Kieran and Emmie celebrate their wedding day, surrounded by family and friends (Image: NC)
Kieran Duffy married bride Emmie Houckham surrounded by family and friends at a cheerful church ceremony in August. Now the groom's mother has spoken of her pride in seeing the couple get married and become one of the few British couples who share the same learning disability. Tessa Branch said, "Kieran and Emmie have a wonderful relationship that is very loving and supportive. It was great to see them get married because it was something they both wanted so much.
"In that respect, they are no different from any other young couple.
"But I think their decision to get married is also fantastic, in a broader sense, because it really changes other people's attitude toward people with learning disabilities."
Tessa, 59, mother of four in Staplehurst, Kent, runs a charity that provides services for people with learning disabilities.
Kieran, 26, was her third child and, during pregnancy, said there was no indication that the baby had not yet had a disability.
It wasn't until a few hours old that a midwife broke the news: "We think your baby has Down syndrome."
Tessa said, "It was a shock, but for me there was acceptance, almost immediately. I was a speech therapist at the time and worked with families whose children had Down in the past, so I was familiar with that.
"Within a few hours, I was thinking about the fact that this baby would have a different life than I was imagining for him."
Kieran was a fragile baby who, in the first months of life, suffered from a blood disorder and repeated bouts of severe pneumonia.
They got married in August (Image: NC)
But as he grew, he prospered. And from the beginning, your mother always determined that your child should enjoy life as normal as possible.
Tessa said, "I was fortunate to have a lot of supportive family around me. Kieran's sisters, Chloe, Florentina and Tilly just adored him, treating him like any other boy.
"He became a sociable, fun and outgoing person. A true extrovert who loved and attracted people. Yes, Kieran had significant learning disabilities and struggled with reading and writing.
"But he was also brilliant and talented and there was nothing he couldn't find on the internet."
Kieran went to regular schools where he made headlines after earning 10 GCSE. He also loved performing arts and eventually joined Chickenshed, an inclusive theater company based in North London, taking a BTEC degree in inclusive performance, followed by an undergraduate degree, which required five years of study.
At age 19, she met Emmie through a social club. For the next two years, they were just friends. In 2010, Kieran and Emmie became a couple.
Tessa said, "Emmie is a lovely, friendly, outgoing girl. She's a lot of fun and loves music and dancing, just like Kieran. She's also fiercely loyal to everyone she loves. So they really were a combination made in heaven."
Emmie later went to study at the Chickenshed Theater, staying with them for two years. In 2016, Kieran proposed. Tessa said, "We were all at my house, having dinner together – my children, Emmie and her mother Emma.
"Kieran got up and proposed to Emmie in a whimsically manner singing her the song Wham! Baby, I'm Your Man – before kneeling to give Emmie a diamond and a pink sapphire ring. We were all cheering. and cheering.
"I always hoped Kieran would fall in love and be loved one day. And now I could see that having a relationship really increased his confidence, self-esteem and sense of security."
"He loved having Emmie as that special person in his life. He was very considerate of her. I don't think I ever thought much about whether he would marry, but that's what Kieran and Emmie wanted."
The first marriage in the UK between two people with Down syndrome took place in 1992 between Deana and Gareth Tobias. Gareth Tobias was just 17 when he first met Deana, 19, for the first time at his local Cumbria community center in 1981.
They tied the knot in front of 40 friends and family and are still happy.
Tessa with her son Kieran Duffy on their wedding day in August (Image: NC)
Another couple, Maryanne and Tommy Pilling, recently celebrated their 24th anniversary.
But it is not known how many couples there are in Britain with Down syndrome.
As Tessa says, for her own son marriage was important: "They have a lovely relationship – it's not a game for them, it's real."
On May 7 last year, Tessa and her second husband, Chris, married – with Kieran denouncing her and giving a "father of the bride" speech.
Then in September, Kieran and Emmie moved in together, living in their own flat, with some support from the carers. And on August 23 this year, they finally got married.
Like any other groom and bride, they spent months planning the church ceremony and evening reception — selecting hymns and readings and doing wedding favors.
On her big day, Emmie, 21, had three bridesmaids, a flower girl and two pages. Kieran had two cousins as his best men.
His wedding readings included the words You're the only one I want from Grease. And the song included Elvis' The Wonder Of You. They had a sunroom reception, with 170 people sitting for a meal.
Tessa adds, "It was a magical day. One of my favorite parts was when Kieran and his two groomsmen did a Greased Lightning-style dance for the wedding guests."
Kieran, center, in a production (Image: NC)
Now, when grooms return to earth after marriage, everyday life still poses enormous challenges for Kieran and Emmie, especially when it comes to assessing the value of money or dealing with unfamiliar situations.
But they face these challenges together and this is where the couple shows that they are a perfect match.
Tessa says, "They really complement each other well. Say, if they go to a restaurant they haven't been to before, Kieran may have trouble reading the menu, while Emmie would be able to do it fluently.
"But if they needed to ask for help, Kieran would have more confidence so that he would not be afraid to do so.
"It's not like they haven't been through trials and tribulations – he loves Emmie, but he likes his own space, while she enjoys being with him all the time.
"Sometimes he calls me and jokingly says, 'Mom, how can I be five minutes alone?' But you could argue that this is the case with many couples."
Today Kieran has a job as a tutor at the Hopshed Theater Company.
Meanwhile, Emmie is doing an office work experience and studying fabric printing.
Tessa adds, "Everyone is different. But after a lifetime of working with people with learning disabilities and having a child with learning disabilities, I firmly believe that most people with learning disabilities will grow up to be what you expect. let them be.
"If you expect their lives to be relatively limited, it will be. If you expect their lives to be relatively ordinary like everyone else's, then it can be."