• Julia Sidwell

How will I love her?

When Leena gave birth to twins, she discovered one of them had Down's Syndrome. She wanted to give an honest account of how she felt at the time, her worries about motherhood, and ultimately how she wouldn't change her children for the world. We placed her story in That's Life magazine.

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Leena explains:

"Sitting at home, my husband Amit hugged me.

‘It’s going to be OK,’ he reassured me.

I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t know how it would be without the two babies we’d longed for.

After three rounds of IVF, I’d found out I was expecting twins. We’d named them Amar and Esha and couldn’t wait to meet them.

But at 26 weeks, I’d gone into premature labour and lost them both.

Our world had crumbled in an instant.

I’d been so excited to become a mother - to play with my babies, change their nappies and watch them grow up. Without them, I felt empty.

In time, we felt ready to try again for a family.

We continued the IVF process and had three more rounds, each of them unsuccessful.

Losing hope, we decided to have one last go.

And this time, I felt different.

‘I think I might be pregnant,’ I told Amit excitedly.

We went to the treatment clinic where a blood test confirmed my inkling.

It was positive.

At six weeks, we went for an early scan.

‘It looks like there’s two in there,’ the sonographer said.

I gazed at the two flickering heartbeats and smiled.

Knowing we were expecting twins again filled me with hope. It was as though they had been sent as a gift, to mend the heartbreak we’d suffered from the babies we had lost.

Suffering with morning sickness, I finally got to the 12-week stage and we went for another scan.

Lying on the bed, as I felt the scanner glide over my tiny bump, I looked at the screen intently.

Both mine and Amit's eyes lit up as we watched the grainy image of two babies wriggling around.

But afterwards, we met with our bereavement midwife from my previous birth.

‘Given your history, I wanted to give you some information,’ she said. ‘It looks like there is a risk that one of your babies has Down’s Syndrome.’

Back home, I burst into tears.

We’ve lost two babies, only to be given two back and now this? I thought.

It just didn’t seem fair.

More scans brought more worry, and Amit could see how distressed I was.

‘If it’s confirmed that the baby has Down’s, would you want to terminate the pregnancy?’ he asked me hesitantly.

I knew it was the last thing he wanted, and I felt the same.

‘No,’ I said, shaking my head.

We'd waited so long to have a family, there was no way I was prepared to give up now.

Soon we discovered we couldn’t have the test to determine whether one of the twins had Down’s anyway. There was a risk that it would put the other twin in danger.

All we could do was wait.

During what was meant to be the happiest time of our lives, I couldn’t help feel as though there was a black cloud hanging over me.

And not wanting to jinx anything, I held off stocking up on nappies and babygrows.

But at an appointment at a different hospital, there was some good news.

‘I’m not worried about the odds of your baby having Down’s syndrome,’ the doctor said.

Further heart scans didn’t show any problems either.

My doubts lifted and I began to feel a lot more positive about meeting the twins.

Months later, I had a C-section and our babies were delivered. We named them Keira and Kiyan.

As I was wheeled from the operating theatre to the high dependency unit, a midwife passed them to me.

Holding one baby in each arm, I gazed at them all wrapped up, wearing their little white hats.

‘They’re gorgeous,’ I beamed.

Amit looked like the proudest dad in the world and took a photo to capture the moment.

I couldn’t help feeling relieved. The twins looked perfectly healthy.

Later, a nurse noticed that Keira had a bluey tinge so she put her under a heat lamp.

Then tests showed her oxygen levels were low, so she was transferred to the neonatal intensive-care unit.

Seeing her being taken away made me nervous.

‘Does she have Down’s?’ I asked a doctor, panicked.

‘She's showing some features,’ he replied.

Instantly, I filled with fear and concern.

What am I going to do? I thought.

Next day, I went to visit Keira.

It was hard to see her so helpless, lying in an incubator attached to tubes and machines.

Not only that, but we’d lost our baby Esha in the same room.

Overcome with emotion, I returned to my own room and decided I couldn’t go back to NICU.

Instead, Amit visited Keira every day and brought back photos to show me. But faced with pictures of my daughter, all I could see was a baby with Down’s.

A week later, it was confirmed Keira had the condition.

How am I going to love her? I thought, confused.

I never thought this would happen to me and I felt completely unprepared.

Back home with the twins, tears rolled down my face as I looked at Keira sitting in her purple baby chair.

I knew I should be cuddling her, but I was too overwhelmed.

And I couldn’t ignore the thoughts whirling through my mind. How would Keira develop compared to Kiyan? Would she ever make friends? Would she ever get a job? Would she ever be happy?

To me, her future was a list of unanswered questions.

I put on a brave face in front of Amit, not wanting him to see me upset, but when he wasn’t around I cried constantly.

Eventually, I confessed my feelings to my sister-in-law Sulakshana.

‘I don't know how to love Keira, but I'm going to have to care for her for the rest of her life. What am I going to do?' I asked.

‘I’ll raise her for you,’ she suggested.

Though grateful for her generous offer, I suddenly felt strangely protective of my daughter.

No, she’s my baby, I thought.

My life may have been turned upside-down, but I realised I had to take responsibility as a mother.

Soon after, Keira caught a cold. Seeing my tiny baby so unwell and vulnerable, my maternal instinct kicked in.

Scooping her into my arms, I felt a rush of love.

My innocent daughter was completely unaware of what was happening and it was my job to take her of her.

‘I’ll look after you,’ I whispered.

As time passed, the tears stopped and I began to feel proud. Not just of Kiyan, but of Keira too. Just seeing her smiles and giggles filled me with happiness.

In time, it was arranged for me to meet a mum whose three-year-old daughter had Down’s. It surprised me to see she was a perfectly happy, confident toddler.

That’s when it dawned on me. If I helped Keira, then she too would flourish and grow up to be a happy, independent child.

When she was three and a half months old, I watched in amazement as she held her own bottle.

‘She’s so determined,’ I said to Amit.

He nodded proudly.

Both Keira and Kiyan continued to impress us. And I realised they weren’t so different after all. They slept in the same position and had the same laugh.

But I could also see they were becoming their own people, with their own separate personalities.

I accepted that it took Keira a little longer to reach certain milestones, but she always got there in the end – especially having her brother to learn from.

It comforted me to know that they would always be there for each other, and Kiyan would always look out for his sister.

Now the twins are eight months old and my outlook has changed completely.

I still have fears and doubts like any mother, but the amount of love I have for both my children is unmeasurable.

When I look at Keira, I don’t just see a child with Down’s syndrome, I see my precious daughter who has an exciting future ahead of her.

I had to go through a lot of emotions to get where I am today, but my twins mean everything to me. And I wouldn’t change them for the world."

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