Miracle Toes

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The thing that scared me the most about my son was his feet.

We learned during our 20-week ultrasound that our son had multiple deformities. Neither my husband's family nor mine had any history of birth defects. We were young and healthy. We were totally unprepared when our OB told us that our son had spina bifida Myelomeningocele and handed us a box of tissues. Through the thick cloud of terror that descended upon us in the ultrasound room, we also learned that he would be faced with a variety of spina bifida related defects: hydrocephalus (spinal fluid on his brain) and to my acute horror, bilateral clubbed feet.

Taking all of this in at once felt like a hot knife in the belly, but the news of Henry's feet was, for some reason, the most troubling. After we left the doctor's office and for weeks afterward I pored over the ultrasound report hoping to make sense of it somehow. The wording he used to describe our son's feet was sub-optimal. I had no idea what that meant but it obviously wasn't good. I figured it was medical-speak for ew, gross!

We had a 15-month-old daughter at the time and every part of her was delicious. She had gone from a mewling, beet-red blob to a bright, inquisitive, chipmunk-cheeked toddler. My heart ached when I watched her plod around the kitchen, realizing that our son might not hit these same milestones. I savored every part of her pink, clammy feet and her pudgy cankles. I looked forward to nibbling on our next child's toes the way I had nibbled on hers. But would Henry even have toes? Would he have feet at all? What did a “clubbed” foot look like? I was too scared to google it. I thought, at best, it would look deformed and mangled like a chicken drumstick.

When he came out five weeks prematurely, but thankfully stable, I didn't see him for 16 hours. Between recovering from surgery (me a c-section and Henry a spinal lesion closure) it was 11:30pm before the nurses finally wheeled me to the NICU to meet him. I hustled, slightly panicked, wanting to make it down there before midnight so I could meet him on the day of his birth. When I saw him, he was lying on his stomach in a warm little pod, sleeping, with his knees curled under him. His tiny feet poked out under his diapered bottom with individual toes, not even the size of frozen peas.

His feet were sickled, like parenthesis. They were pink and impossibly smooth. They were clubbed. But so what? Clubbed, I remember thinking. What, these? They're just a little bent, my goodness. Was this what we were all so worried about—these precious little feet? 

Henry is 15 months old now. He has chipmunk cheeks. He is bright and inquisitive. Although, he’ll need corrective surgery before he can walk, he crawls around the kitchen at lightning speed. He chases his sister and she screams. He laughs at her and crawls faster.

I scoop him up in my arms and nibble his perfect toes.

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