Real Life

Kiwi mum tells: ‘My boy is a battler!’

Inspired by stories in Woman's Day, Palmerston North mother Ursula says Down syndrome won't stop her son achieving his goals
Bernadette Peters

When Ursula Parkes found out her baby boy would be born with Down syndrome, she admits to feeling “devastated” as the unknown seemed like a scary journey.

“We shed a lot of tears,”the Palmerston North mum, 38, tells Woman’s Day. “My husband Jake and I were going to love him no matter what, but we knew that he could face all types of challenges.”

As it turned out – and as is normal for many babies born with Down syndrome – baby August was premature, meaning Ursula had to undergo an emergency C-section. Her little bundle was then rushed from Palmerston North to more advanced care in Wellington as his lungs were under-developed and he needed a ventilator to breathe.

Ursula and husband Jake are looking forward to the good times ahead for Thea and her little brother.

“It’s hard to explain how hard it is seeing your baby with all this breathing apparatus on and all these things coming out of his tummy to help him,” remembers Ursula.

While her beautiful baby spent the first three months of his life in hospital, Ursula and Jake – who are also parents to toddler Thea – couldn’t do much but wait and hope for the best. However, the period

of time also gave Ursula space to think deeply about her son’s future.

In between sitting by August’s bedside, flicking through magazines, her perspective started to shift. She started noticing feel-good stories about people with Down syndrome – articles that captured the amazing things they could do.

Ursula recalls, “I saw quite a few stories in a row in Woman’s Day and I thought, ‘Wow! This is amazing. This is what I want people to see!’ There’s this stigma where people think those with Down syndrome are disabled, but we’ll teach August that he can do whatever he wants and to stand up for himself.

“I have to admit, I was sad at the beginning, but now I’m not negative about Down syndrome at all. Yes, he may be delayed in some aspects of his life, but that happens with ‘normal’ children anyway – it’s important to focus on how amazing they can be.”

While Ursula’s positive mindset helps her look forward, rather than backwards, she’s quick to admit how difficult the adjustment to having a high-needs child has been.

The proud mum says her

son has taught her “patience and optimism”.

“Jake and I have had to have counselling because I suffer from anxiety, so I get quite worked up about small things,” Ursula confesses. “I’m scared August’s oxygen tube is going to fall out of his nose, even though the nurses reassured me that he won’t die if it does fall out!”

But she says having a supportive partner has helped immensely. “You can only do the best you can as a unit. It’s hard work, so if you do need professional help, I see nothing wrong with that at all.”

Time spent in hospital with August got Ursula to see the positives, which she shared with Woman’s Day

He mightn’t know it yet, but little August – who was only coincidentally named after the month he was born – inspires his mum. “He’s taught me patience and optimism,” she gushes. “The attitude that I really hope will change is the stigma that a person who has Down syndrome is just good for nothing. We need to accept that they are capable.”

Ursula adores TVNZ’s show Down For Love – which follows the romantic pursuits of a group of people with Down syndrome – and says it served as a powerful reminder that the world really is August’s oyster.

Ursula’s message she shared with the Woman’s Day team

“It opened the door for people with Down syndrome to be in a loving relationship and experience it like all of us,” she smiles. “For them to be worthy of being loved and to love back. It almost made me cry watching it!”

Yet although Ursula is buzzing about the potential in baby August’s bright future, for right now, she’s simply content with his baby milestones – and taking everything one step at a time.

Laughing, she says, “He’s becoming very cheeky. He sticks out his tongue a lot!”

Related stories