Please find a moment to read about how Ups and Downs Southwest started…
My name is Wendy O’Carroll (Wendy Hellowell until 2012) and I am the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ups and Downs Southwest.
In 1996, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, who we named Oliver. He was born at 1.15 am, everything was fine and I went down to the ward to sleep. The next day a series of strange encounters with various doctors culminated in a consultant paediatrician uttering the immortal words “I am 95% certain your baby has Down Syndrome”
I went home and the fabric conditioner advert made me cry, and walking into Mothercare made me cry, and watching lovely beautiful ordinary children skip past my window made me cry.
But I kept looking into my boy’s eyes, and I loved that baby as if my heart would burst.
He was connected by wires and tubes to everything you can imagine, and every time anything beeped I thought I might lose him, I thought he might die. But he didn’t, he grew stronger and I began to think that actually, he might be ok, and what is this Down Syndrome thing anyway – I’m going to learn all about it, and he’s going to be….amazing
There were lots of other children there in intensive care, and some of those children were far more poorly than mine, in fact the child in the bed next to Oliver was dying.
I had arrived at that place, as a mother who not only had been given a baby with DS but whose baby also needed open heart surgery, yet by the time I left I started to have the feeling that maybe, was it just possible, that I was actually rather lucky.
What if, I wonder, someone could have shown me, what this ‘poor’ baby of mine would be like ten or eleven years from then?
That would have helped wouldn’t it.
So I came home and I researched. I worked hard to find out everything there was to know about DS and I found a whole new picture – very different to the one I’d had in my head when the consultant uttered those immortal words.
And as my optimism grew, and my knowledge grew, and my confidence in our future grew, I then began to be possessed by a new need…
The need to go and tell all those other parents that were in that deep dark hole I had been in, that it was going to be alright. Looking back I knew that no matter what the doctors and nurses said to me, the person I really needed to see was another mum – because I would have BELIEVED her.
So I set out to be that mum.
I spoke to consultants, midwives, special care baby units and they all agreed to refer families to me. I started to raise money to buy more books, up to date books and research articles, to lend to other parents who wanted to read them and also, to disseminate the info to parents who would say – you read it Wendy – just tell me if there’s anything I need to know!!
And our little group began to grow.
And ‘I’, became ‘we’.
We formed a committee of parents, and made this ambitious bid for 3 years of funding to the Community Fund (before it became the Lottery Fund) and we got it!
And here we are now employing 9 staff, providing services to around 500 families and 200 schools right across the Southwest and beyond, and I am fortunate enough to have a 17 year old son who is working towards his dream of being a professional wildlife and landscape photographer.
As an organisation, we address issues in both the home and school environments, and are most unusual in this. We know that each affect the other and both affect the child. So we provide practical help to enable both to work constructively together, and on many occasions have prevented one environment from undoing the good the other has done.
To get where we are now has been an amazing journey, and we continue to learn and grow as we go. We are proud to be able to say that although it hasn’t been without tears, we have made significant positive differences to the lives of those wonderful, lovely and extraordinary families, children and young people we have the privilege to support along the way.
Thank you for reading,
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Ups and Downs Southwest