1. Hello Sarah, please introduce yourself to the BJJ Mums community
Hey 🙂 I’m Sarah, I’m 31 years old and live in Worcester in the UK with my husband Paul, our daughter Daisy Lynn and our cat Branca.
2. How long have you been practicing BJJ?
I’ve been practicing for around 3/4 years, I had wanted to start earlier but struggled to find a club that felt like it was right for me. I visited around 5 different clubs over the space of two years but couldn’t find one that was a fit for me, either the teaching style didn’t fit my learning, I didn’t feel welcome, I felt pressured to do classes I didn’t want to, was asked to pay large amounts of money up front or the club simply refused to train women.I met my husband through training for my role as Special Constable (volunteer police officer) and he encouraged me to come and try one of the classes at the club where he is the head coach. I loved it and haven’t looked back since.
3. When did you find out that you were pregnant? How did you feel about it? How old is your daughter now?
I found out that I was pregnant at the end of June 2018. I had been competing at my first IBJJF competition at blue belt level having been promoted the April before. I was exceptionally tired in the week or so leading up to it, even having to take half a days leave from my job at one point to go home and sleep.
The night before I competed, we had been kept awake by neighbours in the hotel we were staying at till 3am so I put my tiredness and the fact I was sleeping on the bleachers between fights down to that.
As we were receiving fertility treatment, I was required to do pregnancy tests at regular intervals, we’d been on the road of trying to conceive for a while so I’d got to the point that I didn’t see the point in “symptom spotting” as it pretty much always led to disappointment when I was presented with yet another negative pregnancy test.
Imagine my surprise when the test I did the following Tuesday after the competition came back as positive! I was over the moon, as was my husband and Daisy was born (4 weeks premature) in February 2019. She’s 6 months old now and the time has flown by.
4. Did you train during your pregnancy?
I tried to train as often as I did before I was pregnant but the tiredness got in the way. For the occasions that I did get onto the mats, we told a few trusted training partners about my pregnancy early on so that I had people to train with who knew not to go too hard during rolling, but I always felt like I was holding them back as they couldn’t train properly with me. As much as I tried to tell people they didn’t have to completely hold back, i always felt like people were too worried about hurting me to effectively practice whatever technique we were doing which was fair enough so I took the decision to stop training when I hit 18 weeks. I still attended classes and seminars to watch but didn’t take part.
I carried on with my strength and conditioning until I was around 22 weeks pregnant, in hindsight I wish I’d pushed myself to carry on as long as possible but at the time I didn’t feel like I had the energy.
5. How long has your husband trained in BJJ?
He’s been training for around 15 years and was awarded his black belt almost 3 years ago. He now runs the club that I train at after his master Chico Mendes left it in his care but has been teaching since he was a blue belt.
6. When did you find out that she had Down Syndrom? How did you handle it? Please fee free to share with us your feelings.
Initially we were told that the Triple Screening (a test done in week 12 of pregnancy in the UK to check for Edwards, Patau, and Downs Syndrome) results had come back as high risk (1 in 40) for Downs Syndrome a few days after our first scan. It was a massive shock to both of us as neither of us had any knowledge of the condition or knew anyone with it. We were given three options, do nothing and carry on, be referred for an amniocentesis to get a definite answer, or be referred for an abortion.
We chose to go for an amniocentesis, mostly because at the time we were telling ourselves 1 in 40 meant there was only a 2.5% chance of her having Downs Syndrome and we’d convinced ourselves that the results would come back as “normal”. The procedure came a 1% risk of miscarriage but not knowing for certain felt worse at the time.
On 17th September 2018 at 14:28 I got the phonecall whilst I was at work confirming the results and that our baby girl had Downs Syndrome.
Having confirmation actually made it easier for everyone, we could start researching and preparing as we weren’t in limbo anymore. We announced the news on Facebook rather than having to tell everyone individually and risk the “I’m sorry” responses, the actual response we got from friends and family was incredible and showed us exactly how much support we had behind us.
7. I am sure nobody will judge you (and if they do, their bad) but, did you think about abortion?
It was something that we had to talk about, and was probably one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had with my husband. There’s always the worry that the decision and vocabulary of one is leading the other.
7a. If yes, how did you take a decision?
We came to the conclusion that she is our baby, she’s a life that deserves to be lived as much as any other life and we’d deal with any issues or problems as and when they present themselves. Something or someone somewhere thought that she’s the baby we’re meant to have so we figured that we shouldn’t question that.
8. Recently we saw a video about the limitations kids with Down Syndrom may have from the doctor point of view and the response of some people with Down Syndrom to it. It was touching. Now your daughter is here, and I have seen pictures and she looks like a wonderful girl. What do you think about those limitations?
I think it’s the stereotypes like those in that video that create the limits, not the abilities of those with Downs Syndrome. In the past in the uk, people with Downs Syndrome were often committed to institutions where they existed, they couldn’t be described as living as no expectations were placed on them, they weren’t challenged, they just existed from day to day. Now that society’s views on disabilities are changing, we’re seeing a lot more people with Downs Syndrome achieving things that people never thought possible. People like Kate Grant – a model who is now the face of the cosmetics company Benefit, Karen Gaffney who is an amazing public speaker and advocate for those with Downs Syndrome, or Sarah Gordy – an actress who was recently awarded an MBE during the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
We won’t be placing any limitations on Daisy, she will decide what she can and can’t do. As parents we will be guiding her to unlock every last bit of potential that we can, she’ll be encouraged when she thinks that she’s not capable of something and we’ll do everything in our power to help her to achieve her dreams and goals.
She’s already showing what a determined (and stubborn) little girl she is and though we’re probably biased as her parents, we think she’ll be smashing plenty of stereotypes that are often placed on those that have Downs Syndrome.
8b. Where your family and friends supportive with your decision? If not, how you handle it?
They were all amazingly supportive, my mom and sister had a lot more knowledge and experience of Downs than I did. My mom used to volunteer with her church youth group where a few of the kids there had Downs Syndrome and my sister has worked in care trying to promote independent/semi independent living environments for young people with Downs Syndrome and other disabilities. Both were open about their thoughts and experiences whilst we were waiting for the amnio and everyone we told when we found out have been supportive – one friend even left a food package on our doorstep the day that we found out so that we didn’t have to venture out and face people before we’d processed and come to terms with the news ourselves.
Our teammates on the mats were, and continue to be amazing and considering we have no Brazilian family, Daisy is gathering quite the collection of Brazilian “uncles” and other non-blood family within the BJJ world that will look out for her and teach her as she gets older.
9. Are you back to the mats? If yes, how do you do it with your kid? Does someone help?
I went back to training around 6 weeks after having Daisy after receiving the nod from my GP that I could go back to normal activities. As I had Daisy via emergency csection I had to be careful of my section scar for the first 6 weeks back on the mats, this just meant rolling light and ensuring that training partners knew not to knee on belly me. To begin with we’d take Daisy to the gym with us but when she hit 6/7 weeks we had to change this as she’d shout/cry through the lessons meaning I’d barely train anyway and we had to start thinking about establishing a bedtime routine with her.
My husband used to teach every weekday night but as one of us had to stay at home with her this would have meant I would only have been able to train on Saturday mornings when one of his assistant coaches led the classes. To give me another training day, he handed Wednesday evenings to another assistant coach meaning he now stays at home with Daisy for that evening while I train.
I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to find a strength and conditioning gym that has a crèche for two hours each morning on three days of the week, though when I go back to work we’ll have to figure out another way of getting my S & C training in as these hours won’t work anymore.
10. Is there any advice you would give to other mums-to-be whose baby was diagnosed with Down Syndrom?
First off, congratulations! Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions and have any thoughts that you need to come to terms with anything. It’s big news to be expecting any baby, it’s even more to think about knowing that that child may have more hurdles than a typical child. Don’t feel guilty for the thoughts you have, it’s completely normal but try not to keep everything to yourself, speak to your partner, family and friends.
There are loads of support groups that you can approach to speak to, meet people who are going/have been through the same thing, ask any questions you may have and take you time to make any decisions as to how you want to proceed.
No one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, it’s your decision to make but please look for the positive stories of those living with Downs Syndrome not just the doom and gloom. No one can know how your baby will be affected by the condition but the same difficulties can be faced in the form of other conditions that can’t be screened for or via accidents or illnesses that happen later in life. As a parent you will always find a way to deal with any difficulties your child may face, it’s all part of the journey and no one knows what the future may hold.
11. Something else you want to share with us?
If anyone ever sees us at competitions or other BJJ gatherings, don’t be afraid to come and say hi or ask any questions you may have. We won’t be offended and Daisy will take any chances she gets to make new friends 🙂