For first time parents who are not accustomed to seeing newborn babies, turned-in feet don’t often sound the alarm; in fact, when I first saw my daughter’s feet I didn’t realize that there was anything unusual about them!
There are so many things that normally change in baby’s appearance after birth– sometimes babies are born with fuzz that later on disappears, skin color is often not what one would consider a “normal” hue right after delivery, eye color changes continuously for up to six months, the shape of a baby’s head is often a little elongated from the squeeze of birth and needs to naturally morph, and so on, so how should a beginner-level parent (which is exactly what I was, if not a level below beginner) who had only seen babies that little in movies know that turned in feet aren’t normal in a newborn?
The first alarm for us was when the pediatrician called in to examine our daughter right after she was delivered asked if anyone had pointed out her feet. He proceeded to warn us that there might be something slightly out of the norm with our baby’s turned-in feet, though despite the call to attention he was very reluctant to even mention the word “clubfoot”. He gave us hope that the position of our daughter’s feet was only due to the many months spent in crammed quarters, and that they would straighten out on their own over the course of a couple days. Very tired and emotional new parents that we were, that was all we wanted to hear– the problem was not in fact a problem, and would straighten itself out, no pun intended.
The next couple of days in the recovery suite, my husband and I examined our daughter’s feet periodically, trying to convince ourselves that she just needed some more time to stretch out her little limbs after spending nine months bunched up in a tiny space. We massaged her feet and sought reassurance from every nurse who observed that her feet were promisingly flexible. We let every anecdote from hospital staff about some friend or relative whose baby had oddly shaped limbs that independently and without medical intervention moved into a normal position paint another layer of thin hope over the last. Still, our carefully built construction of denial, positive thinking and blind hope began chipping when the hospital’s pediatrician called in to approve our discharge urged us to see our family pediatrician as soon as possible. The feet, as far as he’d observed, had made no progress to snap back to a more normal position so waiting the customary five to seven days to see the family doctor was not indicated. Still, we held on to some semblance of oblivious delusion that everything was perfectly normal as the discharging pediatrician was still reluctant to diagnose our daughter as having bilateral clubfoot.
Well, that little bubble of delusion was quickly burst by our loud, and nothing if not decided, family pediatrician, who with no beating around the bush assured us that yes, it was definitely clubfoot.
So now what? we asked. A series of casts and then braces, she affirmed, zero hesitation, one hundred percent blunt. She then very enthusiastically assured us that we were not to blame, that this condition comes about for unknown reasons and there was nothing we could have done differently to prevent it. She was so certain of everything she told us when we clung to the shadow of hope, lingering in the dark side of ambiguity. She was so precise as she hammered down our pillar of denial on which we had rest precariously between marathons of worry and depression. Then, when finally she stepped out of the examination room, we had a quiet moment to grieve the diagnosis and destruction of our carefully directed vision of what our family life would look like. Our beautiful baby June had clubfoot.
An appointment with a specialist in pediatric orthopedics was made for a couple weeks out– it was the earliest she could get us in. Baby would be seventeen days old by the day of her appointment with the specialist. We had two weeks to care for our otherwise healthy June until a strictly regimented treatment would alter all of our lives.