WOW Woman…Michelle Cummins

If you’re reading this blog the chances are you know all about juggling work with the demands of raising a family.

But it’s even more difficult when your young baby has complex medical needs.

So, Michelle Cummins started up her own business that gives her the flexibility she needs, while also allowing her to work towards ensuring her daughter’s future.

Michelle (39) is mum to 19-year-old Bailey, three-year-old Caleb and two-year-old Amelie, who has Down’s syndrome.

The condition was not picked up until Amelie was born and Michelle and her husband, Alan, are still finding their feet as the parents of a child with special needs.

It has been a difficult road to navigate – before Amelie’s second birthday in March, she had already endured surgery in Dublin to repair a number of holes in her heart.

And now she is hoping she will be able to use the profits from her business, AmMia, to address the gaps in services available to families with children who have Down’s syndrome.

“Amelie was only diagnosed when she was born,” explained Michelle.

“She was an emergency section, so I didn’t really see her until we were in the recovery room but as soon as I saw her, I knew.

“They said that Amelie had better muscle tone than they would expect in a baby with Down’s syndrome and they would need to do a blood test to confirm.”

Confirmation that Amelie has Down’s syndrome was a blow for Bangor couple Michelle and Alan (40), her husband of four years.

“You go through a period of grieving,” said Michelle.

“I was over 35 when I was pregnant with both Caleb and Amelie and I was offered a test to see whether they had Down’s syndrome during the pregnancy, but I didn’t go for it because it wouldn’t have changed anything for me.

“It might have prepared me if I had known before.

“When we took Amelie home from hospital, we had her and a print-out we were given.

“There was no other advice or support.

“I look back at photographs of the first year and I don’t really remember them, I think I had post-traumatic stress.

“I have been blessed to have three pregnancies and three babies but you have an idea of what your baby will be like and everything they will achieve and experience in life and that changes when you find out they have Down’s syndrome.”

In the months after Amelie was born, Michelle crocheted a number of blankets for family members also expecting new arrivals.

It was a craft she was taught by her mum and she found it helped her escape her distress.

“I could crochet before I could write,” she continued.

“We used to do knitting at school and everyone would be just getting the hang of it and I would be finished and bored.

“After Amelie was born, there was one afternoon Alan was at work and I started making some little keyrings just to see if I could.

“I also realised that it took my mind off things, it helped me to stop overthinking what was happening.

“I decided I would try and make a business out of it.

“I worked in HR before Caleb was born but I’ve not gone back yet and I’m just not sure what will happen.

“Amelie is still a baby, we don’t know what her needs are going to be and she has so many appointments to attend.

“I do remember one of the midwives who had a child with special needs telling me that I would need to get a diary to keep a record of all the medical appointments.”

After making the decision to earn money through her love of crocheting, Michelle asked Alan to help her create the logo for the business and she set up a Facebook page.

She also started building up stock and attended a number of craft fairs which helped her to raise AmMia’s profile.

She is currently working with a new born photographer to make the props for her specialist shoots.

Michelle isn’t sure how exactly she will develop the business in the coming months – but she is determined that it will help Amelie and other people with Down’s syndrome.

She explained: “There was a thing on the news recently about some women with Down’s syndrome who have been trained as hair stylists, but why is this not being offered to all people with Down’s syndrome if that’s what they want?

“I saw a young man with Down’s syndrome and he was working in his dad’s business but he was only getting that opportunity because of his dad.

“It shouldn’t be like that, people with Down’s syndrome should be offered every opportunity that everyone else is offered.

“I want more support to be available for people with Down’s syndrome and their families.

“I only actually found out about a local support group by accident and I donate 20% of my sales to them now.

“The other 80% I am putting away for Amelie’s future.

“I also want to teach her to crochet if she is able, we don’t know yet what she will be able to do.

“I understand that she might not want to crochet and that’s fine, maybe she will prefer to do the social media side of things or maybe she will prefer to go along to the craft markets and speak to customers.

“Whatever makes her happy, that’s what I want for her.

“When you’re a parent of a child with Down’s syndrome, you worry so much about their future, I probably worry more about that at the moment than I do about any health complications.

“I want a hub to be created where people with Down’s syndrome can get training and be offered employment and I want the health trusts to be more involved in that.

“I know that might seem like a very big plan and it’s only early days, but I don’t see why that can’t be provided and I am hoping that AmMia will help to make that happen, even by raising awareness.

“Speaking to other parents, it seems like once your child has left school there is really very little for them and that’s simply not acceptable.

“We want Amelie to fly in whatever way she wants to and we will do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

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