Stroking my stomach, I smiled. I was two months pregnant and there was no sign of a bump yet but I couldn’t be happier. At 42 I thought I’d never be able to have another baby. My children were grown up – my youngest, Zak, was already 16, and I had suddenly been overwhelmed to have just one more. Sadly, five years earlier I’d had a miscarriage, which had devastated me, but now, at long last, I was expecting another baby. Even when my partner and I split, I counted down the days until my 12-week scan, excited that I was finally going to meet the little one growing inside me. But the sonographer frowned at the screen.
“Is everything OK?” I asked, fear pulsing through me. She smiled, but didn’t turn the monitor for me to see my baby. There was a long pause as she peered closer, moving the scanner around my bump to get a better view. Finally, she spoke. “There is a slight sign of calcium on the heart,” she said. She explained it was a possible sign of Down’s syndrome. I swallowed, my hand instinctively moving to stroke my slightly swollen stomach.
A doctor was called in to talk to me. “We won’t know for sure unless you have further tests,” he said. They would only be ‘marker’ tests though – I’d need invasive tests to be certain. I shook my head. I wasn’t going to risk losing this baby.
Of course I was worried, but I refused to dwell on it. I wanted this baby more than anything. I already loved him or her. So I kept myself busy with Zak and my part-time cleaning job and pushed it to the back of my mind until my 20-week scan. I was hoping for good news, but the sonographer said they could see cysts on the brain, another sign of Down’s syndrome.
“You can have further tests to see,” the doctor said. “But they can be quite risky and, in some cases, cause a miscarriage.”
I refused. The sonographer had told me my baby was a girl. I’d have her and love her no matter what. I left, and went to meet my eldest child, Kirsty, 26, who was expecting her first baby. Our due dates were just days apart – I couldn’t wait to be a grandma as well!
“Let’s go shopping,” Kirsty said. “Take your mind off it.” We went to look at baby clothes. She was having a girl too, so she picked up little pink dresses while I went for lilac. It certainly cheered me up, but when we had a family dinner later that week, including my eldest son Martyn, 25, I told them all that the baby might have Down’s.
“We’ll be here for you whatever happens,” they said. It made me feel better knowing I had so much support. My pregnancy flew by and finally, a week before my due date, on July 23, 2006, I went into labour.
A few hours later I was handed my little girl. Keeley. I knew straight away she had Down’s syndrome.
“We’re 99 per cent certain,” the midwife said as they ran tests. But I was sure. Her tongue was sticking out, her eyelids looked thicker than normal and she was floppy. “It doesn’t matter what life holds for you,” I soothed her. “I love you.”
But cradling Keeley, I was scared. My whole life would now change. Every newborn needs attention, but she needed more – she was extra special. She went for checks and had a hole in her heart, which was luckily so small doctors were sure it would heal itself. But she struggled to feed because her tongue seemed too big for her mouth.
Martyn came to visit and sat by her crib for hours as if he was guarding her. Then, twenty-four hours later, Kirsty had her baby, Isabelle. She was in the bed opposite me at Rosie Hospital in Cambridge, UK. Having her there took my mind off everything.
After five days, tests confirmed Keeley did have Down’s syndrome. “It just means we’re going to have to give her extra love,” Zak said.
I was thrilled that I had such a strong family around me. We went home and fell into a routine right away.
Keeley was such a happy baby who slept through the night. I loved her so much and to me she was perfect, but as the months passed many of her milestones came late. She couldn’t hold her head up until she was six months old and was three before she could walk or talk.
I spent every waking hour playing games, reading with her and giving her physiotherapy.
It really paid off. Her speech came on in leaps and bounds and she loved nothing more than singing nursery rhymes – her favourite was Humpty Dumpty.
She made everyone smile. Keeley’s pride and joy was her long hair. She’d make me braid it and brush it until it shone. She loved it when I picked out bows that matched her dresses.
Nightmare at the hairdresser
When she started school it was half way down her back but going to the hairdresser’s for a trim was always a nightmare.
“Just fringe,” she’d say. She was adamant that her lovely locks wouldn’t be cut off.
“OK,” I said. She was so strong-willed.
The longer it grew the more attention she received and Keeley lapped it up. “Look at your beautiful hair,” strangers said as she beamed.
We washed it three times a week but it was a two-hour job. We’d shampoo it and she would have to stand up while I rinsed it out with a small watering can as we sang Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary together. “How does your garden grow?” she sang.
She was five now and her hair was past her knees and really did need a good cut. All she’d ever had was a trim before and it was beginning to become harder to handle.
‘She’ll never have it cut though,’ I thought one night as she was in bed. And even if she did agree to have it cut, it would be a shame to let it go to waste as we’d cared for it lovingly.
Suddenly I had an idea. Picking up my laptop, I searched for charities that accepted hair donations and soon came across The Little Princess Trust.
It was a charity that provided wigs of human hair for children with cancer who’d lost theirs due to the effects of chemotherapy. It was the perfect solution.
The next day as I got Keeley ready for school I ran the idea by her.
“Do you want to grow your hair even longer and give it to poorly girls?” I asked. She grinned. Keeley had experienced some problems before – the calcium around her heart and the small hole that had healed, and the cysts on the brain, which had gone. She was lucky, but now she could help others who were less fortunate. “OK,” she said. The charity accepted a minimum of 18cm and Keeley’s was 30cm, but I knew we could donate more.
So with World Down’s Syndrome Day less than a year away, I knew it was the perfect way to turn Keeley’s big haircut into an event.
We went around our village putting up pictures of Keeley in the window explaining what she was doing.
Often we’d pop into the local hairdressers where Keeley would tell the customers about her plan. “Have you got any pennies for the little girls?” she would say.
When people heard she was cutting off her gorgeous locks for charity they were more than happy to sponsor her.
‘She couldn’t stop smiling’
As the day approached in March this year I was worried that she’d change her mind and that she hadn’t grasped what she was doing. But Keeley couldn’t wait.
“Are you ready to go to the hairdressers?” I said.
“Yes!” she said jumping up and down. We invited all our friends and family to come and watch and the local radio station even got involved. One of the DJ’s had heard what Keeley was doing and offered to let her shave his head.
As she held the razor with the hairdresser her face scrunched up in concentration.
“She’s a professional!” we all laughed.
“Maybe she’ll become a hairdresser,” I said.
“I just hope she doesn’t want to shave mine!”
Next it was Keeley’s turn. I held my breath with nerves as she sat in the chair but I needn’t have worried at all.
She couldn’t stop smiling and as her ponytail was cut off she looked so proud of herself while we all clapped and cheered. She climbed off the chair and swished her new long bob about. “Look at my nice new hair!” she said. I rushed up to hug her. “You look beautiful,” I said.
She proudly went around the salon showing everyone her new do. The next day we parcelled up her hair to send off. There was over 50cm! That was enough to possibly make three wigs.
“The little girls are going to be so happy,” I said.
We’d also raised £2,200 (Dh12,836), which I split between The Down’s Syndrome Association and Opportunities With Limits – a local charity.
Keeley’s growing her hair so she can donate again. It’s already grown over an inch in just a month, so I’m positive we can donate another good amount next year. “I’m growing my hair for little girls who don’t have any,” she tells everyone.
Keeley is so thoughtful and caring. She always makes everyone smile when they meet her and now she’s going to make little girls who need hair smile, too.
I couldn’t be prouder.
Lindy Thomas, 48, of Sawston, Cambridgeshire, UK