My birthlight story - Nadine

It took me a while to get my head around becoming a Birthlight Baby Swimming teacher. I’d trained as a dancer but, due to injury that never quite happened!

And now I have been asked to write something about how I came to Birthlight.

My son, Matthew, was born in 1999 with a major congenital heart disorder which meant that he had only half a working heart. It had been a shock to get the news of the condition at my 20 week scan and a wonderful relief to be able to bring him home after his first open heart surgery at just two days old.

We made a conscious decision to try to not wrap our little bundle up in cotton wool, so when my neighbour popped round to say that she had found some amazing looking swim sessions for babies I said that I was more than happy to give it a try with her and her baby daughter. She was a very keen swimmer herself, me?  Not so! Anyway, we had to wait for the scar on Matthew’s chest to heal following his second open heart surgery at just 6 months old – he’d thrived and needed his second surgery much sooner than most children with the condition would have had it, but he’d taken this one in his stride too so I felt that there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t start these classes as soon as we could.

It was amazing to see the way that our babies responded to the water. Apart from Matthew’s zip-up chest there was no difference in the way that he played in the water from his friends in the same class. Francoise and Sally were running the classes that we were in, at the Grove School in Cambridge, and Francoise in particular was intrigued by how Matthew worked in water even with half a heart. He LOVED it and there wasn’t anything that he wouldn’t try.

It was Francoise that suggested to me one day after class when Matthew was about 18 months old, that I might make a good teacher myself, I think with the extra understanding that I had through Matthew’s condition. I couldn’t bring myself to do it though, I felt that needed to be able to give all my attention to Matthew (even if he didn’t really need it!) so didn’t see how I would have the time to do the training.

On 7th May 2001, Matthew died, suffered a massive heart attack suddenly and unexpectedly, and the next day, at just over 20 months, he died.

My Birthlight “family” closed around me gently and the offer was made again of training me up as a teacher but I couldn’t face it.

18 Months after Matthew was taken from us I had Emily, my “heart-healthy” daughter. I decided that I wanted to everything that I had done with Matthew with her. That meant a return to swimming among everything else. I ended up at the Grove again and, even though I was in one of Amanda’s classes this time, it felt like coming home. I felt so comfortable in the classes that it wasn’t long before I took Francoise up on her offer of putting me through Level 1 and setting me on my way.

I was lucky enough to get onto one of the Birthlight residential courses in the school somewhere in Norfolk, where there was provision for me to take Emily, along with my hubby to provide childcare and be a guinea pig with in the various other sessions that were going on as well as the aquatics.

It’s such a long time ago now: I qualified at Level 2 and have been teaching my dinky dippers now for over 13 years and I love it as much now as I did when I was in classes myself. The way the technique works with the foibles of each of the babies and children (and occasionally adults!) is amazing and it is an absolute joy to watch nervous parents and grandparents develop with their younglings in the water, even to the point of non-swimming adults being comfortable and able to float with their little ones in the pool. I only teach a couple of days a week – it’s always been an issue finding pools that are happy to have babies in, but I have found a couple of private pools who understand what I am trying to achieve and, though I would love to teach more most of the time, my first priority is actually Emily.

But … don’t get me started on the level of delight and pride I feel for each one of my dippers, of all ages, as they achieve something new!!!

Nadine Santus

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