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What it means to be an Aunt and a Sister

What it means to be an Aunt and a Sister

I’ll never forget the moment Matt and Jodi told me they were expecting twins. Jodi handed me a scan picture which had ‘twin 1’ and ‘twin 2’ wrote on. I had to double take then looked up at my sister in law who was a little teary but smiling, oh my….amazing! Wow. Jodi got to week 31 of the pregnancy and went for a routine scan. I was looking forward to hearing news to see how they were getting on and when I’d get to meet my new neices. I was not expecting the call I got.

Matt phoned and said, all systems go the girls are coming today! WHAT?!?! No one was ready. We knew that the girls would need to go to neonatal but couldn’t wait to meet them both. Grace and Joe were just as excited to meet them both too. Grace was rather giddy as she wouldn’t be the only girl now, infact ‘Girls would rule!’ The next text came, Abigail Jane and Isobel Rae had arrived and were OK. Our girls were here at last.

My first visit to see the girls was rather emotional. Matt and Jodi walked me into the ward, they were in tiny incubators with all sorts of tubes etc. Through teary eyes I saw these two perfect little girls, my neices. Matt assured me all was OK and lifted Isobel out for me to cuddle. I loved them with all my heart from that very moment.

The next couple of weeks were spent travelling to Preston hospital to visit the girls and waiting for updates from Matt as the girls got a bit stronger each day. I couldn’t wait for Grace and Joe to meet them. Each visit I took photos so I could share with them when I got back home. I’d just come back one Tuesday from visiting the girls at Preston hospital, sat watching Holby City as normal and my phone beeped. I remember it like it was yesterday, it was Matt. Simple one line message and I froze, breathless and confused…. ‘They think the girls have downs?’…. WHAT!!!

I was stunned I mean where has that come from. Carl, my husband, kept asking ‘What’s the matter?’ is it the girls, are they OK? I couldn’t speak, I showed Carl the phone and broke down. I didn’t know what to say. In a daze and stupidity I replied, ‘Are you sure?’ I mean what a stupid thing to say. I got a reply of ‘We’ll know for sure on Friday after some tests’. Not sure how to process the news I cried for days, trying to remain composed when around people as no one knew apart from immediate family until we had confirmation.

The longest 3 days ever then the text came. ‘It’s confirmed both girls have Down’s Syndrome.’ My world stopped. So many questions, but mostly how is Jodi and Matt? How will Fin cope? How would I tell Grace and Joe? Would I be a good enough Aunty for them? I just wanted to give them all a big hug but appreciated they needed time together to let the news sink in. How do I share this news without saying the wrong thing, or not being ‘politically correct’.

On the Saturday Mum called me to say Matt has asked if we all wanted to go and visit the girls. No hesitation, yes of course I did. We made our way to Preston hospital, and were welcomed by Matt at the door. My big brother who I’d always looked up to as a tower of strength was a lot quieter than normal, more reserved, but looked strong. I knew it was a front, I knew he was fragile and putting on a brave face. The nursing staff had put the girls in a side room so we could all be with the girls and as a family together, which was so lovely and thoughtful.

After seeing Matt, I took one look at Jodi and felt tears welling up. Matt and Jodi both said sternly, No tears allowed! They sounded so strong, but I knew deep down they were just being strong for the girls and Fin. We walked in and there they were, our tiny little gorgeous girls, my neices. I think I loved them even more this time when I saw them. It felt good to finally see Matt and Jodi after the news but still unsure how and what to discuss / talk about with them as didn’t want to offend or upset them. We spent some time as a family talking about the next tests the girls would have and general baby talk about their sleeping, feeding etc. There was no doubting it though our lives had changed forever.

I remember sharing the news with friends and received a mix of reactions, but all positive. I do recall one phrase and this has stayed with me till this day. ‘God only ever gives you as much as you can handle’. As time passed my thoughts became positive at the progess the girls kept making and the sadness lessened. Our family unit proved just how strong and supportive we are. Still wasn’t sure if talking about the issues would upset Matt and Jodi so did a lot of internet browsing around Down’s Syndrome and read up about dealing with relatives and what to and not to say. This was my big brother though, who I’d always been able to say anything to and never offend, yet now I was scared as didn’t want to upset him, we were walking on egg shells.

One visit up to Matt and Jodi’s to see the girls and Matt said he wanted to turn this into a positive and start doing some charity stuff for Down’s Syndrome as they had so little information as parents and a family. Our family had no knowledge of DS, we were thrown into a world we knew nothing about, we were all scared, scared of the unknown. We didn’t know what the future held for the girls, what obstacles they would face, and mainly as an Aunty I didn’t know if I’d be good enough for them. I was worried that I would fail them and not be able to offer what they needed, whatever that would be.

As a mother myself, I worried about things like, would the girls be able to join in and interact with my children and Finlay (their older brother), would they be accepted, would they be able to go to mainstream nursery or would they need to go to a special needs placement and would this then segregate them. So much worrying in the early days, with many texts from Matt and Jodi letting us know that they had had a midnight dash to hospital in back of an Ambulance. Isobel had a hole in her heart and Abigail was partially deaf in one ear.

As a family we gave the girls so much unconditional love and seeing my two children interact and accept them was so lovely to see. I mean why wouldn’t they accept them, they were 2 gorgeous bundles of joy and fun, the only label they had to Grace and Joe were ‘The girls’ their cousins’.

A week or so passed and the girls were home. I went up to Matt and Jodi’s with a gift basket for the girls. I had spent the past few months preparing this little basket with all sorts of pink essentials in it, which being a mum, I knew would come in useful. So I put baby wipes, bibs, sudocrem, scratch mits, cotton wool balls, and reading book with nursery rhymes in etc. I had also made a couple of vouchers (seems silly I know). I had made the vouchers as a little way of hoping to show my support, I had made them when Matt and Jodi first told me they were pregnant, when I knew their life was about to get so much more hard work with twins. The vouchers were for ‘baby sitting duties’ ‘day at Aunty Gemma’s house’. I know this seems so silly now but I thought when the girls arrived Matt and Jodi would need help and I wanted to offer help where I could.

When we got the news I felt the vouchers became inappropriate. I mean why would they want to leave the girls with me, I didn’t know what I was doing or how to look after them. I know I was a mum and had already had 2 babies of my own, but Abigail and Isobel were special and needed extra special care and I just wasn’t cut out for that, I mean I loved them with all my heart but I was so scared to be on my own with them in case I didn’t do the right thing, or give them exactly what they needed. Also I didn’t for one minute think Matt and Jodi would want to leave their precious babies with me as I didn’t know how to care for them as they did.

They took everything in their stride and showed such strength, which I’m sure was a front a lot of the time for the children’s sake, but they were truly amazing. I may not have thought I was good enough to have the girls on my own but at every opportunity me and my kids would be up at my mums when Fin and the girls were there (most Tuesdays until school started) to be with the girls and offer help and support for Mum and let all five of them play together.

Tuesday became a favourite day in our house as we would get to spend it playing with cousins all day, and I’d get to have lots of cuddles with the girls too. Grace loved the fact that the girls liked sitting on her knee and having cuddles with her, she felt very grown up. Joe loved watching the girls play and followed Fins lead as he is a fabulous big brother. Fin has helped Grace and Joe sign words to the girls and explained what the girls mean when they are signing. The five of them really do get on and have made some really fun memories together.

Looking back I really wished I’d shared my fears or not had them at all, and been brave enough to offer that support to Matt and Jodi I’d wanted to. A few months ago Grace asked me ‘Why can the girls not talk yet?’ I knew this day was coming but with the information and positive message I have learned from Matt & Jodi and Twincess I wasn’t scared of this question as I thought I would be. I didn’t want to hide anything from Grace, so I simply explained the girls had Down’s Syndrome and this would mean it would take a bit longer for them to talk but they would get there with all of our help and patience. ‘Oh OK’ was Grace simple reply. ‘It doesn’t matter they can talk though Mummy as I love them both and can still cuddle them and I will help them.’ I could learn so much from my 6 year old daughter, I wish I’d have had this simple approach when I was told instead of being scared.

Abigail and Isobel have tought me so much in the short 3 years so far, mainly they have taught me to smile no matter what is happening. I should never have been scared to be on my own with them as all they really want, is what every baby/child wants and that’s Love, and I’ve got plenty of that for them both (and Fin). Matt and Jodi have shown such strength in sharing their story and sharing the girls with so many people. They have opened peoples eyes to DS in a positive light and by sharing Abigail and Isobel, who have such an infectious smile and happy outlook on life, they have made many, me included, realise that it isn’t as bad as the internet makes out at all and the fears we all had as a family were unneccesary.

Being an Aunty to Fin and the Girls is such a privilege and I hope they all know just how much Aunty Gemma loves them all. XXX The Firefly Garden is for the whole family - if you’re an Aunt, Uncle, Granny, Grandad, Brother or Sister to a child with special needs join today.

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