Pregnant at 15 with Down’s syndrome baby
Catherine was just a child herself, and now she had a child of her own with special needs. Was she mad to try and be a mum to him ?
When she fell pregnant with a Down’s Syndrome baby at the aged just 15, single mum Catherine was determined to prove wrong those who doubted she could cope on her own with a disabled child at such a young age.
The pretty teenager loved her son unconditionally, but feared that having him meant it impossible that anyone would ever love her.
What lad her age would be willing to date a teenage girl with a baby, let alone one with special needs?
She vowed to dedicate her life to her son so when she got chatted up one day when he was a year old, Catherine responded by telling her admirer she was single teenage mum with a Down’s baby.
Barely a whisper past his teenage years himself at 20, she had expected him to run a mile. Instead he asked her out.
Now two years on Nathan, now 22, has taken on the role of dad to Tyler, two, and asked – eighteen year old Catherine to marry him.
She said: ‘when I had a Down’s baby at 16 people wrote me off. It was like they thought my life was over and I didn’t know why.
‘I admit that I didn’t think any young guys would be willing to shoulder all the responsibility I come with but perhaps I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge in the way people judged me.
‘I might be young but I know I’m a good mum and Nathan has become a brilliant dad. Having my son was the best thing that ever happened to me and far from bleak, our future together as a family is very rosy.’
As I got ready for school, I realised it was PE today. And as I threw my kit in my bag it suddenly crossed my mind that I hadn’t had a period for…well, ages. Frowning, I ran downstairs.
In the kitchen I looked at the big wall calendar and counted back four, five , six weeks – yep, my period was definitely late.
I was 15, had just split up with my boyfriend. The last thing I needed was this.
‘Mum!’ I called. ‘Can you come here a minute please?’
Some girls would have kept it a secret for weeks, scared their mum would hit the roof, but mine wasn’t like that.
‘Are you sure, love?’ she asked, her face lining with worry.
‘I don’t know,’ I said, a tear running down my cheek. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Well don’t let’s panic yet,’ she said, driving me to the chemist to pick up a pregnancy test.
Locked in the bathroom back home I prayed I’d been wrong. I’d been sensible, gone on the Pill when I’d started sleeping with my boyfriend. But then the blue line appeared. I felt sick.
‘Maybe it’s wrong?’ I said weakly.
But six more positives later, there was no doubt.
Mum took me to the doctor. He agreed my Pill had somehow failed. Perhaps I’d forgotten to take one?
He talked me through my options. I was overwhelmed.
But when he mentioned a termination, I shook my head. There was no way I could go through with it.
‘I want to have the baby,’ I said.
‘It’s your decision,’ Mum said.
Back home in the car I was silent.
‘We’ll get through this together,’ Mum promised, leaning over to squeeze my hand.
But all I could think about was how much my life would change. Ever since I’d been a little girl I’d wanted to be a vet but there was no way that was going to happen now.
My friends thought I was mad. Why would I want to say goodbye to school discos and boys and hello to a screaming baby and dirty nappies?
As my bump began to swell, we drifted apart.
The hospital kept a close eye on me, because of my age we assumed. I had scans every month.
‘Everything’s fine.’ The radiographer smiled after each one.
But then at 20 weeks, a frown crossed her face. She went to get a consultant.
‘We’re struggling to find a fourth valve on your baby’s heart,’ he explained.
I gripped Mum’s hand. What did that mean? Was my baby ill?
But by the end of the afternoon, everything was OK.
‘Just one of those things,’ the midwife reassured. ‘There’s no need to worry.’
Five weeks later, I found out I was carrying a boy. I was excited. I started thinking about names, picking up blue babygros when Mum took me shopping.
She was excited about becoming a granny too – even though she was only 37.
But what none of us knew was that my baby boy had Down’s Syndrome…
As my bump grew I started to worry about giving birth. I remembered the films we’d seen at school. All blood and gore.
But when I pushed baby Tyler, 6lb, into the world almost three months later, all I remember is how perfect he looked.
‘He’s beautiful,’ Mum wept as he was placed in my arms.
And he really was. All tiny and pink.
But unbeknown to me the midwives had spotted the signs for Down’s syndrome.
‘Just routine,’ they promised as they carried him off for tests.
A few hours later, he was wheeled down to the ward with me.
My family piled in to visit, agreed he was gorgeous.
‘Well done, love,’ they smiled.
But I only had eyes for Tyler. I couldn’t believe I’d produced such a beautiful baby.
‘Try and get some rest now,’ the midwives said after everyone had gone. ‘You’ve had a hard day.’
Later that night as I lay sleeping, they scooped Tyler out of his cot.
‘Where are you taking him?’ I asked groggily. More tests. Exhausted, I slipped easily back into sleep.
The next morning he was back in his cot sleeping contentedly.
Then Mum arrived. I expected her to coo over Tyler but instead she perched awkwardly on the end of the bed. I could see from her face she’d been crying.
‘What’s the matter, Mum?’ I asked, sitting up in bed.
She looked at the cot and then at me, her eyes welling with tears.
‘What is it?’ I asked, worried now. ‘Is it Tyler? Is he OK?’
She shook her head, not saying a word.
I started to cry. ‘Is he going to die?’ I sobbed.
‘No,’ she said, taking my hand. ‘But there is something wrong with Tyler.’
I could see she was struggling to get the words out.
‘What is it?’ I begged. ‘Tell me.’
‘You know Honey and Billy Mitchell’s baby, Janet, on Eastenders?’ she said. ‘Well Tyler has the same condition as her. He has Down’s syndrome.’
I started shaking with shock. My mind went blank, struggling to take in what this would mean for us all, but especially Tyler.
Sobbing, I reached into the cot and picked Tyler up. I started to cry. I looked at his little face, knew he was utterly dependent on me. And in that minute, I knew –
‘He’s my son,’ I said. ‘I’ll take whatever comes with him.’
I might only be 15 but I knew as his Mum, it was my job to give him the best life I could.
‘I’m so proud of you,’ Mum said. ‘You’ll do a brilliant job, I know.’
The consultant explained that Tyler had a heart murmur and would need constant tests and care. It was daunting, but I knew I had to just get on with it.
The next morning I took Tyler home to Mum’s. My sister Suzanne, then 18, and brother Ryan, 13, lived there too.
It was hard learning to look after a new born. There was always something to – feeding, changing, bathing – and Tyler was an unsettled baby. I was up very hour in the night trying to soothe him.
Mum was brilliant but she knew when to step back to let me bond with Tyler, too.
‘Get some sleep now yourself,’ she said when Tyler finally drifted off.
But I spent every spare minute online, finding out as much as I could about Down’s syndrome. When I learnt that some heart defects are known to be associated with genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, it made me think back to my 20 week scan…
The more I read, the more it frightened me. What would the future hold for Tyler?
Would he be able to walk and talk and hear and see? What education would he have?
When Tyler was three-weeks-old I turned 16. I went back to my studies at a new school which had a crèche.
It was great to be out and about again but people could be so cruel.
One man stared at Tyler in his pram and and walked away in disgust.
Other kids would shout out cruel remarks – ‘Ha ha! You produced a window licker!’
But what anyone else said wasn’t important. Tyler was my son and I was so proud of him.
My family thought the world of him too. They accepted him unconditionally. They were so protective about me and Tyler, too, especially my eldest sister Sarah, 19.
Five months on, Tyler and I moved into a place of our own, just around the corner from Mum. I wanted to show people I could do this on my own.
While other girls my age started college and planned their Friday nights out, I was now full time carer to a disabled baby rushing between appointments with specialists and doctors.
We spent a lot of time at The Royal Victoria Hospital For Children in Belfast. Tyler had constant appointments – heart scans for his murmurs, weekly physio, and treatment for recurring liver and bladder infections.
It wasn’t easy. But I never once doubted my decision to keep Tyler. He was the happiest most loving baby and I couldn’t imagine being without him.
But deep down I knew her hopes of being a vet were over and most likely finding love too. What guy her age could cope with her life?
When Tyler was nine months I went to a charity disco event. I recognised the organiser from school – he’d been two years above me.
After a while he came over to chat to me.
‘So what have you been up to recently?’ he asked.
‘I have a son, Tyler, nine months,’ I said. I showed him a picture – ‘He’s got Down’s syndrome.’
‘He’s gorgeous,’ he smiled.
We exchanged numbers and started texting.
The following week we met up. He was tall, fair and handsome. I couldn’t believe he was interested in me.
But he was. Soon we were seeing each other every few days.
‘Come and meet Tyler,’ I said three weeks after we’d started dating.
‘Hello little fella,’ Nathan cooed, bending down to where Tyler was laying in his play mat.
Tyler looked up and gave him a massive smile.
‘Looks like you got the seal of approval,’ I said happily.
Mum thought he was lovely too.
Soon, we became a couple. After four months, he moved in.
He was brilliant with Tyler. And Tyler thought the world of him too. His whole face lit up when he came in the room.
As the months passed, I began to relax. Did it really matter that Tyler was different? While he struggled to meet his milestones, he was a happy, loving child with a ‘Mama; and ‘Dada’ – the only two words he could master – that he thought the world of, and who thought the world of him too. Wasn’t that the most important thing?
Life felt pretty good.
Then, a few days after Tyler’s second birthday, Nathan surprised me with a treasure hunt leading to a square diamond ring.
‘Will you marry me?’ the note tied to it said.
‘Yes!’ I squealed.
Now we could be a proper family. I was delighted. And so was Tyler. He giggled excitedly, hugged me and Nathan tight.
Now, four months on, we’re planning our wedding and Tyler is a happy toddler due to start pre-school. He’s a happy child and very, very loving.
Don’t get me wrong, life isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s very hard work. Tyler has speech problems and struggles to drink fluids. He’s also unsteady on his feet and needs a disabled buggy to get around. He’s prone to infections and is still in and out of hospital but thankfully his heart problems have now cleared up.
Looking back, I feel angry that I wasn’t told straight away that Tyler had Down’s syndrome. Even though I was his mum, I felt like I was the last person to know.
But I’ve put that behind me now. I’m just so happy to have the privilege of seeing Tyler grow up. Rather than being the end of my life, having a baby with Down’s was just the start.