If parenthood is the great leveller, then the discovery that your new baby has a disability mows across your life like a steamroller; nothing is spared. Or at least this is how it was for me with the arrival of our long-awaited son.
Home births and holistic healthcare are the norm in our family, and baby number three arrived quickly and silently into my arms with just our little girls and three others in the room. There he was – warm, limp, vulnerable and begging to be loved. The room filled with joy; so I daren’t breathe a word, but I knew straight away that our baby boy had Down syndrome.
In That Moment, My ‘First’ Career Ended. Priorities Were Torn Down And Rebuilt, Demons Were Confronted And Decisions Were Made. And Of Course The Tears Followed...
Not being in the hospital system, there was no particular ‘process’ for our little boy, but we had to wait a week for the diagnosis to be confirmed. A week of torture it was too, filled with much emotion and research online. Mostly, the research was demoralising. Each article built on the notion that our son would be nothing like our daughters. ‘These children’, we read, would ‘inevitably’ develop an array of ailments and issues. He’d be plagued by ill-health, our local hospital would become an extension of our living room; he’d struggle to integrate into society, and life would never be the same. For any of us.
This situation was painted as completely beyond our control. Acceptance was essential and the sooner the better.
As part of this traditional Down syndrome paradigm, medical intervention seemed inevitable; a natural approach to parenting seemed to be an impossibility. My holistic parenting ambitions seemed to be a thing of the past.
It was all I could do to maintain my basic confidence as Gryffin’s mother when each article predicted that our son’s chromosomal make-up would determine every aspect of his future. I read about intellectual disability and the ‘effectiveness’ of smart drugs. Prozac was advocated for children with Downs – to boost brain function and prevent undesirable outcomes. In the context of terrifying articles like these, my drug-free approach seemed frail and antiquated; kids were apparently being put onto these medications for the long term. Welcome to a brave new world...
But I knew I couldn’t do that to any child of mine and I hung onto the occasional hopeful story – the ones which were harder to find. Some parents were using supplements to help with immunity and even brain function. There were anecdotes about children who achieved something extraordinary – swam the English channel or played concert violin, against the odds.
Maybe There Was Hope For Our Boy?
Even in these early days, Joseph and I refused to believe the horror stories. Arrogant, blind optimists – perhaps, but we thought that, as his parents, we could make a difference and we chose to keep our dreams and expectations high for our son, just as we had before the birth.
With a head full of new terminology and an ember of hope, I took little Gryffin to see our family doctor and a paediatrician. I asked them for help in this daunting new quest. I honestly don’t know what I expected, but a booklet would have been good, discussing natural options for optimising our son’s health and development. Or maybe a referral to an organisation which offered strategies for families looking for holistic help for ‘special needs’ children. But our doctor had nothing. Our paediatrician said, ‘Don’t waste your money on omega 3s – buy a big TV’.
I hugged my son and vowed to find a way.
I’ve Never Felt So Daunted As I Did At This Point. I Had No Medical Background, No Clue What My Baby Needed And No-One To Help Me Work It Out
What I did have, however, was a husband who completely agreed with me and support from parents who were completely supportive of us and our goals. Collectively, we refused to believe that this diagnosis had to mean low achievement and expectations. I ended my fashion career and began my new life as mama-therapist and full-time student of natural and alternative options for helping our son achieve his absolute best.
And what an extraordinary 6 six years it has been!
What I’ve learnt since Gryffin’s birth can benefit any child... I’ve learnt how our dietary choices affect our moods, behaviour and neurological development… how the equipment we use with our kids – like prams and rockers – can affect their mobility and how in turn this mobility can affect development and brain function. Our work has helped him to overcome allergies, grow fitter than expected, to become alert, more active and physically strong. At 12 months our paediatrician pronounced Gryffin ‘disgustingly healthy’. At 18 months, he could read….
We’ve used many natural therapies and approaches to help Gryffin: supplements, homoeopathy, organic / clean food, yoga, osteopathy, NAET/EBT and naturopathy have been key, as has a home-based therapy method from The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia. This organisation teaches parents how to help their own children to achieve their best, despite a neurological compromise of any kind.
Some of these natural therapies had not been done so intensely with a young child with Down syndrome before, yet some of his improvements were achieved overnight; Gryffin’s tongue stopped hanging out of his mouth as a direct result of non-invasive ‘natural’ treatments and astigmatism was healed. Today Gryffin has no vision issues and his hearing is perfect also. Through osteopathic treatment, we watched Gryffin’s head shape change from having the typical flat facial profile associated with Down syndrome, to being more ‘typical’ in profile.
Throughout all of this, our results were so significant and exciting – not only to us but to our practitioners – I decided to document everything. Maybe our experiences could provide others with the holistic roadmap we had been looking for at the start?
Three years down the track, Gryffin was so exceptional I published a book to help other parents navigate their way through what is a minefield of information – all the more so for an emotionally wrought parent with, often, no medical background or understanding. I followed my gut and found a path which works – and now others are following this path too.
My beautiful son, at six, is a far cry from what we were led to believe was possible to begin with. He is healthy, super bright, extremely active and conversational and he attends a mainstream school. He is rarely sick and has none of the forecast illnesses. He’s only ever had medication (antibiotics) twice in his life, but nothing now since he was one. For a child who is supposed to have a compromised immune system, this is quite an achievement!
Gryffin’s ‘program’ continues as we work to improve a few last things – speech for example still needs some work. But for the most part, our wonderboy abounds with confidence and energy for life, just like his sisters. But all of this has been hard-won. It’s been a marathon family effort, crawling around our house, making books and educational materials and completing endless laps of the monkey bars! Incorporating therapy into play has become commonplace in our daily lives and we couldn’t ask for a more co-operative child who truly sees the benefits of the work that he does, at times asking for exercises and even vitamins!
Through working full time with my son, I now know that any child has the potential to be fit, strong, literate, healthy and intellectually vibrant. Parents hold the key.