‘It’s not a tragedy’
actress and writer Sally Phillips on the joys of having a child with Down’s syndrome
Sally meets Halldora, 32, one of the few people in Iceland with Down’s
Iwas told it was going to be a tragedy but it feels like a comedy,’ says Bridget Jones star Sally Phillips on her eldest son’s Down’s syndrome diagnosis.
And, says Sally, 46, some of 12-year-old Ollie’s antics are straight out of the BBC sitcom Miranda, in which she played posh Tilly.
‘There was a time at the airport when Ollie got on to the baggage carousel – it was not a million miles away from the scene when Miranda gets her necklace caught in the conveyor belt at a sushi restaurant.
‘But it was not the end of the world. All the people waiting for their luggage just thought it was funny.’
TV Times is talking to Sally because she’s made a one-off documentary,
A World Without
Miranda Down’s Syndrome? on BBC1 this week, which she co-wrote and presents. While Ollie features in the film, as do her two other sons, Luke, nine, and Tom, four, it’s not really about him. Instead, she explores the potential impact on society of a new screening test for Down’s.
The Non-invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) can detect Down’s syndrome in pregnancies with 99 per cent accuracy. Nine out of 10 British women now opt for a termination if they are given a positive diagnosis. Sally worries that people with the genetic condition might eventually be screened out of the population.
‘In Denmark it’s a government objective to make the country Down’s-free by 2020. In Iceland
100 per cent of people choose to terminate after a Down’s diagnosis. We have a wonderful history of acceptance, diversity and inclusion in the UK and it would be wonderful if we didn’t go down that route.’
Sally also fears that, with all the advances in screening, not enough thought is given to the effect this could have on those living with Down’s.
‘One example is schooling.
Children with Down’s do much better in a mainstream environment, but who’s going to bother to invest in that if it’s an unspoken objective to remove them from society?’
Sally was screened when she was pregnant with Ollie and was told that the chance of him having Down’s was one in 10,000.
When he was born she believes it was obvious to the medical staff that he had the condition but he was 10 days old before she and her husband, IT specialist Andrew Bermejo, were given the diagnosis.
The way she reacted, she says, is typical of parents in her position.
‘You either feel it’s a terrible tragedy and you grieve for the loss of the child you imagined you were going to have, or you become a tiger mother, determined to fight prejudice and saying, “Nothing will stop us”. That was definitely me.’
Sally moved on from the combative stage when she realised that having a child with Down’s syndrome was not a catastrophe.
‘Ollie is very funny, very loving and very kind. He has above average emotional intelligence and can spot the one person in the room who’s feeling uncomfortable. He’s the only one of my three children who asks, “Mum, how was your day?” And he genuinely wants to know.’
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mother’s pride: Ollie has a special place in her heart
We have a wonderful history of acceptance
in the UK
as Tilly in