There’s no greater gift than a child to parents. Regardless of the disaster they might be in their teenage years, it is a blessing to bring life into this world. This British couple knows the feeling all too well, and the sense of despair that could follow.
Welcome To The World
Matt and Jodi Parry had just given birth to two beautiful girls. All they wanted to know was “are they healthy?” Instead, they were taken to a room by a doctor and told, “I’m sorry.”
The First One
Starting a family was not as easy as advertised for the Parrys. Twelve months into their marriage they decided to start trying to get pregnant. Things initially did not go as planned. They tried for months, but nothing seemed to work. After 12 months, they received great news – Jodi was pregnant. In January 2009, Matt and Jodi welcomed their first child, Finlay. He was an absolutely healthy baby boy whom they could not wait to love and spoil.
With over a year of parenthood in the books, Matt and Jodi felt that their family was incomplete. In 2010, they decided to try for a second child, hoping that it would go a little smoother than the last time. They did not want to get their hopes too high since they had dealt with a miscarriage before Finlay was born. Jodi surprisingly got pregnant quickly, but they wanted to take some precautions. An early scan confirmed some shocking news.
Double The Fun
Due to her miscarriage, Jodi and Matt paid for a private scan after nine weeks. They anxiously waited to hear if a heartbeat could be detected. It would have been heartbreaking to go through another miscarriage. Matt reached for Jodi’s hand as they waited, trying to comfort his anxious wife. The sonographer came back to reveal the news – she could hear a heartbeat. Jodi squeezed Matt’s hand in relief, but the sonographer was not finished. “You’re pregnant with twins!” she said.
The news came as a huge shock to Matt and Jodi, and it became difficult to control their emotions. They both began to cry after their doctor’s big reveal. The Parry family would soon be ready to welcome two baby girls into their family. There was plenty of preparation ahead, but they looked forward to giving Finlay not one, but two little sisters. On June 29, 2011, Jodi gave birth to Abigail and Isobel. The five Parrys would need to wait to be united.
Not Home Yet
Matt and Jodi’s initial excitement would be put on hold for the time being. While Jodi was recovering well post-pregnancy, her children were less lucky. Abigail and Isobel were born six weeks premature and would require some extra attention. They would spend the first few weeks of their lives in the neonatal ward under close supervision. This was very routine for premature newborns, so the proud Parrys tried not to overthink into the situation.
A Major Discovery
Over the course of the next few weeks, Jodi and Matt anxiously watched their new babies grow from a distance. Isobel and Abigail had made real progress and appeared to be getting stronger. However, after a few weeks of monitoring, their doctors became growingly concerned with their health. The conducted a variety of examinations on the girls to test a theory on what could be going on. What they discovered would change Matt and Jodi’s lives forever.
The Conversation No One Wants To Have
Three weeks after their birth, a doctor approached Matt and Jodi. They had conducted tests for weeks and wanted to inform the parents of their findings. The doctor asked to chat in private and led the to another room. Jodi wrote in her blog, “My heart sank, and I began to cry knowing instantly that something was wrong.” They were taken to a “bare, clinical side-room with three chairs,” and the doctor started off with, “I’m sorry.”
A Shocking Revelation
Jodi’s intuition was correct: something was wrong. The doctor continued, “I’m sorry. Both Abigail and Isobel have Down Syndrome.” Matt and Jodi were floored by the news. Jodi wrote in her blog that “At that point, my world fell apart. I was devastated. I felt like someone had just ripped my heart out.” They knew something like this was possible with any baby, but they never imagined it could happen to their own children.
Down Syndrome is a lifelong condition which occurs due to an error in cell division after conception. Instead of 46 chromosomes, an extra 21st chromosome results from this error bringing the total to 47, causing physical disabilities as well as intellectual disabilities. Children born with Down Syndrome might also have heart, ear, intestine, or breathing problems possibly leading to hearing loss or respiratory infections. They will also have distinctive features such as flat faces, short necks, short arms and legs, and slanting eyes.
What Are The Odds?
Scientists do not currently have an answer for why an extra 21 chromosome forms, but they do know that it is rare. The chances of being born with Down Syndrome are in the neighborhood of one in every 1,000 births. But what are the chances of both identical twins having Down Syndrome? A ridiculous million to one odds. That is the same odds that one of the next 25 babies born in the US will become president.
Where Does It Comes From?
Not much is known about why an extra chromosome forms, but we do know a few factors which increase the risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome. Like many diseases and disorders, genetics matters. Having a sibling with Down Syndrome, or having another child with Down Syndrome increases the chances that your next baby could as well. Many doctors believe that women over 35 are at higher risk of having children with Down Syndrome as well.
Checking In On Her Babies
Jodi had been sitting with her sleeping girls before being summoned by the doctor. Now she would return to them with the weight of this news on her shoulders. With tears streaming down her face, she went back to see them. Jodi had no idea how she would react. She was so proud of her girls, but her expectations had been shattered. As she looked down at them, something happened: her love for them had intensified.
What Does It All Mean?
Jodi might have found the strength to love her babies among this major development, but Matt had a different reaction. He told Barcroft TV, “It was as if the whole world had ended. Life was not how I wanted it. I just shut down completely.” Those sentiments of grief were certainly understandable in those initial moments. Neither Matt nor Jodi had any true idea of what this meant to them or their daughters.
Too Many Questions Unanswered
Leaving the hospital was a difficult task for the Parrys. They were blindsided by this revelation and did not know what to do next. In a blog post for Mencap, a learning disabilities charity, Jodi wrote, “We had so many questions. Would the girls walk? Would they talk? We knew nothing about Down Syndrome and left the hospital with no answers, no information, just fear, and dread.” It seemed as if they needed to fend for themselves.
A Normal Reaction
Jodi and Matt’s response to this news is quite common among parents of children with Down Syndrome. Parents of children with learning disabilities, in general, are caught off guard by this reality. They simply do not understand the complexity of their child’s condition. Many parents have negative experiences in the wake of learning their child has a disability. A child’s first year is hyper important to development, so parents need to fight through the grief to support their child.
Struggling To Find The Necessary Answers
The Parrys, frustratingly, could not get the answers they needed from the hospital. Jodi blogged, “The doctors are phenomenal at what they do, but we found the hospital environment very clinical. If there had been a bit more understanding and listening to us as parents, then perhaps our distress would have been heard, and someone could have directed us to information that told us what to expect for our daughters’ futures, not just scientific jargon about extra chromosomes!”
At Home Research
Disillusioned by their hospital experience, Matt and Jodi decided to do their own research into what this meant for them. They Googled Down Syndrome and were amazed by the medical-speak which did not really help calm their nerves. They did take a particular interest in one part. Jodi and Matt were a bit scared by the potential health complications, so they made doctors test the girls for common problems. Once they knew the full extent of their daughters’ condition, they could move forward.
What The Tests Revealed
Jodi and Matt came back to the hospital after their Googling expedition and had the full menu of Down Syndrome-related tests done on their twins. It’s a good thing that Jodi insisted as she found out that some of the medical staff had sugar coated information early on. The tests revealed Abigail was deaf, Isobel had a small hole in her heart, and both girls had under-active thyroids. This could lead to weight gain, tiredness, and depression.
Two Perfect Little Girls
With their starter pack of information in hand and a better understanding of their children’s health, Jodi and Matt were ready to bring the girls home and start their lives. They soon realized that all of their fears had disappeared, a welcomed feeling. No longer did they grieve over the fate of their daughters. It might take some adjustment, but they were ready to continue being parents. Now all they want to know is why the doctor was “sorry.”
Changes At Home
To say that Abigail and Isobel changed Matt, Jodi, and Finlay’s lives is a massive understatement. To the disbelief of their doctor, it has all worked out for the better. They have become a ray of sunshine and optimism for their parents. That is not to say there has not been an adjustment. Jodi will admit that they have been hard work. Surprisingly, the biggest challenges have been because they are twins, not because of any extra medical care.
Who Said Anything About Sacrifices?
In an interview with Barcroft TV, Jodi responded to a question on the sacrifices she made for the girls. “I wouldn’t say I have made any sacrifices because of the girls being born. It sounds sort of sugar-coated, but the only things that they have brought into our life are positive. There’s nothing negative. There’s nothing in the world that could convince me to change them.” That’s the quote of one proud mama.
Abigail and Isobel are now six years old and do not attend a school for kids with special needs. They both communicate mostly in sign language but are doing well in school and are improving their speech every day. Due to Abigail’s hearing impairment she is a bit further behind her sister, but she wears a hearing aid at school and is learning what she can. They attend the same school as their older brother.
It was a shock to Matt and Jodi that Abigail and Isobel could attend the same school as Finlay. Matt said, “When the girls were born we did not know if they would be able to go to a mainstream school. This just shows how far we have come in our own understanding of Down Syndrome. We had misconceptions which a lot of people still have, and that is what we are trying to tackle.”
Understanding The Obstacles
Since they took their girls home, Jodi and Matt have done a great job of educating themselves on what’s in store. They wanted to push them to succeed, feeling that putting them in a “normal” school would do so. The Parrys are not blind to possible difficulties they could have or the existence of alternatives. Matt knows that “Children with Down syndrome can and do learn alongside their peers…despite the fact they may not learn things as quickly as their classmates.
Since this gift came into their lives, Jodi and Matt actively attempt to change the public perception on Down Syndrome. They started a charity called Twincess to help families with children that have Down Syndrome. Jodi said, “Our aim with setting up Twincess was to show the non-Down Syndrome community and people who have never been touched by Down syndrome what people who have the condition can do.” They provide advice and resources to parents looking for assistance and education.
Local Support From The Local Team
In a display of solidarity with their cause, Chorley FC, their local soccer team, brought Abigail, Isobel, and Finlay to a game as their mascots. Instead of their standard black and white striped kits, Chorley donned bright pink uniforms from head to toe with the Twincess logo in the center of their back. It was a great day for Down Syndrome awareness and an even better day for the Parry family.
Older Brother Understands
Now eight years old, Finlay understands that it’s his duty to help his sisters out, even if it means they need more help than someone without Down Syndrome. He does what he can to help his parents with his sisters, but would rather just spend time with them. Overall, the family has grown quite tight thanks to the twins’ condition. Matt said, “The girls have brought us together massively as a unit, but also made us appreciate the here and now.”
Life Goes On
The Parrys could not be happier with the way things turned out. Not only do they have three beautiful and healthy children, but from their experience with Abigail and Isobel, they have had the chance to help others in their situation. The twins have only brought joy into their lives. Jodi is still perplexed by the doctor’s comment. She claims, “If I could ever meet him again, I would like to show him Abigail and Isobel and say, ‘Why did you say sorry?’”
Starting A Family
Matt and Jodi Parry’s romance started out like many other love stories. They started dating and took their relationship to the next step when Matt asked Jodi to marry him in 2006. They officially tied the knot in March 2007 and were ready to spend their lives together. Jodi works as a police response drive while Matt works locally as a civil servant. Eventually, they wanted more beyond their jobs and each other; They wanted to start a family.