He has what, now?
The words seemed to hang in the air around me as the doctor continued his assessment. I was as stunned by his announcement as I was by the casual way he said it: “Your baby will probably have two clubbed feet.” He went on to point out the standard 20-week ultrasound checks: the healthy heart, the working lungs, the fact that we were having a boy; but my mind could not move on past that phrase.
Clubbed feet?? Was that still a thing? In 21st Century America??
I didn’t know anybody that had dealt with that (I assumed). What had I done wrong? He wasn’t even born yet, and I’d already failed my baby, despite trying to do everything right? Bad News was hopping on the Hormone Express and going for a ride through Crazy Town.
Of course, I hadn’t failed. What I didn’t know at the time was that it’s entirely possible to do everything right, have no medical history, and still have children born with clubbed feet. It’s not uncommon, and thank God, it’s very treatable.
My coping mechanism, when faced with a panic-inducing crisis, is to research and make a plan (after the occasional brief self-pity session), so the first thing I did when we got home from the ultrasound appointment was to hop onto Google.
Most of the information I found was pretty basic. It’s called Talipes Equinovarus, in which the tendons are too short and tight, causing the foot to pull inward and upward, affecting one or both feet. It affects about 1 in 1,000 children. Treatment involves casting shortly after birth. There might be surgeries. But there were still so many questions unanswered. Where do I find a doctor? When can I talk to him? Will this be painful? Is my baby going to suffer? Will he be able to walk and run and play with other kids?
Your tribe will guide you
I was able to lean into other parents’ experience and learn not only about the treatment — the casts and the boots and bar — but tips and tricks, like keep casts clean by covering them with cute leg warmers; what socks were best for the boots; and what clothes and usual baby items were helpful, and which were unusable during the cast or boots stage.
For example, footy pajamas cannot be worn without being cut up to allow the casts or the boots to fit in the legs, which basically renders them non-footy, so there’s no point. The day my son got his first casts, my husband’s work threw us a baby shower, and one of the gifts was a bag full of nearly a dozen footies. I almost cried when I saw them, knowing we wouldn’t get to use them.
Happy World Club Foot Day!
The group also taught me about World Club Foot Day. It is held on June 3rd each year to celebrate the birthday of Ignacio Ponseti, the man who pioneered the Ponseti Method of treatment in the 1950s by correcting the foot using plaster casts and special shoes for maintenance.
Even though it was cheaper and had a higher success rate than the standard surgeries, it wasn’t until the year 2000 when word began to spread across internet chat rooms full of club foot moms demanding better treatment options for their children (never underestimate the power of moms on the internet) that it had a resurgence, and the Ponseti Method became the standard of care.
Without ever meeting my son, this man impacted his life with amazing creativity and resourcefulness. He also gave comfort and hope to a very worried pregnant mama that her little baby would one day walk and run just like the other kids.
Spoiler alert: he does!