Two years ago, I became the mother of a beautiful newborn. I sat upstairs alone in a hospital room the night he was born — a 9-pound boy in a neonatal cot downstairs alone, on long-term oxygen. While I lay in the birthing suite minutes after his arrival, the doctor informed me my child had Down syndrome.
I relived the moment over and over that first night. The hospital smell was etched in my brain, and I had flashbacks of the moment — time stopped and the world spun sideways, never to return to its previous axis.
A parent receiving a diagnosis for their child will remember that exact moment forever, the moment their role as a parent took a detour. I replayed in my head every word spoken at my 20-week ultrasound. I repeatedly reviewed the last nine months in my head to figure out all the signs I’d missed while my life imploded.
That night I was caught in an endless loop of grieving, dreading further health tests and dealing with the aftermath of his diagnosis — finding out my child wasn’t the one I expected after a long, hard pregnancy.
My life changed in that hospital room. My sense of self-identity was crushed. I was no longer Kat Abianac — blonde, high-heel wearing, happy-go-lucky, loves life and always puts a positive spin on things. I was now a “Hospital Mum.”
Neonatal wards weren’t built for parents. They were custom made for their precious charges, while they sustained and nurtured life. In that hospital, I was now simply “Mum.” My new title had been handed me by the very same doctor who informed me my son had Down syndrome.
“Mum” was used by medical professionals and nurses for the rest of our two-month hospital stay. I didn’t hear my name out loud in that room unless I was brave and corrected nurses with my real name, the same nurses I already knew on sight, who in the vast majority greeted me with zero recognition on their smiling faces. “Good morning, Mum, how’s our little man?” The word was dehumanized for me by that experience. I was grateful for the few close friends who came to see me regularly during those long weeks. In those moments, I felt like my old self again.
My son is now 2 and thriving. Life is different now. I don’t think about those days often unless I actively choose to or am triggered by a smell or sound familiar to me from the wards.
I picked a close friend up from hospital after a procedure, having dropped her off earlier in the day. She got in the car and said, ”I’m so sorry I didn’t know what it was like for you. I just sat in that hospital alone and imagined you having a baby in hospital by yourself for so long. I felt so lonely in there. The questions they ask — so irrelevant and they asked the same things over and over. It’s none of their business, is it? Did they ask you things like that every day on rounds? I know I visited and I was there seeing you, but I just didn’t get it back then. I’m sorry.”
“Oh darling, that’s OK!” I answered brightly.
She put her hand over mine on the gear stick as we sat at a red light.
“No. I’m so sorry I didn’t understand. I didn’t, really. Now I do.”
I didn’t say anything in response. We had been friends forever, and it was a moment we both understood all too well.
I drove home to my son and daughter. Their au pair smiled and handed him over. He wrapped his sweet little arms around my neck.
“Mum,” he said. “Mumumumumum.” I cuddled him and I couldn’t recall those moments from the hospital anymore — the smell from back then and even that flash feeling after hearing his diagnosis when my world spun and I couldn’t make it stop.
I’m just a little boy’s mum. And I love it when he reminds me.
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