My journey into motherhood was far from easy. After two failed inductions, three hours of pushing, and an eventual Caesarean, it’s safe to say I had been through the ringer. With all the commotion of my daughter’s birth and the morphine that had been added to my cocktail during surgery, I spent the first few hours of her life utterly exhausted and in a haze, so when the hospital pediatrician came in to give her a checkup a few hours later, I didn’t think anything of it. That is, until she ever so slightly turned with a small grimace and a look of I’m sorry to say, “So, she has hip dysplasia, and I’m going to have her fitted for a harness.”
“Do you have a family history of hip dysplasia? Was she breech?”
“No. What are you talking about?”
“She has hip dysplasia and needs a harness. But we caught it really early. They’ll be up in a bit, and you’ll be well taken care of.”
What just happened?
Before I had time to Google it on my phone, two medical residents appeared with a white Pavlik Harness and started putting it on my 12-hour-old baby. My only thought: I guess that’s a nighttime brace?
The resident turned toward me. “So, this needs to stay on for 24 hours a day for the next six weeks at a minimum. You’ll meet with your orthopedist next week, and they’ll set up regular appointments.”
“We caught it really early. She’ll be out of it in a few months to a year.”
My heart sank. What is happening?
In the hours that followed, we learned that my husband’s mother carried the gene for hip dysplasia — something long-forgotten and never previously mentioned, and that our daughter had bilateral congenital hip dysplasia.
Momma, I’m here to tell you that if this is you, it is going to be okay. I’ve learned so much and now you are going to as well.
1. You are not alone.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “the reported prevalence of hip instability on physical examination at birth ranges from 1.6 to 28.5 per 1,000 infants, but the prevalence of persistent abnormalities after the first few days of life, as reported in a meta-analysis of several studies in American and European populations, is 1.3 per 1,000.” 1.3 per 1,000. Think about how many kids are born each week in a hospital — chances are good that another baby is on the same path.
2. It is correctable and non-life-threatening.
One thing that my husband and I reminded ourselves of every time we felt like we got the short straw in the beginning was that it was correctable and did not affect her heart, lungs, or brain. Our hearts go out to the families who struggle with life-threatening illnesses. That is unfathomable pain we would never wish on our worst enemy. So, yeah, it sucks that our kid has to wear a brace and curious people ask us about it. But you know what she doesn’t have? An indefinite stay in the NICU.
3. It’s okay to cry about it.
Though your baby will be okay, it is still not anything you expected, and it is completely normal to feel sad about it. It’s okay to mourn the fact that your plans have changed. You might need a new car seat. You can’t safely co-sleep. You will need to adjust your baby’s wardrobe. You can’t bathe your baby. You can’t hold your baby without a brace for a while. So you know what? It’s okay to cry about it.
4. But remember, your baby doesn’t know any different, and they will adapt.
Your child only knows what you teach them here on Earth. I repeat, they don’t know any different. So don’t beat yourself up about it.
5. Baby leg warmers are your new best friend.
The moment our family got the news — they went to work. We got leg warmers upon leg warmers and knee socks. These are great for completing an outfit, keeping baby warm, and keeping the brace from being the first thing people notice about your baby. Added bonus? Diaper changes are pants-free!
6. You can still breastfeed.
No joke, the week after my daughter was born, someone tried to tell me that you can’t breastfeed a baby in a Pavlik Harness. Um, yes, you can. Thankfully my hospital gave me unlimited access to lactation consultants during our stay and they had us all set up and ready to go. It took some getting used to and perfecting — as does any breastfeeding relationship — but we are still going strong!
7. Baby will still roll over, crawl and walk.
Let me tell you now because it will serve you well even if you’re a parent without a child in a brace, stop comparing your baby to others. When that person on your Facebook feed posts a video of their 4-week-old rolling over, unfollow them. No one needs that doubt-inducing energy in their life. And guess what — your baby will still do all of these things. See above, babies adapt. Before you know it, that chunky baby of yours will roll and roll and keep on rolling.
8. Your baby is sturdier.
You know those other newborns that are scary to hold. Yours isn’t. That Pavlik Harness gives your baby some back support. Eventually, when your partner is flying the baby around the living room, you will think to yourself, Our child has PERFECT form for the ski jump. Winter Olympics, here she comes.
9. You might end up in a Rhino Cruiser.
No one told me that this whole hip dysplasia thing can lead to a clunky brace called the Rhino Cruiser. I just thought, okay, you wear the harness and then one day you get it off. Not so fast. Everyone’s journey is a little different. Some babies get their Pavlik’s off in six weeks, others need to wear them longer, and some (like ours) get “upgraded” to wearing this plastic contraption during the night. See above: Babies adapt.
10. It will end.
This is not a forever diagnosis. Yes, it sucks right now. But your child won’t need a hip replacement at 50. Your child can still be a soccer/gymnastics/taekwon do/swim star. Your day will come. This too shall pass.
Hugs to you, mama. You can do this.
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