A sibling story.

As part of our campaign for World Down Syndrome Day 2021 we have released an e-book, full of stories from real families. The book includes many different family members and people with Down syndrome sharing how they feel about their family. This week we wanted to share with you a piece written by Becky about her daughters, Esther and Iris. If you would like to download our free e-book you can find it here.

Alongside being excited about our second pregnancy, I felt a fair level of anxiety.  At times I lay awake at night, worrying that we were doing a disservice to our  then 18 month old, Esther, who has Down syndrome.  ‘Would we be able to give her enough? Would we be able to give her sibling enough? Would she feel ousted by not being the baby anymore, would her sibling feel put out by the extra support Esther needs? What would their relationship look like?’ All relevant, I think, but compounded by the hormones and insomnia that pregnancy can bring.  It seems to me that everything feels worse at 2am. 

The reality for us is that it’s all fine.  Better than fine, it is wonderful. 

Esther is our firstborn child, she is nearly 4, she loves running, jumping, climbing, music, Moana, Singing Hands, playing with dollies and singing Happy Birthday to us all multiple times a day.  She is a proud big sister, and she loves going to preschool.  She is determined, a problem solver and always looks a little bit like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards. 

Iris is nearing 2, she is funny, headstrong and independent.  She loves Hey Duggee, teddies, having tea parties, jumping in puddles and finding sticks outside.  She has a cheeky smile and is currently rocking a Boris Johnson style hairdo.  

Although their development is nearing a similar level, Esther is still very much big sister, and she takes pride in the role.  From the moment we brought Iris home, and our usually boisterous toddler gently stroked her head and shushed her, to more recently when she guided her sister in on her first day of nursery, clearly proud to show her what’s what, she has taken her responsibility seriously and it is sweet to watch. Evidently she spends a substantial amount of time at nursery ‘popping’ to the baby room to check up on Iris and occasionally leading her astray.  

Every morning Esther marches downstairs and opens the door with a huge grin and ‘Hello, Iris’  (one of her first 2 word phrases) to get her up.  When Iris goes down the slide in the park, her sister is at the bottom giving her a big, enthusiastic cheer.  When Iris falls over, or gets upset, Esther is there offering a cuddle and a reassuring stroke of the arm. 

Iris looks up to her sister – she is her number one fan, following her lead.  She copies everything Esther does. They are co-conspirators, they have a look they give each other when they’re about to do something cheeky – egging each other on (this usually involves climbing on my kitchen table or breaking into the snack cupboard).  They also bicker, over dollies and toys mostly, I often feel like I’m a referee! 

As sisters they have given each other someone to compete with, someone to show off too, someone to care for and have fun with.  I have no doubt some of Esther’s motivation to complete more challenging tasks is to show her sister.  I think the same goes the other way too.  

At the moment, it feels a bit like we have twins on  developmental level, but things are changing quickly.  There are points at which I see Iris overtake her sister, mastering skills that took Esther months within a few days.  Her speech has come on and is currently similar to Esther’s level, I imagine it will only be months until it is better than Esther’s.

I know this will change their dynamic and no doubt there will be challenges down the road.  Sometimes I worry about what they will be, and I am acutely aware that this sibling relationship may in many ways look different to the one we had imagined, but if and when challenges come we will accept and deal with them. For now we’re doing our best to make them each feel valued and loved for who they are and are enjoying watching their bond.

I hope Iris will benefit from the lessons that Esther has already taught us as parents; patience, compassion, acceptance, to celebrate our achievements (however small they may seem) and our differences.  Most importantly, she has taught us to love both our kids unconditionally for who they are, not who we imagined them to be.

Our family isn’t perfect, we bicker, we’re tired.  If you see a flustered looking couple carrying both children whilst simultaneously pushing a double buggy (probably post some sort of tantrum) kids with biscuits in hand as shameless bribery, that will be us.  We survive largely on coffee.  But we’re happy. And we truly wouldn’t change a thing (the occasional lie in would be nice).  If you had told us 4 years ago that this is how our family would be, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.