These days, Gina Daly most likely goes to Tesco for carrots – and comes home with five baby outfits.
Gina, one half of the couple behind the Daly Dish, is loving being a mom to baby Gene, who was born at the end of November. “With a new baby, you expect crying, staying up all night, adjusting to nappies and bottles – but it was surprisingly amazing.”
As successful cookbook authors, she and her husband Karol have built a huge following on Instagram thanks to their food journal and sharing of recipes. But for now they – along with children Holly, 13, and Ben, 11 – are in a special bubble created by the arrival of 11-week-old Gene.
“He is such a good baby, very happy. He howls when he’s hungry or when he wants a cuddle. He is so happy to be cuddled or just to sit and look at us. It’s like he’s the missing piece that fitted right in.”
Gene’s brother and sister are “obsessed” with him. “All they want is to kiss him and hug him, talk to him, play with him. Ben was the baby – and we all do everything for him, so I didn’t know if there would be jealousy.
“But he’s like daddy,” Gina continues. “He says, ‘Watch your head, don’t hold it so tight’ and he’s there with the diaper, the wipes.”
The moment Gina first saw Gene, she knew he had Down Syndrome, which occurs when there is an extra copy of chromosome 21 in every cell in the body. Down’s Syndrome affects approximately one baby in 444 births in Ireland.
Describing Gene as an “extra chromosome of awesomeness” and “a little rainbow with an extra color,” Gina recalls his arrival at Mullingar Hospital via caesarean section. “I could hear that [medics] say, “Oh, look at him. Oh, he’s running! His legs go 90′. The doctor held him over the curtain and the second I saw him I knew from his facial features that he had Down Syndrome.
“They said he was perfect. He had 10 fingers, 10 toes, he started crying. All I could think was, ‘He’s healthy, he’s here and he’s safe’.”
Down syndrome genes weren’t a bolt from the blue for the Meath couple. Gina became pregnant with Gene six months after her miscarriage in September 2020, when she was approaching her 40th birthday. That had been a surprise pregnancy. “We got to a point where the kids could go to their grandma and grandfather and Karol and I could go out to eat by ourselves. After Ben was born I felt like I would have my two beautiful children – my boy and girl – and never thought about more babies.”
But Gina was thrilled to be unexpectedly pregnant. “As shocked as I was, I realized it was what I wanted. We were very happy.”
However, it shouldn’t be. “I suddenly had the feeling that something was wrong. I had a bit of spotting and went to the hospital.” Her subsequent miscarriage brought her down. “It dulled me, numbed me. I was very down and thinking about what could have been. I thought, ‘I’m 40 now, what are my chances of having another baby? And what if I have another loss?’ That was my fear. But I also felt: Look, what should be…”
Gina became pregnant with Gene in March 2021. And in April — on the due date of the baby she lost — she started bleeding. “I bled for 10 days. I thought that’s it, the baby’s gone. But I was told no, he’s still there. We had to wait two weeks to see if there was any growth. I was in absolute bits. When we were told ‘there’s your little baby’s heartbeat – he’s alive and thriving’, I just floated home with a sigh of relief.”
At the early pregnancy clinic, the counselor said – given Gina’s age – there was a higher risk of having a baby with different syndromes. “She was also an elderly mom. She said the main risk is Down syndrome. There was an opportunity to do genetic testing, but I wasn’t interested. I figured if I had a baby with Down syndrome, that’s my baby. I’m supposed to be his mom. Karol and I felt the same – we are happy to be able to continue without genetic testing.”
Due to the pandemic, Gina’s 20-week anomaly scan was delayed to 25 weeks. “Karol could come with me. Everything was absolutely fine. The person who performed the scan said the baby was a real wriggler and she would be postponing another scan in two weeks so she could see his face. We didn’t think anything of it.”
Before the fortnight was up, Gina was unexpectedly called back in. The doctor had found on the scan that the baby’s femur was small. “She said it could be a marker for Down syndrome. My brain just shut down… I kind of freaked out. I said, ‘What do I do now?’”
The counselor recommended genetic testing and said if the baby was born with Down’s syndrome, a heart problems team should be on call. Referred to Holles Street Hospital for genetic testing, Gina and Karol are trying to get acquainted with the news. “We felt like even if he was born with Down Syndrome, it’s not the worst thing in the world. As long as he’s healthy and his heart is strong, we felt we could handle anything.”
Shortly before the genetic test, Gina went to the postponed scan. “She checked the leg length again and found everything ok. Maybe he’d been in a weird position the first time. She checked his nose and neck for faint signs of Down syndrome. Nothing showed, but she said these were difficult to see on ultrasound. And she said his heart looks really strong.”
Gina then decided she didn’t want the genetic test. “It would be to find out if he has Down syndrome – but if he had it, it made no difference. I could only hope that everything would be fine, that he would be fine. I just wanted to enjoy being pregnant and the few weeks we had in our little bubble.”
But the couple have had countless conversations about the possibility of Down syndrome. “You hear people say they mourn the baby they should have had. All we ever felt was ‘whatever he has or doesn’t have, he is our baby and we will love him and the kids will love him and our family will love him’.”
Gene came pretty quickly and Karol was out the door putting on his smock when he was born. “When he saw Gene, he was just overwhelmed with love for him. I was taken to recovery and Karol was taken upstairs to be skin to skin with Gene. The doctor checked his heart – it was ticking perfectly and that was the news we wanted to hear.”
After telling the family the baby was healthy, Gina took time before sharing the additional news with them. “For me, the person who was the hardest to tell was my father. He is 82 – from the older generation who would have found Down syndrome a burden. I didn’t expect that kind of reaction from him, but I knew he would cry on the phone – he gets emotional – and I’m his little girl.
“So my sister Jackie said she would call Daddy and tell him. And my dad wrote: “Jackie called and told me. All is well. Just bring him home so we can start loving him. I called him right away. I said, ‘Daddy, he’s absolutely perfect, he’s gorgeous.’ And he said: “I know – the pictures are beautiful. I just want you to take him home.
Gina met one person who sympathized, cried and said “I’m so sorry”. “I was amazed. I said ‘don’t be sad,'” says Gina, who feels very supported by the positive community of moms she’s followed on social media over the past few years.
“One in particular has a four-year-old who was born with Down syndrome. I have followed her journey since she was a child. So I see children with Down syndrome and they have wonderful lives. They are not held back – they go to mainstream school and do all the things that other kids do.
“And that will be our little man. He’s growing up – having his first beer with daddy, having a girlfriend, going to college.
“We didn’t realize until recently that Karol’s boyfriend has a girl in her 20s with Down syndrome. She just graduated from university. All these people show that there are no limits to the children. And in the next 10 years, things will become even more available to them.”
This support and positive attitude are all the more important as Gina and Karol have various doctor’s appointments with Gene over the next few weeks. “We were in Crumlin last week for his first cardiology appointment. It’s all new to us and your heart would turn 90 – I’ve never felt so troubled. Gene has a tiny hole in his heart, which I didn’t expect. There was talk of surgery which made me cry but the surgeon says it’s so small he doesn’t need surgery – it will close itself. I was so happy.”
Gina has set up a dedicated page for Gene on Instagram (to the Daly Dish). So is he an early influencer? “I hope it’s a place to capture his various milestones, for moms like me who look to the page and think, ‘Oh, there’s her little boy — and look, he’s walking!’ And to give hope to those who may feel a little sadness.”
She wants to be a really good advocate for genes and for children with Down syndrome. “I have a platform. And whatever I can do, I will do for him. I don’t want him to change. I want the world to change for him.”