For as long as I can remember, my youngest daughter has had a fascination with hospitals. She was born with a severe congenital heart defect, and the outlook from mid-way through my pregnancy was bleak. From a cardiac arrest when she was 10 days old, to major open heart surgery as a baby and then as a teenager, she has had extensive and often traumatic experience of hospitals. Yet, instead of this turning her off hospitals and doctors, it had the opposite effect. I remember her fascination, at the age of four, when the TV show Casualty showed an open heart operation. “Is that what they did to me?” she said. “WOW!”
From a very early age, she was able to articulate that she wanted to become a paediatric cardio-thoracic surgeon when she grew up. For years, she has worked towards this goal. At the age of 14, she was yet again in hospital for a cardiac procedure before her big surgery, studying Physics because her GCSEs were looming two years away. She asked the surgeons to schedule her surgery over the summer holidays so she wouldn’t miss any school (due to some post-surgery complications, she ended up staying in a bit longer than planned and missed three days in September). When she achieved her required GCSEs to go on to study Chemistry, Biology and Spanish in Sixth Form, she celebrated and rested briefly before knuckling down to studying hard again. At parents’ evenings, her teachers would tell us and her that they were worried she was working too hard. We forced her to take three days off last Christmas! She achieved fantastically well in her UKCAT exam, she attended open days and interviews. She fell in love with Manchester (the University and the city) and secured a conditional offer.
Fast-forward to results day: The nearly sleepless night, the anxious wait, hoping that the phone wouldn’t ring (school started phoning those who hadn’t achieved their required grades, in alphabetical order, at 7am), frantically refreshing the UCAS Track screen, waiting for the 8am live update. And then, the long-awaited answer: she was in! She was going to be able to take her next step towards this eagerly anticipated and hard-fought-for dream of hers. Then more good news once she got to school: she had exceeded her grade requirement. Tears of joy abounded (for which I got thoroughly chastised).
So why am I not proud of her results? Her results could have gone horribly wrong because she may have had a couple of bad days during her exams, or because everyone in the country did really well in a particular subject and the grade boundaries were higher as a result, or a myriad other reasons. I am delighted for her. I am happy beyond words, and excited for what the future holds, and I am immensely proud of her - but I was proud of her before her results came out.
I was, and am, proud of her dedication, hard work, relentless determination to succeed and pursuit of her dream. I am proud of her time spent getting relevant work experience, commuting four hours a day to go to the school she felt would be best suited to support her, making time to continue her hobbies of singing in a choir and performing in a musical theatre group. I am also incredibly proud of the fact that, despite the fact she hasn’t always found it easy to ask for help, she asked for help when she struggled - with the academic subjects, and emotionally.
From the moment she was born, my husband and I realised Hannah was what I have often referred to in fits of frustration as “stubborn as hell”. But we also realised that this meant she would fight for what she wanted in life. My work, particularly in schools, focuses on positive psychology and on character education - helping children develop their character strengths. I am proud of the fact that Hannah has displayed strengths such as self-regulation, love of learning, perseverance, humour, hope, humility and many more. I am reassured about her future by the fact that these strengths will help her with the challenges ahead - studying Medicine will be hard.
So, on A-level results day, I wish my daughter, and all other teenagers who have gone through this rollercoaster journey (regardless of results), a lifetime of discovery and learning, and of working on developing their strength muscles so that they can achieve their dreams, even if they need to take the odd detour from time to time. I congratulate each and every one of them for the effort and determination that has gone into getting this far - it will stand them in good stead, no matter what happens next.
Hear more from Frederika here.