hope is not about believing in Unicorns. Hope means being able to live in the moment without being paralysed by fear of what may or may not happen. Hope means being able to carry on when all around you are telling you to do or live otherwise. I’m not talking of being reckless here or promoting selfish behaviours. I’m just saying that there is another story to be told, another truth to take hold of. Fears may come to pass, they may not.

Hope speaks of living free from those fears.

Parents who find out the baby they are expecting may have Down’s syndrome are rarely offered hope. They are offered lots of other things – many of them good and well intentioned. Information they receive is improving. It should no longer be outdated (though often is), due to the efforts of many in our own Down’s syndrome community.  Yet even we’ve convinced ourselves that is all they need. The right information in order to make the right decision for them. Yet how many women go to their prenatal scans simply looking for information? Most are also looking for hope too. If, as most parents of children with Down’s syndrome will tell you, life is still worth living and full of hope, then why is that not the first thing women are told when they find out their baby might have Down’s syndrome? Is it because fear has a stranglehold on hope? Fear has the final word. Hope is not even allowed to enter the waiting room, let alone the discussion in the scan room.

In times of crisis, personal or global, hope is needed more than ever. Rainbows have appeared in windows and balconies around the world. People are looking for hope in a world gripped by fear. Rainbows are real even if unicorns aren’t.

Perfect love drives out fear. People with Down’s syndrome are, in my experience, people who love unconditionally – often more than most. And, as a consequence, fear is driven out. It has no place in their lives in the same way that it so often has in others.

My daughter Hazel has Down’s syndrome. She brings hope as well as joy to this world. And hope is needed more than ever.

People with Down’s syndrome are needed more than ever.

#dontscreenusout

 


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Turtles

Shopping lists and signing for deliveries has been the extent of my writing achievements lately.

Weeks of Hazel’s poor health and the sudden serious illness and subsequent loss of one of my dearest friends has stopped me in my tracks. And, though the words have not come so easily, I have at least had some time away to stop and reflect.

Last week we found ourselves on an almost empty beach, having arrived late in the day. The sun was casting long shadows across the beach and the sand was still warm underfoot.

Hazel loves the sand. Did I say she loves the sand? She LOVES it!

The moment we placed her down on the picnic blanket she was off. At speed.

For a child that cannot walk or even stand unaided this was a sight to behold as she bottom shuffled away across the beach. Arms raised as she went; chasing after the long shadow her tiny frame was making in the evening sun.

Have you ever seen the tracks that are made in the sand by baby turtles as they head for the sea? With all their might they propel themselves forward, their little bodies longing to be in the water where they swim freely. A trail of wavy lines in the sand; evidence of their struggle and determination to reach their destination.

Hazel left similar tracks as she crossed the sand.

Before we arrived at the beach we had been in a children’s play area.

I generally hate play areas.

Mostly because they are a reminder to me of what both my children can’t do. My eldest has her own physical struggles with hypermobility. Play equipment has been a huge challenge for her, not least because most of her friends can use it with ease.  In Hazel’s case it is often simply inaccessible. Though some playgrounds are more disabled friendly than others, largely their equipment is off limits to her.

Yet here, in the sand, Hazel had freedom. She was not hindered in any way. It didn’t matter that she could not run or walk or even stand up on that beach. Hazel took enormous pleasure from what she could do, from all she could enjoy in her own unique way. She didn’t need toys. A bucket and spade was of no interest to her. The feeling of the sand in her fingers and toes was enough to keep her attention – for hours! She did not tell us how much she was enjoying herself. She can’t do that – at least not verbally. But the joy on her face and the fact she did not turn back for reassurance told us all we needed to know. Hazel was happy. She had all she needed.

Hazel does not eat food. She is tube fed. Food holds no interest for her – yet. But sand….sand would go into her mouth quite happily. And, by the time we left the beach later that evening, she was literally covered from head to foot. Almost camouflaged.

The turtles eventually reach their destination, though it is a perilous journey, full of struggle. They don’t give up. And, once there, they swim freely.

Hazel will eventually reach her destination. She will eventually walk, she will eventually eat. She will eventually talk – even this week she had made advances with this. I, on the other hand, have felt like giving up recently. Too many sadnesses and difficulties to face. I haven’t wanted to keep going. Yet Hazel, as ever, is my little joy giver. It’s hard to stay sad when she is around. And she teaches me so much about perseverance and courage. Hazel doesn’t give up. She chooses joy and is content with simple pleasures.

My dear, precious friend, Vicky, for whom I, and so many others, now grieve, made it across the sand. She reached her destination – far sooner than any of us would have wanted or expected. She knew where she was going and lived her life in the light of it; constantly urging others to make their lives count. Her faith in God permeated every part of her life. Heaven was so real to her, and, when the time came, I don’t think she was afraid to go there. The tracks she has left are permanent ones. Life changing even. I thank God for her, but I miss her so very much.

Hazel is a little further across the sand this week. And so am I.

20150731_174029

In memory of Vicky Taylor, who made every second of her one precious life count.

Miss you so very much, but I know you’re having a ball x

Vicky Taylor photo