Our baby, June, had her first appointment with a specialist in pediatric orthopedics in two weeks time from the first visit with our general/family pediatrician. During that time, we had nothing more to do than wait, though we were anything but patient, and did anything and everything but simply “wait”.
This, in my limited experience but very decided opinion, is one of the most traumatizing periods in the process of treating clubfoot for the parents. This wait period is when I went through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, a major depression and then finally, very reluctantly, acceptance.
How could this have happened to our baby? We were healthy parents, I had experienced a healthy pregnancy, nothing had been detected in multiple ultrasounds, we had no family history of clubfoot, so then how, HOW, could this have happened to our beautiful daughter? Maybe the position of her feet could still resolve itself, we hoped against all odds. Maybe, just maybe, if we massaged her feet every day, they would stretch out into a normal position… We had seen online that in a more modern French approach, physical therapy, granted, intensive physical therapy, and taping was all that was needed to treat the condition. Who said that our stretching her feet wouldn’t be enough? So, every time we held our daughter, we massaged her little feet.
We stretched them out and refused to admit that no movement or manipulating of her little limbs on our part could coax them outward.
Then I experienced a massive deluge of blame: I was angry at our OB, how could she not have prepared me for this? I had read online that this condition is visible from four months onwards in a pregnancy, how had our OB not noticed at at least one of the many ultrasounds we did? She had given us an early ultrasound photo at thirteen weeks in which we could see our baby girl sucking her thumb, the shape of her nose, her little ribs, so how were her abnormally shaped feet not visible? Then I was angry at myself: what if some prescription medication I was taking before knowing I was pregnant had caused this? What if my exercising during pregnancy had squished her and her feet during their development? I was angry at everyone who posted a picture of their baby on facebook: all those normal feet, looking more obviously different from our baby’s every day, was so hard to bear– every picture was an affront to my own grief, every normally shaped foot made me jealous, so insanely jealous.
More than anything, I was angry at our pediatrician who could only get us an appointment when our baby would be seventeen days old, when everything I had read online stressed that successful treatment depended on starting in the first few days of life. I was so furious at the system that wouldn’t accommodate my emergency.
I didn’t bargain with a higher power or anything of the sort, it just isn’t my method of coping, but I did read up on every stage of the treatment to come, and I bargained in my mind: maybe, just maybe, the casting would go really well, and our efforts would be rewarded by not having to get the brace… Maybe I could negotiate casts that wouldn’t go up to baby’s thighs, just up to her knees… Maybe, if braces were absolutely necessary, I could negotiate a reduced brace routine if I promised more physical therapy… The maybes just built up until I couldn’t take waiting anymore without some actual negotiating with a doctor.
But then, the worst phase of the wait set in: depression. I wept and wailed every time I looked at my daughter. She was such a good baby, she didn’t cry excessively, she was happy, she was developing well for her age, she was perfect to me, but as we were settling into a routine, I possessed the knowledge that everything would change, and she had no way of knowing, I had no way of communicating with her that all the pain and frustration to come was for her own good in the long run. I had no way of knowing if she would still be a happy baby, if she wouldn’t cry all the time in agony, if she would still progress well despite the limitations of her physical rehabilitation. It seemed to me that everything that was good and precious about our initial time together would soon end, and everything would come crumbling down in a disastrously traumatizing treatment. I found it almost impossible to deal with what I perceived as pure impending doom. While many mothers deal with postpartum depression, there is no way of describing the compounded depression that comes with dealing with a sick baby. They say you can’t describe the pain of labor to someone who doesn’t know, well, you can’t describe this emotional pain either, only others who have been through a similar experience can fully empathize.
Finally, with a few days left until beginning the treatment, we came to the stage of acceptance, my husband slightly more easily than me. I could still barely manage to look at our baby’s turned in feet, at how she tucked them in close to her body while we held her, so resembling a cute little froggy (as we used to describe her). This froggy position was her favorite position, and that was the hardest to accept– that all of her favorite things in her short life so far she wouldn’t be able to do anymore. Tucking her feet in, stretching out her legs, even taking baths would be impossible with her casts. Little did we know that even sitting in a carseat, something that she absolutely adored, would become uncomfortable for her, and would require many adjustments.
Two weeks seems like a short time, but it was long enough for us to settle into a routine. Two weeks worth of routine was incredibly hard to adjust once casting began. Looking back, those two weeks that seemed like a blessing– two weeks of normal– were actually a curse. Two weeks of stress, worry, depression, habit-building that would have to be undone; it would have been better to start the whole process right away.
To those who have a choice– start as soon as possible, for baby’s health as well as your own.