The day my life changed - My brain-damaged daughter gives me the greatest ever teaching highs

12th November 2010 at 00:00

The nine months of my pregnancy were also the first nine months of my new teaching post. I found out that I was pregnant the weekend before school started - and my morning sickness arrived on the first day. My new colleagues may have mistaken my sprints to the toilet as a major case of first-week nerves.

I announced my pregnancy after October half-term. I worried that my department would resent my condition, but they rejoiced. The teachers at my school love a pregnant woman.

Over lunch, around a long table in the staffroom, I had lengthy conversations with colleagues about my future post-baby. "I'm only going to take six months off," I said, with a dismissive wave of my hand. "That's all I can afford." That was partially true. But, really, I couldn't imagine my life without work.

One morning, at 5am, my waters broke. After crying down the phone to my mother in an absolute panic, I sat at my desk at home to finish some marking. Ten minutes later I stopped myself. Not because marking books at this time was insane - I stopped because I realised I hadn't yet packed a hospital bag.

My priorities were all off. I worried about marks - my books and those other, all-important, stretch marks. I worried about losing post-pregnancy pounds and how painful the delivery would be. If there had been any signs that something could possibly go wrong, I never would have worried over such trivial things.

My daughter was born with severe brain damage. Her injury is so severe that words like "global" are used to describe it. I endured more than 65 hours of labour, during which I had an infection, high blood pressure and numerous forms of assisted delivery. At some point, May suffered a cataclysmic injury. Her brain will never recover.

That night, in the dark, my husband wrapped his arms around me in my tiny single bed and I wept uncontrollably until I passed out. Nothing in my life will ever match the gasping terror of the future I imagined for us in those first few days and nights. Because terror is what it was. It was a nightmare of my own imagining.

School played a large role in both our recoveries. During my maternity leave, I admitted to a friend - also a teacher - that I sometimes felt like running away. She responded: "Every day, when you go to school, that will be your escape." That isn't a thought that would bring comfort to all teachers, but she knew me, and she knew my school.

School is a sanctuary. There, I am in control of my environment and I am lucky enough to work alongside friends who respect me for my teaching, rather than pity or revere me for being the mother of a disabled baby.

May is a special-needs child. She is developmentally delayed, with physical weaknesses and a severe visual impairment. As in class, I break down every activity into achievable steps. But, mainly, like all teachers I admire, I do my best to encourage her. It can take weeks or months before she learns what for most babies would come naturally. But when May reaches a milestone, it is exhilarating like no other lesson I have taught.

Unlike many of my pupils, May has no fear of learning. She spends all her time giggling. She is too busy bouncing and playing to concern herself with thoughts about how restrictive her disabilities are.

May doesn't know she is disabled. She doesn't understand the predictions of doctors. She thinks the world is there to give her pleasure and she takes all she can get. She is an absolute joy.

Stacie Lewis teaches at Norbury Manor Business and Enterprise College, Thornton Heath, Surrey. She blogs at If you have an experience to share, email


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