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Flouncy, a fictional story by BBCH Resident, Jean D

Strange to relate, three of my friends became pregnant at the same time. For two of them it was an exciting event and they were both quite happy. Ruth and Emma were younger than me, they each had a small child already and didn't wish them to be only children. But for Patricia the situation was quite different, she was older than all of us, already had two children well on the way towards leaving home and going to University.

Patricia had been looking forward to fulfilling her inclinations for other pursuits other than motherhood again. She enjoyed gardening, sewing, painting and playing the piano. She had also been looking forward to spending more time with her husband, going abroad for holidays and maybe even a cruise. So when she came to see me and tell me the dreaded news, she was almost distraught.

We were sitting comfortably by a glowing coal fire in our lounge, because it was late November and a bit chilly outside. When Patricia first told me about her pregnancy I asked how far gone it was and she said about two months so immediately I suggested she could have an abortion. I was sure any doctor would be sympathetic to her circumstances and say as an older woman it would not be safe to continue with the pregnancy. I was quite taken back with her reaction. “Oh no” she said, “I do not think it is right to take a life, good grief, that's akin to murder“.

So with abortion out of the question the other solution occurring to me was adoption. Suddenly almost like a bolt from the blue an idea came into my mind. My husband Mervyn and myself were still quite young and never had any children of our own but had taught many other children for a few years, so surely we knew how to handle a child. “Patricia”, I said, “Suppose Mervyn and I adopt your baby as soon as it is born?”Her reaction took me quite by surprise. She got up, flung her arms round me and hug me to bits. “Oh Pat, would you really do that?” she said and then paused, “What about Mervyn? Would he agree?”

“I think he would” I said.

He had often said he wished we had children of our own and so it came about Mervyn did agree and Simon (Patricia’s husband) was so pleased to see his wife happy again that he didn't mind either. So there followed 6 to 7 months of excitement in both families of knitting, buying a cot, a pram and doing up the box room as a small nursery. I was with Patricia as her birth partner and as soon as the baby was born she handed her to me and avoided any bonding.

The baby was a very pretty baby girl and I was as  pleased as Patricia. But when I looked more closely I saw what we had all dreaded, the signs of Down Syndrome.

It was very slight and not noticeable at first glance. In the course of my years teaching I had done quite a lot of work with Down Syndrome children and therefore was more aware of the signs than most people would be. I decided to keep the knowledge to myself and for the first time ever in all my married life kept a secret from Mervyn!

As time went on I worked hard with the baby, who we named Florence Patricia Bradshaw. I studied books, drew on my own knowledge and experience and the baby grew up with very little signs of Down Syndrome except perhaps light slowness in reactions and learning. One of the things noticeable was that she never could say her name properly it came out as ‘Flouncy’; most people thought it was rather a sweet quirk and she became ‘Flouncy’ more than Florence. 

She was popular, pretty and affectionate. Everyone seems to love her and I secretly felt pleased that all the hard work I have put into exercising and medication had paid off. Then of course as she grew up there was a question of a career as far as she was concerned. There was only one thing she wanted to be, and that was, a nurse, like her name sake Florence Nightingale. That meant a lot of hard work, study and exams. None of which was easy for her, but with my help she got by with moderately good results and found a reasonably good position in the local hospital.

So Flouncy was happy. She enjoyed her work, was now 20 years old and had a nice boyfriend training to be a doctor and Mervyn and I were happy that we made a good job of bringing her up and auntie Pat and uncle Simon had the pleasure of her company quite often when they were at home.

Then disaster struck in form of the dreaded corona virus. The hospital where Flouncy worked took in the infected patients just the same as any other hospital. And Flouncy was in the thick of the nursing situation and vulnerable although completely unaware of the fact. The one person who suspected her case was the doctor she worked under. He was a very astute man and for some time had been suspicious of her underlying condition.

One day we had a phone call from him suggesting we made an appointment to see him. In the circumstances it was difficult to arrange, but a room was found where we could meet him in safety. He conveyed to us his concern, said he could do all he would to protect Flouncy, how valuable she was to the team of nurses, but could not guarantee that she would not catch the disease. When we got home I could see that Mervyn was angry with me. Indeed I had never, in all our years of married life, seen him so angry. We had always vowed never to keep secrets from one another, and Mervyn felt I had broken the vow. Finally, after he calmed down somewhat, I explained that I wanted him to treat Flouncy like any normal little girl and felt if he knew the truth he would be overprotective and Flouncy would have sensed that and would want to know why.

My whole aim was to keep her thinking she was a normal person and the same as everyone else.

Mervyn eventually accepted my explanation, but was still resentful of the fact that I hadn't trusted him.

Sadly the news we expected came from the hospital, Flouncy had caught the dreaded disease. She was very ill and only lasted two weeks. The greatest sadness was not being able to be with her. We saw her once briefly though a glass door, we waved to her and she waved weakly back. 

Her funeral was very quiet and a short affair with just us, the kind doctor, her boyfriend and one close friend from the nursing staff. We couldn't shake hands or give a comforting hug. It was like a light had gone out in our lives.

Two weeks after Flouncy's funeral we had a phone call from her doctor boss, wishing to meet us. He suggested choosing a warm day when we could sit in the garden not too close to each other. When he came he told us when the present crisis is over the hospital plan to set aside a small ward and name it the Flouncy ward and devote it to the care of Down Syndrome babies. He said it would need a specialist in charge of it. Would I be prepared to train for the post? I replied I was willing to and could take early retirement from teaching. The young doctor who was Flouncy's boyfriend was willing to specialise and follow in my footsteps and strangely enough Mervyn supported me wholeheartedly.

So there was a happy ending, we both thanked God for the happy years we had with Flouncy.

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