I know of Sarah through my group We are Geriatric Mums and I can honestly say she is one of a few people in my lifetime who has had a profound effect on my thinking. Sarah is a voice for us ‘older mums’ as well as a positive mover and shaker in the Down syndrome community. The way she adapted and changed her life a few years ago is something that brings a tear to my eye. Read Sarah’s story below and let us know what you think in the comments. Introducing, Sarah Pree:
Name Sarah Pree
What age were you when you had your children, and how old are they now?
I had my first child, Charlie, when I was 23. My second child, Freya, was born when I was 25, and Marnie arrived when I was 43-years old.
How did people react when you told them you were pregnant at an ‘older age’?
Some people were surprised because I’d already had my son and daughter (who were in their early 20s) but on the whole, people were happy for us, mainly because my new partner Colin didn’t have any children of his own.
How did you find your ‘geriatric’ pregnancy?
My pregnancies in my 40s were quite different, because at this age it was the first time I experienced a miscarriage. I was 11-weeks pregnant and just approaching the “safety zone” of 12-weeks. It was an extremely traumatic time because it took nearly a year to conceive and so the sense of loss hit us hard. Thankfully, I became pregnant again two months later and was elated at this news, but fearful of miscarrying again, which is why we had a reassurance scan when I was 9-weeks pregnant. Both Colin and I felt a huge sense of relief to see a tiny little “gummi bear” with a strong beating heart and little buds for arms and legs. We left the scan feeling happy yet slightly apprehensive, but very much looking forward to our 12-week scan.
The next three weeks flew by, and before we knew it it was time to see our baby again. But nothing could have prepared us for the news we were about to be told.
Our “gummi bear” was now a fully formed tiny baby, with long arms and legs, and a strong heartbeat. But things were about to change. Our initial relief at seeing the image soon turned to complete and utter shock as I witnessed the puzzled look on the sonographer’s face which really unnerved me. In addition to the facial expression, the silence in the room could have been cut with a knife. The ultrasound lady informed us that she would be leaving the room and would return in a few minutes, because she needed a second opinion on the nuchal translucency reading which “seemed a bit high”.
We both glared at each other, not knowing what to say, but at that moment my instinct was hinting to me what was really happening.
The second sonographer was now scanning back and forth back and forth and she looked as equally as anxious as the first. I remember lying there feeling helpless, scared and I was trying so hard to stay together and composed. Soon afterwards, we were then told that the high reading may indicate a chromosomal abnormality, like Down syndrome, and that they would need to take some bloods from me to conduct further tests. We were ushered into a very glum room, you know the kind of room from an episode of Casualty, with tissues on the table and nothing on the walls. We waited there until I was called for the blood test.
We left the hospital feeling crushed. The pain in some stomach was physical, much like the feeling of being winded. I will never forget it. The next few days were agonising whilst we waited for the results and it felt very surreal.
Most people leave the hospital with scan photos and proudly share with their friends and family this important milestone of the 12-week scan, but instead, we wanted to switch our phones off and be alone. Personally, I couldn’t deal with having to share the news that there might be a “problem“.
The day that we received the phone call with the results is something we will NEVER forget. I had a 1 in 2 chance of a baby with Down syndrome, a 1 in 7 chance of Edwards’ syndrome and a 1 in 13 for Patau’s syndrome and with this news I felt like my world had ended.
Why? Why us? I’d just lost a baby, and now this! It didn’t feel fair. I was quickly thrown into the next stage, which was, to make a decision. I already knew that termination was not an option for me, but I so desperately needed some clarity.
For me, Down syndrome was “doable”, but the other two conditions (Edwards’ syndrome and Patau’s syndrome) are not quite as straight forward. Diagnostic testing is the only way to get an accurate result and NIPT (Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing) is not as accurate as it is claimed to be and I’ve since learned that from speaking to many other mothers who have a child with Ds. I decided to have CVS testing (Chorionic villus sampling) and soon after we received the results to confirm that we were having a little girl, and yes, she had Down syndrome.
I felt a sense of relief upon getting the results. Relief that I could continue with my pregnancy and prepare for life through a very different lens. I set about educating myself so that I fully understood everything I needed to know and so I could be the best Mum for my extra special girl whom I had been blessed with – because that’s how I started to see this little girl inside of me – as a blessing. I felt grateful and thankful that I had been chosen to be her Mummy, and the one to love and care for her. Throughout the rest of my pregnancy, I received superb care and was offered lots more scans, which I took. 40-50% of babies with Ds have heart issues, but we were fortunate in that it wasn’t the case with our little girl. Another reason for the increased level of scanning, is that the placenta stops working so well in a pregnancy where the baby has Ds, but my unborn child and I remained very healthy and there was no cause for concern. Oh, and my consultants were often surprised when they looked at my notes and saw that I was born in 1974 – they thought I was about 10 years younger than I was! Get in!
Our beautiful little Marnie was born at 39+4 weeks. Her birth was assisted by loads of gas and air (entonox) and it was without complication.
Were you offered any memorable or unhelpful words of wisdom when you spoke to others (friends, family, midwife, doc) about your pregnancy?
A few people said “sorry” when I told them our baby had Down syndrome. I know these comments are not meant to be harmful, but really there is nothing to be sorry about, and I found it quite insulting. Mothers-to-be just want to be congratulated no matter what their story is, and I wish people would recognise that.
Describe how it feels to be an older (geriatric) mum?
Being an older Mum is fantastic! I had my first two children in my 20s and can definitely say that I much prefer motherhood as a “geriatric.” I am lucky to have good health and I certainly don’t feel like I’m fast approaching my 50s! I just go with the flow these days and I live life in the present, feeling grateful to have had the opportunity to be a mother later in life. I’m calm, I know myself really well and I don’t care about other’s opinions too much. I believe that when you are in your 40s, you feel much more comfortable with who you are, and your ability, and youth doesn’t give you that. Being ‘older’ definitely offers more balance to life.
Some wonderful words of wisdom from Sarah:
If any Mums (young or older) ever find themselves in a position where they were told their baby may have Down syndrome, my first piece of advice would be not to panic. We are nearly three years into our beautiful journey, and if I could go back in time, I would tell myself that piece of advice with absolute certainty. There really was no need to cry all those tears and feel swamped with the fears that I felt. The fear that I felt, was around the unknown, and because Down syndrome is so often portrayed as something negative, and because of that the natural reaction is to feel scared.
Sadly, the majority of the time, when expectant parents are given news of a diagnosis, it isn’t done in a particularly positive way. My advice would be to make sure you are given up-to-date, balanced information and ensure that you are signposted to the right support groups and the correct care pathway. And ask lots of questions.
The help and advice is out there. It sometimes just takes a while to find the right information that gives parents an overall balanced view.
I want to remind everyone reading that we all do the best we can, no matter what age we are. My message to mothers is to have faith in yourself – bringing new life into the world is truly amazing. Love who you are, love that your body has produced, carried and nurtured another human life. Never beat yourself up and think you’re not good enough. You are a hero to your child (or children) and the roots to help them flourish and grow. We all have gone through extraordinary times (Covid-19) and you have shown your resilience – so be proud of that. Women are wonderful and we should empower one another.
Much love and light to you all, and thank you for reading,
If you would like to get in touch with Sarah, email me and I can pass it on to her.
Lucy Baker is the founder of Geriatric Mum and she is a confidence coach helping women to be confident at work. If you want to discuss anything confidence related, you can find her email on the SCC website www.shecoachesconfidence.com