I am a great believer in life lessons, karma, and the tooth fairy. An eternal optimist with an active imagination; I am often unprepared for life’s curve balls. Call it sheltered, call it naïve, I like to call it hoping for the best and forgetting the “expect the worst” part of that saying. This has applied to everything in my life – pregnancy and motherhood of course, fall at the top of that list. Having a baby is hard enough as it is without the unexpected hiccups along the way. Hiccups that continuously go hand and hand with some traumatic turbulence.
Leonard Cohen famously wrote, “There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” Well, I had one major crack in my first year of motherhood. Fixable? Yes, but a crack nonetheless. I’m not talking about sleepless nights and a sore back from rocking my daughter to bed. No, those soon became things I welcomed as they allowed me to relate easily to other moms by complaining about them. They made me, my baby, and my entire situation normal, ordinary and average. And every mother knows that’s really all you want your child to be – as normal as vanilla. Words I had despised my entire life soon became these glittery magical adjectives I so badly wanted to be associated with.
My daughter never turned and so was born breeched which meant a C-section for me. She came out feet first to greet the world. That meant that our “pregnancy pothole” was something called hip dysplasia. I didn’t know what it was at the time but before long terms like “acetabular index” entered my vocabulary. Dealing with it was hard enough but telling people was torture.
“She has hip dysplasia.” “Wait, what is it? How did she catch it?” Because, after all, everything in the Middle East is apparently caught, contagious and can be fixed with a couple of Panadol Extra.
After an abnormal hip x-ray when the little one was five months old, I suddenly had to mutely watch as the top paediatric orthopaedic doctor put my baby into this strappy-looking cloth brace that would keep her legs in a frog-like position. A Pavlik Harness. Well, at least it had a cool name. I was no longer present. I immediately lost all five of my senses. In fact, the only thing I clearly remember was that I couldn’t even help hold her down as the doctor put the brace on her. As he explained how to put her in this contraption and where to put what strap and boot, all I could do was stand far away. I think my logic was that the further I was physically away from this situation, the more distanced I would be from this entire painful reality that now enveloped us both.
It was white. It was foreign. And it made that intrusive peeling away sound that Velcro straps make when trying to pull something in tighter. I remembered owning a pair of sandals that I tried to fit my overgrown feet into for as long as I could. They were my favorite beach sandals and until now the sound of Velcro had reminded me of those wedged heels. Now, I had an entirely new and awfully gut-wrenching association to that sound.
We absorbed many medical terms and protocole: “She can only be out of it one hour a day for her bath” and, “It’s good news – she won’t need surgery.” As if that erased the new painful reality and could breathe a sigh of relief. There were no high-fives being given out here. I’ll spare you the entire checklist of emotions I felt during this time but I will tell you that I googled… Umm, everything? Pictures, videos, case studies, stories, fashion trends she could still sport when in this harness, obstacles she would be facing and so on. “The Pavlik Harness is designed to gently position your baby’s hips so they are aligned in the joint to help normal growth and development of the hip joint.” I read and reread that line. So serious, so final, so unemotional.
And so, when she was officially diagnosed (already makes it more serious, doesn’t it?) with hip dysplasia, I bawled. Not for a minute or two. Not even for a day. I cried nonstop for about a week. Okay, two. I didn’t understand what it was no matter how many blogs and medical reports I read. I just didn’t get it.
I wished it could have been me. I would have easily worn the brace for a year or ten if that meant that she didn’t have to. Like a plague that brings with it a flood of unwanted and unexpected changes, we were soon bombarded with unwelcome happenings that could easily sedate and shake any parent down to the core. Suddenly she couldn’t wear her cute little girly ballerina shoes or baby converse socks or pants, most of which still had the tags on them. She wouldn’t learn how to crawl, stand or walk on time. I couldn’t put her in those short flirty dresses that parents who have girls look forward to. I struggled to hide the brace. I struggled to deal with it. Struggled to accept it. Struggled to protect her ego and mine from unnecessary stares, questions, and judgment. I struggled to shelter those fresh baby fat rolls from the pinch of the straps which were leaving violent red marks where the skin, Velcro and cloth all melded too closely.
Of course, a voice inside my head told me nothing but worst-case scenarios and nightmares. I stayed up at night reading through stories of moms that were going through this similar nightmarish experience. I found their emails and suddenly random friendships were sprung over 3 am frantic and worry-filled confessional emails to one another. I told these moms things I wouldn’t admit to anyone that I too was scared she would never crawl or walk and mostly that I wouldn’t be able to love this child unconditionally. Could I hold her and fearlessly and confidently tell her everything was going to be OK? Wasn’t that my duty as a mom?
Yet my baby’s perseverance prevailed. She still sat up on her own and smiled and tasted lemon for the first time and gave us that charming, picture-worthy, sour face all parents wait for. She crawled and laughed and spat out broccoli puree. She made the hard bits easy and smoothed over our hesitations and any apprehension in dealing with her in this brace. She was resilient. A fighter and obviously not taken aback in the slightest by her physical restriction and what I’m sure she saw as a temporary challenge.
As adults we forget how to “roll with the punches.” To be resilient, look at a challenge straight in the eye, and get our warrior face on to win over adversity. She was a constant reminder of all of those things. I spent a lot of my days explaining that she had hip dysplasia, which many people assumed meant she couldn’t even wave her arms to which I, of course, got defensive and over sold what she could do. If she was 7 months I would say she’s not only babbling but that she uttered a complete sentence using the word “globalization.” Of course that was not even remotely true. At 7 months they think their foot is a new stuffed animal which is somehow permanently attached to their bodies. But, I was insecure and it was selfishly kind of entertaining and above all, distracting.
I am now all about finding the light in the mess. In any mess. I wish I could tell you that there was one clear defining moment where I consciously changed my thoughts. I wish I could tell you that I had an epiphany. A moment where an angel or a deceased relative or something equally as dramatic spoke the truth to me assuring me that this too would pass. It wasn’t at all like that. Mostly because life is not a movie. The fact of the matter was that this was my reality and the reality wasn’t going away. Denying and suppressing it had nothing, so the only other option was to grit my teeth, drudge through it and partake in a little bit of shopping. This was retail therapy at its best. No, not for me but for her. Long dresses, long skirts and lots of high socks. I’ll admit it – I had a boohoo moment about her fashion and less about her hips. It was a constant blatant reminder in my face that she had this condition. I felt like if I could cover it up or if it was internal somehow then it would have been easier to forget about. This was in my face.
I had that pain that only moms get. It’s much worse than a scrape or cut. It’s nothing that can be soothed with an ointment or Band Aid or cast. It’s deeper than a superficial wound and the scar will last a lifetime. Sure, hip dysplasia is way down the list of ‘awful’ as my husband kept reminding me, and yeah we were lucky it was nothing worse, but I didn’t see it that way. I couldn’t. It still sucked. All seven months of it sucked. The magic that a moment of realization brings with it is all of what I was left with. I had to embrace her fleeting imperfections and my own perpetual maternal inadequacies.
My lesson was that I cannot control everything in life.
Yes, life is anything but smooth. In fact, it is jam packed with unexpected hiccups and sudden turns that leave you feeling overwhelmed, dizzy and lost. We fall, we get up, and we try, and we bandage our scraped knees and egos. How we deal with these hiccups is about seeing the choice we have in that moment. It’s about how we choose to adjust our footing to move forward. You rotate and pivot and do just about anything to gain your ground. You learn what you can and take note of the greater message.
You have to take your next shaky and hesitant step forward. That next step is the future to get you out of whatever dark abyss you appear to be stuck in. And by adjusting your footing and repositioning yourself to take that baby step… for a moment there you’ll be bathed in that ray of light streaming through the cracks.