She looks like her father. Deep blue eyes, full red lips, long, strong legs, and little golden curls – a color somewhere right in between blonde and brown.
“Wow! She’s a daddy’s girl, isn’t she?”
From the moment she was born, variations of the above comment came thick and fast, and even though I agreed wholeheartedly, they stung like little paper cuts each time.
I mean, I carried her for nine months and battled to breastfeed her for six. I am the one that makes her face light up like fireworks every time she lays her eyes on me. I am the one that battled weight gain, imbalanced hormones and neurotransmitters. I am her mother – but to look at her, most people wouldn’t even know it.
I was sitting in our doctor’s office. Emilia was crawling around ‘re-organising’ the folders on the shelves. We were both sun-kissed and freshly showered after a play-date involving the great outdoors and a blow-up pool.
The GP turned to me, and said, “Thank God for X- rays!”
Instantly, the smile melted off my face and suddenly I no longer felt sun-kissed, but sunburnt. “What, what do you mean?”
“Your daughter has quite the dislocated hip.” She responded, scanning the report on her computer screen.
My heart immediately started pounding. I felt sick. I hadn’t been expecting this; in fact I’d been reassuring my husband for weeks that the clicking sound we were hearing was coming from Emi’s knees – after all, that’s what her nurse had been telling me. It was only on his insistence that I followed it up.
We were referred from nurse to GP to radiologist, and back to GP.
“This is just standard procedure, there’s a 99% chance that she’s fine!” They all said.
Yet the results of the X-ray showed us what we couldn’t see, what no clinical examination could detect – a very subtle case of developmental dysplasia of the hip, or DDH.
I was devastated.
On the drive home my mind was reeling. I was thinking of all the times I’d heard my daughter’s body click and attributed the sound to her knees. All the times she woke unsettled, in the middle of the night. How much she moved in her cot to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Was that her hip the whole time? Or were we right to assume it was teeth/illness/a developmental milestone? Had my mommy instincts let me down?
I’d been feeling so on top of the depression that had threatened to drown me after Emilia’s birth, but all of a sudden, the tightness in my chest returned. The sadness I felt at the thought of my daughter being in a brace engulfed me. Videos of the mothers’ group babies taking their first steps filled my Facebook feed and caused tears to well up in my eyes. The prospect of being caged up at home with my potentially immobile daughter suffocated me.
Other times I felt silly for feeling sad at all – DDH isn’t life threatening after all, and there are people dealing with much, much worse. I yo-yoed back and forth between feeling devastated and trivializing my situation for about a week.
But then something happened. A new emotion began to surface – and at first I struggled to pinpoint it. Then, one morning, not too long after the diagnosis, I woke before my daughter did. I lay in bed with nothing to distract me and wondered how long I had before the monitor’s green lights would start blinking at me from the nightstand. I rolled out of bed slowly and opened the curtains. Soft, golden sunshine filled the room and warmed me from head-to-toe. I closed my eyes and basked in the sun’s rays. Suddenly, I knew. It was relief. The new emotion was relief.
“Look at those curls, and those eyes. Oh my – her little legs – she is her dad’s girl isn’t she?”
The voices of relatives and friends marched their way through my mind, no longer eliciting a negative response. The same message – she looks like her daddy, yes – but this time instead of feeling stung, I felt relief.
She looks like her daddy. She has a daddy. Daddy is in on this with us. We can lean on him too. She has two parents to help her through. I am not doing this alone.
Pride followed shortly after –
“Wow she is determined – what a trooper!” This from everyone who witnessed my little girl take her first steps while still in her brace.
It wasn’t just me feeling proud – I shared that pride with my husband. Everything I had been feeling throughout this journey, he was feeling. We’d shared in the sadness, devastation, and the fear. And now we were sharing triumph and happiness too.
Together, we learned that this condition wasn’t about us – it was about Emi – and one look at her showed us that she was adapting, unbothered, and just getting on with life. So, my husband and I asked each other, “Why, exactly, are we upset again?”
DDH happened to Emilia, but she didn’t go through it alone, and I didn’t have to help her through it on my own. We experienced her DDH as a family – the ups, the downs, and all the things in between.
These days, my girl’s face is changing – I can actually see myself in the crinkle of her eyes when she smiles – although she’s still her daddy’s little clone. Now though, when I look over at her and see her watching a YouTube clip on my phone with her eyebrows arched at exactly the same angle as my husband’s, I laugh and I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for the fact that she is half-me, half-him.
I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for the fact that no matter what life throws at us, we face it as a family.