How I juggle my dual roles as SEN barrister and single mum of two girls, one of whom has Down syndrome
Nearly eight years ago, I thought I’d never recover from the news that my daughter has Down syndrome. I remember praying that there was a mistake and that the Consultant with the kind brown eyes had got it wrong. Deep down, buried somewhere in my heart, I knew, of course, that he was right.
My recovery took at least 12 months. Once I had played out the blame game, I carried on as far as I could with normal life, though life would never really be normal again. There was life before Ambreen and life with her. The years passed and, like other parents, I struggled to obtain the right provision for Ambreen.
When she was about to start junior school, we relocated from Peterborough to Hampshire. Everything was new and people didn’t really know me at all; they just knew me as the barrister with a Down’s daughter.
There are days when a lot of juggling is involved, especially as a single mother of two. The greatest challenge I have is finding the right child care for Ambreen. With her sister it is different; she is five years old and can recall every detail about how the child minder treated her and what she did with her day. With Ambreen, though, I am unable to find out how she did. Of course I can ask the childminder, but I would rather know from Ambreen that she is happy and well cared for. She is vulnerable and it is imperative for me to trust the person looking after her while I am in court.
I am only able to call during my lunch break, or on my way home, to find out if everything is alright. I usually put the girls into after school club, which runs until 6pm, but I rarely take cases that mean they will be picked up after 5pm. If a case is going be heard in London, I will usually employ someone to pick up the girls and cook them dinner. On those days, I arrive back at around 8pm. By then, I am shattered and both the girls are often asleep.
I do most of my work in the early hours of the morning, during school hours or, if needs be, when the children have gone to bed. I have to be very disciplined both at work and at home, as I know that time is precious. Every minute of my day is accounted for, right down to when I am buying milk. My philosophy is definitely: do today, and don’t put off until tomorrow.
Ambreen used to wake up every night as she suffered from sleep apnoea but, since she had her tonsils out, it has eased off. I remember those nights as being pretty tough on me, especially functioning without much sleep and having no rest from work and being a mother.
I have a cleaner come in as and when I need one; I say that this is my guilty pleasure as it frees up my time and gives me some respite. I haven’t yet used any formal services for respite, though, despite being a lone parent, as I know there are many others with children whose needs are far more severe than Ambreen’s.
I have to use different approaches to parenting with both my daughters, and the experiences can be very different. I would never change how things are, though; having Ambreen is a gift and she is an inspiration to me. All in all, my life is very rich and rewarding and I always remember that there are many people worse off than me, and they have to cope.
Gulshanah Choudhuri is a Barrister-at-Law at 3PB specialising in SEN: