I was 21 years old and expecting my first child. It was 1970, the days before scans and tests for any anomalies in pregnancy.
I attended all my anti-natal checks, and always left with a strange feeling that although I was pregnant, something about my pregnancy was not the same as other expectant mums.
On the 16th May, I had to get up at about 5 in the morning to use the bathroom. I realised that I had been having tummy pains for a few hours, and although they were mild I knew they were early contractions. I went back to bed for a couple of hours only to be awakened to regular contractions, which progressed on and off for most of the day. I finally went to hospital that same evening. The pains stopped but I was kept in and, on the following morning, I started full-blown labour. After many hours I finally gave birth.
The second my daughter was born she was whisked away because they said that as she had taken so long to arrive, she was very cold and had to be incubated to warm her.
The date was Monday 17th May 1971, and she arrived at 3.55 in the afternoon. My Mum arrived that evening and was looking forward to seeing her grandaughter – but we were told that no one would be allowed to see her as she was in an incubator and had to be kept warm. I was not allowed any contact with her that night at all. I remember being so elated that I had a little girl and went to sleep with a smile on my face.
The following morning the nightmare began.
My baby was brought in to me so I could breastfeed her, but it proved impossible as she could not latch on at all.
A nurse came round to supposedly help, so she came to my bed and proceeded to roughly try to get my baby to feed. She made her cry and I was not far behind the tears myself. Then the ward rounds started and a young male doctor came round and proceeded to inform me that I would not be allowed to go home as planned as there was a doctor coming from another hospital to see me that evening. I asked why, and was quickly told it was not their job to say anything and that a specialist doctor would be there at 7.30 that night.
Listen: Mia Freedman speaks to Vanessa Cranfield about what happens when your daughter with Down syndrome grows up. Post continues after audio.
I was left on the main ward with no visitors allowed until the evening – these were the longest loneliest hours I had ever known.
The specialist was late by at least an hour and had to come from another hospital a distance away to see us.
His words will live with me forever: “I gather you already know what I have to tell you.”
That was it, before he said that a blood test had to be done and it would take a week or so to get the results.
The road ahead was very hard and I was continually told that this sort of child did not happen to young women of my age, it only happened to older mothers. I was in shock and did not have a clue what the future held, all I could see in my mind was a child being taken along with a stupid hair cut, long socks and frumpy clothes (sadly this is how they were usually dressed).