The Truth About Motherhood: Olivia Djouadi, psychotherapist

After being told she would never conceive a child, and that she’d die by the age of 30, Olivia Djouadi was shocked to give birth to two children (born 10 months apart). They both have special needs, and she discusses the way this impacts on family life…

Olivia Djouadi, 44, lives in London with her partner and their children, a daughter aged 18 and a son aged 17, born 10 months apart. 

“I was told as a child I couldn’t have kids because I was a type 1 diabetic; I was also told I’d die by 30. Both were false. Conception happened quickly and it was a shock, being diabetic – and with a family history of preeclampsia it was very challenging.

Both my daughter and son were born by caesarian, the first was planned the second was an emergency caesarean to save me and my son. I had a lot of medical care throughout both pregnancies, with weekly appointments and inpatient on bed rest before both.

My predominant memory of the early days is of feeling scared because both children were 4lbs when they came home, my husband worked full time and neither of us had family in the country. My firstborn had severe reflux and needed a blood transfusion at six months. My second had brain damage and no matter how many times I said something was wrong I was treated as a fussy mother.

Olivia Djouadi on motherhood

In a way, I loved it from the start because I had two children alive. They were both family miracles. I became more settled at 30 because I survived the date I was told as a child. My kids were three and four by that stage. We decided I would be a stay-at-home mum and when they started school I went to university to become a psychotherapist.

Motherhood is a joy and a blessing, the tough part are chapters of growth mums can experience.

The reason I changed career was because I realised that I needed to be close to home for my kids. My firstborn had high anxiety that needed support and my son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and von Willebrand disease (VWD) – it’s similar to mild haemophilia. I now have great kids and a career I love.

My husband and I have had a solid relationship throughout. He was amazing with our kids – and with me – and he was so pleased that we had all survived. He was great when I later had a stroke and he did all care while I recovered – social services were no help at all.

We are all alive and each of our family have succeeded in ways that assist each other.

Before embarking on parenthood, I wish I’d known that I could become a parent and that my family were not going to help. It’s good to know beforehand that it’s up to you – no matter how tough it gets.

If you could go back in time, I’d probably not move three times with two special needs kids. Also, I’d have made links with other parents of special needs kids so we could support each other.

My advice to expectant parents is talk about the alternative plan if your child isn’t born healthy. Glance at parenting books but don’t reprimand yourself if you and your child don’t fit the book’s idea of perfect. If your kids are 10 weeks early like mine were then bin the book as it won’t apply at all.

Now that my children are on the doorstep of adulthood I worry over their futures. I’m also aware that our son may not leave till we die because London is not disabled friendly; it’s unfair because he could intellectually make it.

But I’m a mum to two amazing teenagers who care about the world they are growing up in. I’m a mum – that to me is still a miracle.

Lastly, this may sound silly but I would like our prime minister, who is a type 1 diabetic like me, to stay a few days with us and see our life. Life can be a challenge but acknowledgement is important.”