It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – to be told there is something wrong with your baby. My daughter was diagnosed with Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) when she was 7 weeks old. DDH affects around 1 or 2 babies in every 1000, is more common in girls and firstborn children and can affect both hips but more commonly the left . The hip socket doesn’t form correctly and is too shallow so the femoral heal isn’t held tightly, causing the hip joint to be loose. When the hospital staff do that heart-wrenching test where they squeeze and stretch your precious newborn’s legs they are checking for any looseness in the hip joint that could indicate DDH. My daughter’s condition was missed at the hospital but thankfully the GP picked it up at her 6 week check. We went along to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh fully expecting the ultrasound to show that the GP had been wrong. The GP was not wrong though. Neither of my daughter’s hip sockets had formed correctly, the left one so malformed that the physiotherapist could actually glide the femoral head in and out of the hip socket. She was fitted with a Pavlik harness immediately. I cried, and cried, and cried for 24 hours straight and for many days after each time I looked at my daughter and her funny new shape. Now I know there are far more serious and life-limiting conditions than this but at the time it felt devastating. I was a new mum, already flooded with hormones, my husband about to move 450 miles away to finish his commercial airline training (that’s another story) – this was a huge shock.
The harness felt like a physical and emotional barrier between me and my baby. I felt like I had just started to feel confident as a new mum and then suddenly I had to re-learn everything, even how to hold her. I couldn’t cradle her the same way or bring her “tummy to tummy” for breastfeeding. I couldn’t do skin to skin. I couldn’t get in to her beautiful newborn skin to do my beloved baby massage that I had spent years teaching to other parents. The harness stayed on 24 hours a day so we weren’t allowed to bath her except every two weeks at the hospital when she got a new harness. We couldn’t do up her sleepsuits or put trousers or tights on her. We had to hire a special car seat so we didn’t compress her hips . She didn’t fit in her bouncy chair so we bought a baby bean bag . Every explosive nappy situation involved scrubbing the harness (still on the baby!) with a toothbrush and soapy water then using my hairdryer to dry it. That last one seems comical now, but it wasn’t at the time. It was shit (no pun intended).
I felt sad. I felt angry. I felt embarrassed. You should want to show your new baby off to the world but I was embarrassed, how awful is that?! And then, of course, the guilt. I remember asking the consultant who did the ultrasound if I had done something wrong during pregnancy that meant my daughter’s hips had not formed correctly (of course I hadn’t, genetic bad luck). I instantly, like most mothers, blamed myself; I felt like I had failed for growing her wrong.
But do you know what – my amazing daughter did not stop smiling for the whole 12 weeks she wore that harness! She was not bothered in the slightest. At the first appointment the physiotherapist told me (between my sobs) that I would miss the harness after it came off. Silently, to myself, I not-so-politely disagreed. She was right though – nappy changes are much easier when your baby’s legs are kept still for you! That final ultrasound after 12 weeks was so nerve-wracking and when the consultant told us the hip sockets were both looking great I couldn’t believe it. The physio removed the harness and asked if I wanted to keep it – this time out loud, I not-so-politely declined! So long stinky harness! Now my daughter is 18 months old and running us round in circles, she has one final x-ray next month before she is discharged with healthy hips.
Where does YogaBellies come in to this?
When I was pregnant I attended YogaBellies for Pregnancy and was so looking forward to starting YogaBellies for Mum & Baby to get myself back onto my yoga mat and meet other mums, but I didn’t see the point in going because my baby couldn’t move her legs. What I failed to see was that my daughter could still move her arms, she could still see, hear and engage with others. The whole ethos of YogaBellies is that our classes are inclusive and nurturing. I have never been more emotionally vulnerable than during those 12 weeks, never needed to be included and nurtured more. Having come through the other side of having a baby with DDH, and now teaching YogaBellies classes myself, I know that our YogaBellies classes and community are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT for mums and babies with any kind of additional need, whether temporary or permanent. What YogaBellies does best is create a community of women supporting women and my goodness us mums need to support each other. Don’t be scared to join our YogaBellies community; every woman I have met through my YogaBellies journey has their own story to tell and their own support to offer. You are not alone. We are here for you.