When I was pregnant with my firstborn, we had done everything to ensure that it all went perfect. The prenatal checkup, all the doctors’ appointments, and genetic testing for disorders we were concerned about. Everything was perfect.
After 13 hours of labor, my daughter arrived. Since she’d gotten wedged around the pubic bone and took two hours to get out, there was a whole team of doctors there to make sure she was OK. And she was OK, but she had two severely clubbed feet.
The doctor described it as a “packaging defect”. It wasn’t genetic. It wasn’t environmental. It was merely a symptom of how she was positioned in utero. That didn’t make it any easier. My precious perfect firstborn she had golf-club shaped feet at 90 degree angles to her legs. We sat through the lectures and advice. We took her to her first orthopedist at 5 days old. She was in corrective casts up to her hips before she was a week old.
Being a January baby, we managed the first weeks fine. She wore long dresses and onesies that concealed the feet. With spring, however, she couldn’t wear so many layers. Trying to avoid stares, questions, and people’s ignorance.
The worst moment was when I took her for a walk at the mall, and a nice matronly woman started cooing at my daughter. My daughter beamed up at her. The woman then said, “Oh, and let me tickle those cute little toes.” Her face changed when she pulled the blanket back and saw the two casts. “Oh, my God, how on Earth did you break these baby’s legs?” And everyone in earshot stared at me. I stammered that she had a specialist, it was doctors’ orders, but she had already marched off from what she deemed an abusive mother.
After that I later took to carrying my pediatrician and orthopedists’ cards with me to whip out if confronted again. If they had questions, they could ask the doctor. Fortunately, no CPS or police ever came by. After six months of corrective casts and another year of corrective shoes, my daughter’s feet were pronounced “fixed”.
She learned to walk late, but was running and climbing everything within weeks. She is now an active acrobatic two year old that has climbed everything in the house but the fridge. Unlike other birth defects, ours was “fixable”. Downs’ Syndrome can’t be undone. Heart defects require terrifying surgery and constant worry. In that regard, we are utterly blessed.
It wasn’t until my son was born that I realized how different it was to have a “normal” baby. It wasn’t until I had him screaming that I realized the depression I’d had with my daughter. And how much easier it was to take him into public, without the fear and worry that taking her into public had wrought.
He was a perfect baby with ten fingers, ten toes, and all the body parts in the right place. It’s such an amorphous ideal. Yet we don’t realize how much can possibly go wrong until it does. And how precious that health and vitality is until you realize how tenuous it is.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.