Ian Goddard/Water Babies
Catherine Wormall had no idea she was expecting a baby with Down's syndrome. Baby Scarlet was only diagnosed with the condition after she was born. And despite medics telling Catherine not to expect too much from her daughter, the little girl is already exceeding all expectations at just 17 months old – thanks in part to learning to swim!
Was it a shock to learn Scarlet had Down's syndrome?
A big shock. I had all the blood tests four months into pregnancy and was not considered a risk and so was not offered amniocentesis. When she was born and they said she could have Down's it came as a total surprise. To me she just looked like a normal baby.
So there were no obvious signs?
None. Her face was bit swollen from delivery, but she looked fine.
What were your immediate concerns for her?
Will she be able to cope? Will she be able to talk properly? Will she have learning difficulties? What would her long term future hold.
Does Scarlet have any of the health problems associated with Down's syndrome?
No, her ears and eyes are fine, and so is her heart.
Why did you decide to start taking her swimming?
We both really like swimming, but my husband Gareth is a real water baby and he first suggested it. I wasn't sure because of her condition. There was a local group called Water Babies but I didn't think it would be open to Scarlet.
Why did you think her condition could be a reason not do do it?
From the moment she was born we were told she couldn't do this, that and the other – we thought that something like swimming would have to be done through a specialist group, not a mainstream club. I decided to give Water Babies a call though, and Georgina, the instructor said to bring her along and see how she gets on.
What happened when you first put her in the water?
She wasn't quite sure at first! She was shocked! When she did her first underwater swim she went under with a smile on her face and came up with one too! I put my goggles on and went under too and she had her eyes open and was smiling away!
Scarlet has now been swimming since she was 6 months old - what benefits have you seen?
It has really helped to improve her muscle tone. She is now able to hold onto the side of the swimming pool, and at 8 months old she could sit up by herself. She was the first one in her Water Babies class to blow bubbles and hold her breath underwater!
Has her new found confidence changed how you parent her?
Yes! It has actually changed me and her dad more than it has changed her! Before she went swimming we mollycoddled her. We didn't introduce her to new things. We were scared. Would she be capable? I did not want the disappointment for her or me!
Does she go to any groups specifically for children with Down's syndrome?
We have just been accepted into a group with other Down's children, but she is a bit more advanced now and I do not want to hold her back. She needs things to encourage her - she doesn't walk yet but I think if she sees other kids doing so it will inspire her. She is talking, sits up unaided, and can go from sitting to standing on her own - and she has no trouble getting wherever she wants to by crawling!
What have your doctors noticed about her muscle tone and strength since she has been swimming?
Scarlet sees health visitors and has physio every other week, and they have noticed the improvement. She has really lost all her baby weight now she is so much more active and not just sitting there.
Would you encourage other parents of Down's children to get their kids involved in as many mainstream activities as possible?
Yes! I would have done this a lot earlier if I had known that many mainstream groups were suitable for Down's children. I'd say to any parent no matter what the disability, give mainstream clubs and classes a go – don't just sit at home thinking they won't fit in or be able to keep up with the class.
So what's next for Scarlet?
I want to get her horse riding next! Great for core balance and strength. I also want her to do gymnastics as soon as she is big enough!
And some more beautiful water babies...