Eleven years ago an event occurred that made me Mother of Pearl.
A home birth, relatively easy, despite traffic problems meaning no pain relief at all.(Pause for standing ovation)
This beautiful third baby took us on a journey of discovery, to see if we had what it takes to join the Special Parents club. Fortunately it appears we did, which is just as well.
Nine and a half years of alternative reality later we finally had a diagnosis.
Join me on a normal morning in our household.
Six a.m. the alarm goes off. Father of Pearl is in Barcelona,with work. (Having had a full week of half term already, I was delighted to receive pictures of Gaudi’s world famous architecture while child wrangling)
Pearl is already awake and shouting loudly (she is non verbal-but vociferous).
I change her wet nappy, bung her a breakfast biscuit and an iPad,jump in the car to take her older brother to the bus station for college. (Before you phone social services her older sister is home from Uni and holds the fort.)
Back home, up date the Home School diary with the events of the half term week-forgetting to include the fact that she fell once or twice a day over the holiday, explaining the purple bruise on her behind. I should have mentioned the scratch on her tummy too, but forgot until now. I daresay there’ll be a note.
Pearl proceeds to climb into my bed with iPad (other tablets are available) as I explain that it is no longer the holiday and she has to get dressed.
Pearl is famously bad at transitions and despises having clothes put on.The tights are OK, but something is very bothersome about the jumper and it leads her to throw herself on the floor and weep big fat, slightly over dramatic tears. After a debrief, several cuddles and a face wash we go slowly down the stairs. Slowly because as she gets taller (about 5ft now) her legs are becoming less and less predictable. I have to go down in front of her backwards. Also slowly as somehow we have got into the unwise habit of her throwing herself into my arms and biting my left shoulder, before signing sorry and cuddling and kissing my right shoulder. I do not know how I allowed this to develop, but it has and it is what it is.
We have by this stage, left a trail of pyjamas, unmade beds, dirty nappies and breakfast biscuit wrappers behind us.We have ten minutes until school taxi arrival time. Fortunately she has got out of the right side of the bed, and sloughed of the dreadful dressing experience and allows me to brush her hair, without the need for us both to have counseling (this is remarkable)
Five minutes to get her into splints and shoes-and she doesn’t kick me in the face today-bonus!
A big kiss and she lets me put on her coat, and makes no fuss at all about leaving the house for the taxi. It is a good day indeed.
Despite the relative ease of the morning as I’m clearing up I reflect on rare diseases and how this one effects our family.
SWAN (syndromes without a name) is part of the Genetic Alliance, and provides support to families with children who despite a myriad of difficulties have no known diagnosis.
GNA01 does not describe Pearl’s difficulties but the gene change that produced them. It is a novo mutation, as it is new, and happened by chance during her development in utero.We did not pass it on, and statistically Pearl’s siblings are no more likely to pass it on than we were. Her geneticist did not spot it as Pearl was not particularly similar to the wider cohort of children with it.
Pearl’s difficulties, include epileptic seizures. These are rare for her and well controlled by a vary low dose of medication. Not so in the wider cohort, where seizures can be frequent and hard to tame. She does not display the uncontrolled and random moment disorder displayed by the majority of the group.She has an ataxic gait, walking (as one Orthopedic Surgeon who went to the Bernard Manning school of tact) like a drunken sailor. Her centre of gravity is all over the place and her muscles are unpredictable, increasing in tone when she grows, while also unexpectedly giving out and causing falls. She has no recognizable speech, although she uses yes and a head shake, plus her wonderful PODD communication book. Severe learning difficulties, double incontinence, global developmental delay, poor fine and gross motor skills and a bit of autism complete the picture.
Luckily neither this list, or her diagnosis define her.
She is observant, funny, loving, thoughtful, stubborn, self possessed, strong willed and has a ridiculous sense of humour.
So what has Rare Disease diagnosis meant for us? If it isn’t who she is what its the point?
Well it has given our children peace of mind about the chances of passing it on.
We are now part of an online community of parents with children with the same condition, we can ask questions, share stories and see what the future may look like.
Most importantly we are taking part in fact gathering for the next generation of geneticists, parents and Pearls about how the disease can look.
There are thousands of children out there with Rare Diseases and no easy answers, further research is needed to smooth the way, provide evidence for therapeutic intervention.give support to families and arm the professionals with information to pass on.
It’s Rare Disease Day. I love someone rare and she is quite magnificent.