Alana Lorente, 30, a buyer, lives in Lancashire, with her husband, Paul, 29, and their daughter, Eva Grace, 20 months. Alana and Paul shared the journey of Eva Grace, who has Down’s syndrome, on Twitter.
A week after my 12-week scan I was called in to see the midwife. The results of the Down’s syndrome test I’d had showed that my baby had a one-in-seven chance of having the condition. It was a massive shock. My husband Paul and I decided to wait until I was 22 weeks pregnant before having an amniocentesis, a procedure where a small amount of fluid is extracted from the amniotic sac, to get a definitive diagnosis.
When I was told that my baby did have Down’s, the midwives said they’d support whatever decision I made about my pregnancy. There was never any doubt: Paul and I knew we were having this baby. I searched online for parents’ stories and found supportive social media groups celebrating the achievements of children with Down’s. My initial grief for the person my daughter was never going to be soon faded. There would be things she’d be able to do, and things she wouldn’t. But I knew she would thrive in her own way.
We gave her a nickname – Princess Batman – because I didn’t want people thinking of her as ‘the Down’s syndrome baby’. I thought that a cool alter ego was far more appropriate. And it reflected how positively I felt about having a child with Down’s. Not everyone was so encouraging when they found out the diagnosis, so this helped change perceptions. Also, I felt that people already knew a lot about our baby, so having a cryptic nickname was a way of keeping something secret.
My pregnancy was classed as high-risk, so instead of going to my local midwife-led unit, I planned to give birth in a hospital 10 miles away. I wanted a water birth without pain relief. Towards the end of my pregnancy I had lots of extra checks. I felt generally well, but I was showing signs of pre-eclampsia, such as swollen feet and high blood pressure. My consultant didn’t want to take any chances, so I was given a sweep and booked for an induction at 39 weeks.
I began to get tired of the constant messages from friends and family, asking if the baby was here yet. They meant well, but it made me feel under pressure. A few days before the induction, Paul said, ‘I’m going to tweet baby updates.’ Updating everyone in one go seemed like a great idea. And #PrincessBatman became the hashtag, so all the tweets could be grouped together. It soon caught on!
‘Hurry up, #PrincessBatman’ our friend Mike tweeted when Paul let everyone know. We arrived on the ward and I was given a pessary to kick-start the contractions.
As I lay on the bed, Paul by my side, it all started to feel real. I was excited and nervous. I was told my cervix was still closed and tilting backwards – not the ideal position for labour! To help things along, Paul and I walked around the hospital grounds for the next few hours. Tweeting made Paul feel more involved. He admitted that otherwise he felt a bit like a spare part at the hospital! Also, it took the pressure off me, because there was no need to reply to texts asking if the baby had arrived.
Back on the ward, a midwife moved us to our own room. Paul and I spent the next few hours chatting and watching Adventure Time, our favourite programme, on the tablet.
I willed my body to go into labour, but nothing happened. Paul went home at 8.30pm to get some sleep. At 10.15pm I felt tightenings, as if someone was squeezing me around my bump.
During the next hour they got stronger. I was calm and coping with the pain, but suspected that things were finally happening. ‘Oh, you’ll know if you’re in labour,’ the midwife said when I told her. I went with my instinct and dialled Paul. But he’s a heavy sleeper and didn’t answer. After trying several times, I started to get worried. What if the baby came while he was asleep?
In desperation I tweeted ‘Can’t get hold of Paul, in labour #PrincessBatman’. A friend saw it and went to bang on our front door! Finally, Paul was on his way. It was such a relief to see him at 12.30am. He whispered encouragement while I breathed through each contraction. Paul timed my contractions on his phone. They were every few minutes and so strong. ‘I’m tweeting that you’re screwing your face up!’ he teased. I was exhausted, and couldn’t have cared less! All that mattered was that I would soon meet our baby.
The midwife examined me and said I was 8cm dilated. The hard work hadn’t been for nothing! She managed to break my waters, then we were moved to another room which contained a birthing pool. I was desperate to get in. Before I could do that, I needed to be hooked up to a drip containing fluids, as I was getting dehydrated. I couldn’t get comfortable, and Paul admitted he felt a bit useless. At least keeping everyone updated on Twitter gave him a sense of purpose.
Finally lowering myself into the pool felt wonderful. By now the pain was all in my back. Paul sat beside me and passed me water to sip while I concentrated on keeping calm and breathing deeply. The midwife kept asking me if I wanted pain relief, but I stuck to my plan and refused. She even brought me gas and air, but I hardly used it. Knowing I was coping all by myself felt like an achievement.
Time seemed to stand still while I was in the pool. I laboured in there all the following morning, until almost 2pm when suddenly the contractions felt different. ‘Do what your body’s telling you to do,’ the midwife said. The sensations had changed to a low-down pressure and I started to bear down and push.
In between contractions, Paul told me what he’d just tweeted, and I got mad! ‘What are you doing?’ I shouted. He put his phone away sheepishly and concentrated on encouraging me. It took all my energy for the next 20 minutes to push my little girl out. In that time, the midwife got a mirror out to examine me and said she could see hair.
At 2.10pm I gave a huge push and felt the head come out. In the next contraction I felt a huge pressure and pushed her body out. The midwife scooped my daughter, Eva Grace, from the water and handed her to me. ‘Oh, hello!’ I said, seeing her massive eyes looking up at me. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. It felt so surreal.
The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. Several doctors rushed in to check on Eva Grace and after a couple of minutes she pinked up and started breathing normally. Paul tweeted our birth announcement.
As he read out the many reply tweets of congratulations I beamed with pride.
Eva Grace and I spent the next week in hospital, where she had check after check. Because babies with Down’s are often sleepy and have reduced muscle tone, establishing breastfeeding was tough. But as soon as we were back home, in a relaxed environment, feeding got easier. And it was only when we’d got home that I finally felt that Eva Grace was mine. We soon formed a strong bond.
When I look back at Paul’s birth tweets, I feel so proud. They jog my memory about the order of all the tiny details. Eva Grace amazes me every day with her achievements. With fantastic support from specialists, she’s healthy, is almost walking and her speech is coming on brilliantly.
I can say categorically that having a child with Down’s is a positive experience. Eva is a TV star too, appearing as Maxine’s baby, Minnie, in Hollyoaks. Down’s syndrome awareness is now my job for life, and Eva Grace is my little superhero.
Alana tweets about Down’s syndrome awareness at @alanalorente.