Mateo’s First Journey
When I was five months pregnant with Mateo we had an in-depth sonogram. During that sonogram we learned Mateo had one club foot. We were stunned because we wasn’t expecting to hear that kind of news. We were not familiar with that term or how this could have happened so being a google junkie, of course I googled everything about it that I could learn. Granted, we were thanking God that this was a treatable condition, one that Mateo won’t even remember.
As we shared the news with family and friends we received two extreme reactions. Some would look very sad and sympathetic and say “I am so sorry, poor thing”, like it was the end of the world. It is okay, he isn’t dying. We can fix this! Others would treat it like it was no big deal. Well, it is kind of a big deal. He will have to have extra doctor visits, extra care, weekly castings and so on. Then I was told how this must make me feel, you know, having a baby with a flaw, one that wasn’t perfect. Really? Mateo was perfect to me. I never saw him as imperfect. God made us all in his image and that image is beautiful. I was really okay with this. But they were so convincing that I felt that way that I started to wonder if I should feel that way. I didn’t feel sad, guilty or angry that this was happening. It was our reality and we would get through this.
We waited until Mateo was five weeks old to start the casting process. Each week for five weeks the doctor would stretch his foot and move it a little straighter and re-cast. That was tough on us because it was uncomfortable for him. We had the soft music in the background, sugar water pacifier, whatever we could do to keep him calm and still. When he cried in discomfort I had to reassure him even though I also felt like crying. Seeing your child in pain or hurt is the worst feeling in the world. With the cast on he couldn’t take regular baths or wear footed pajamas, which was tough since it was winter and those kept him warmer. We had to adjust what he could wear and give him sponge baths. When we were able to give him a real bath, it took a while for him to adjust because he wasn’t used to being submerged in water.
Finally after five weeks, we were ready for the surgery. The surgery entailed the surgeon cutting his Achilles tendon and straightening the foot the rest of the way. I learned so much going through this process. I had no idea a babies Achilles regenerates when done very young. The surgery only took twenty minutes. I remember because they told us 45 minutes so we went to get some food. Children’s Mercy in Kansas City is a humongous hospital so we had to walk a while. The staff called my cell to let me know he was done and of course I didn’t hear it. Then they started paging us and by the time we made it all the way back they were getting ready to send someone to look for us. So embarrassing! My husband and I felt like the worst parents ever and I am sure the staff thought we abandoned our child. But we were just so happy it was over and he came through it without incident. He had to wear the cast for three weeks and then he was done with casting.
Next, he was fitted for a brace. For three months, he had to wear it full time at 20 to 24 hours a day. We always did the minimum, he deserved a 4 hour break. The brace was awkward and really limited his mobility at first. But he sure did build up his leg muscles. We used the four hours for tummy time and bath time. After the three months, he was able to switch to part time wear for 12 to 14 hours a day. What a relief that was. Even though the doctors said the brace would not curb his growth, I really feel his development would have been further along if the brace wasn’t a factor. One thing about the brace is we got many bruises being around him. He was constantly kicking and that brace is hard so we would get bruises on our legs and stomach. So we were very excited to go to part time wear.
Though Mateo hates the brace no matter how many hours he has to wear it. He fights us every night unless we distract him. I do hope it gets easier since he has to wear it to bed for three years. The reason he has to wear it for so long is because there is a 70% chance of reoccurrence if we don’t stay compliant with the brace.
Though I am so concerned when he gets older and tries to jump out of his crib like Diego did, I will cross that bridge when I get to it. Right now I am so grateful to the doctors who did a great job straightening out his foot. You would never know which foot was the clubfoot. I never realized how common this condition was until my son had it. I had so many people tell me their child had it or they knew someone who had it. It does help knowing you are not alone. Living in community is the best way to deal with any unexpected challenges. I am so looking forward to taking the brace off for the last time and closing that chapter. I keep picturing the scene in Forest Gump as Forest starts running and the brace flies off his feet. Run, Mateo, Run!