Like many mothers-to-be, I was in profoundly in tune with my baby during my pregnancy. So much so that at 34 weeks gestation, after months of me telling her every day that the best position for her to be in was head down, back to the left, my midwife discovered that she was head up, back to the right. Hmmm. So much for my deep intuitive connection!
An ultrasound at 36 weeks confirmed that, despite my efforts to turn her using every method possible (including chiropractors, burning special incense sticks next to my little toes and swinging upside-down from the couch), she remained frank breech. A position that was not exactly conducive to my previous plans for a peaceful homebirth.
Following a failed, but only mildly uncomfortable ECV at 37 weeks, I was fortunate enough to go on to have a wonderful, natural vaginal birth with a supportive and experienced team at the RHW in Randwick. Baby Lara came out with perfect APGARs, on her due date, and the only indication that she had been breech was her funny shaped head and her legs sticking straight up in the air. Oh, and her hips that went “clonk”, as Dr Chilton said as he checked them during her newborn examination (just so we’re clear, “clonk” is an official medical term.) I had been prepared for them to dislocate, as I knew that this was a risk for 1 in 8 breech, female, firstborns who had a family history (me, when I was born breech too). That was four ticks for Baby Lara. But it was still sad to hear that my baby would inevitably need treatment in the way of a harness.
After being officially diagnosed with Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip we were given 2 weeks to prepare, to establish breastfeeding and get in as many nudie cuddles as possible. Then our sweet baby girl was put into a Pavlik Harness. Despite knowing it was for the best, it was still devastating to have my squishy baby covered in Velcro, straps and buckles.
Lara stayed in her harness all day, every day, coming out only for the occasional bath. I won’t lie, I did cry about it and felt like I missed out on having a cuddly, soft newborn. I knew I was blessed to have a healthy baby, but that didn’t take away the knot in my gut.
But week after week, it got easier. I quickly worked out how to position her to breastfeed in it and how to maneuver around it to change her nappies and before long my husband Rhys and I had the hang of it. She was never bothered by it, neither was her daddy, it was just mummy who struggled and sometimes felt sad and frustrated. Especially one day when an old lady in the hospital elevator pointed out her harness, and then bleated at the top of her voice “Ah, What A Shame!”. I wanted to slap her but unfortunately I’m way too nice and law-abiding.
Time raced by as it does with a new baby, and then wonderfully, after 10 weeks little Lara was allowed to be out of her harness for 8 hours a day. Finally my baby could fit comfortably in her car seat, wear pants and I could snuggle her up without that awkward thing in the way.
Then, another 8 weeks later, just before she turned 5 months of age her specialist determined that her hips were normal and we were finally DONE with the harness completely. It was a happy day and one that 4 months before I felt would never come.
Looking back with the beauty of hindsight, her harness really wasn’t a big deal. However, at the time and I’m sure due in part to those fabulous new-mother hormones, it seemed monumental.
I have since spoken to other mothers who have been through the same journey and I’m comforted to know that their feelings were similar. This is partly why I wanted to share our story. I wanted other families, especially those whose babies have been newly diagnosed with DDH, to know that their feelings of sadness, frustration and anger are all valid, but that these feelings will fade and it will get easier.
Then once their baby is given the all clear, they probably won’t ceremoniously burn the harness as I had planned to do and they will carefully pack it away in a box with the other memories instead.
Thankfully our DDH journey, however brief, never once affected my bond with Lara, or my joy at becoming a mother. Nothing could ever have touched that; my bubble of love was impenetrable. If anything, it just meant that now little Lara is even more perfect… if that’s possible.