Charlie’s Story

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It would have been more of a surprise if the doctor hadn’t said anything. He was wearing a neutral, Resigned expression, in contrast to the lighter demeanour that characterised our earlier moments with him.

Charlie was four hours old by now. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl and although we had a few names lined up we were quick to settle on Charlie. I telephoned everyone who needed to know ‘it’s a boy …… six pounds eight ounces. ……Four o’clock this morning. Charlie. Yeah, she’s okay, tired.’

I loved phoning everyone up. I’d waited a long time for this moment and I knew friends and family would be delighted. They were. Charlie was the first grandchild on either side of our families so this was a special event.

Other than the phone calls, there was nothing much to do while Charlie was sleeping in his plastic box. My wife needed a few supplies from home that we hadn’t thought to pack, so this was a good moment to pop out and sort out a few domestic matters.

‘I just need to have a word with you and your wife if that’s okay’ was what the doctor said. He was coming up the stairs to the maternity ward, I was going down.

A few minutes after Charlie was born and cleaned up he was laid down in a perspex cot in the delivery room. One of the junior doctors checked him over, made sure he was breathing and asked me if I wanted to hold him while the surgeon repaired his damaged mother. I didn’t say anything. To be honest, I was too afraid to mention it but Charlie’s eye lids seemed to narrow towards his little nose, cutting across the corners. I remember thinking ‘it’s my paranoia; my imagination; don’t be silly; someone would have said something by now; they would have noticed and said something if he had Down’s Syndrome’. So I put the idea out of my head and handed him to my wife. She threw up on him immediately but that’s not relevant to this story.

The walk back up the stairs, into the maternity ward again and round to the end of my wife’s bed was about twenty metres but it took hours. I said nothing and neither did the doctor. He picked up Charlie, kissed him on the back and said ‘he’s beautiful’. The doctor had told us all he needed to tell us, then he added the reasons why he believed Charlie probably had Down’s Syndrome.

Phoning up all the friends and family again was a struggle. As long as I kept it short and to the point I managed to avoid breaking down but I was welling up with every new call. This was not what was supposed to happen.

I don’t know how I would react. Some people said ‘congratulations’, some said ‘oh dear’ some didn’t say anything but I could hear them crying. Others said ‘they’re very loving’ or ‘they’re very musical’ or ‘it’s like booking a holiday to Italy and ending up in Holland because the flight was re-directed’. It’s still like that now, three years later. ‘Oh dear’ is winning. Now I challenge this response along with the other stereotypical images people have of Down’s Syndrome – in a nice way.

But at the time it was difficult to tell people.

I couldn’t wait to get in the car to be on my own when I left hospital that first evening. Charlie was only seventeen hours old. I’d had enough of being brave; worrying about everyone’s reaction; talking about the rest of our lives; worrying about Charlie’s future; worrying about how I would cope. I just wept. I wondered if it would be better if Charlie didn’t survive.

Through my tears I started apologising out loud, in the car, on my own ‘I’m sorry Charlie, I’m sorry Charlie’ over and over. And then things were better and I was ready to be brave again.

Three years on it’s funny looking back to that time. Funny how quickly fear can turn to pride. Those tears seem ridiculous now.

We booked a holiday to Italy and ended up in Hawaii.