About 5 years ago I wrote the story about a journey that Caleb, my oldest son has been on, one he doesn’t remember, even though we do. Back then even though I was writing about Caleb, I was also pregnant and expecting our second son Craig and I had realized then just how afraid I was of going through it again, which framed the way I wrote about it at the time. This time I’d like to tell the story from another perspective, one of awe and gratitude and just plain amazement at the blessing of my firstborn son and his journey.

MY SON WAS BORN WITH BILATERAL CLUBBED FEET

a congenital deformity medically known as “Congenital talipes equinovarus”

Caleb will be ten years old in March 2018 and the only evidence he has of his clubbed feet, are the almost invisible scars on his heels, a few pictures and the stories we’ve told him. When I first wrote about it back in 2013, I submitted it to Living & Loving Magazine and it was published in their June/July 2013 issue as a “Real Life Story” feature.

Caleb, now in grade three, just finished his first rugby season playing for his school, he swims during summer, runs in the annual athletics, plays, jumps, and rides his bicycle just like any other boy his age. Just by looking at him one wouldn’t guess that he was born with both feet turned inward and downwards, a birth defect that took us completely by surprise. Two twenty-one year olds having our first baby, eagerly looking forward to our first scan, excited to hear our baby’s heart beat, and catch a glimpse of the little human form in my just showing belly. Instead, our excitement crumbled at the concerned look on the ultrasonographer’s face combined with her once upbeat tone changing, and in that split second we just knew that something was not right. She’s quiet for a few seconds while studying the screen and moving the probe, as we wait… The next thing we’re told is, “It appears your baby may have clubbed feet” she tries to reassure us but I’m no longer listening… my mind’s racing, “Is my baby okay?!” “What does that mean?!” “clubbed what?!”   I force myself to focus again, and she continues, she shows us that the whole foot is visible at that angle and it shouldn’t be, I’m not following, thinking “wait, what? Aren’t you supposed to see his feet?” the sonographer realizes our confusion and she demonstrates with her hands, showing that from the top view with baby’s leg bent like it is in-utero, we should only see the knee and then the bit of the top of the foot and the toes. She points at the screen showing us that the angle of the foot and it’s relation to the leg is wrong, it’s turned inward and again shows us using her hands, turning them inward with her fingers facing each other while her arms remain straight. I felt consumed and downcast at the news that something was wrong with my baby. It’s a moment and picture in my mind that I will never forget, and yet an action I often find myself replicating when I’m explaining to others what “clubbed feet” is.

We walked out of the MOU (Midwife Obstetric Unit) and got into the car and just sat there for a moment. Jonathan and I had no words, one look at one another and all we could do was bow our heads and pray together. We prayed for God to give us strength and guidance, that everything would go according to His will. We prayed that the doctors, nurses or whomever we came into contact with or handled our case, would be doing so under God’s hand. We prayed for an understanding that only God can provide so that we may understand and find comfort in whatever may happen. We felt the burden of the news lift because we had given it to God and put our trust and faith in Him. It’s all we could do, it’s all that we knew. Strange how in times when we have no where to else to turn, nothing we can do and no control over what’s happening, we can but only turn to God. That’s exactly where we found our selves at that point, we didn’t have much to go on except the news we had just heard, but we knew that we needed to remain positive and rely on God. I resisted going to Dr. Google for I knew I would research to no end and expect the worse case scenario. Instead we decided to wait until our appointment with the doctors, we had been referred to a bigger hospital for more scans and tests so that more experienced ultrasonographers and doctors could assess Caleb’s feet and to rule out any other birth defects or associated conditions.

The sonographer made sure we had a little picture of our baby to take home (can’t see his feet though) I bet you squinted to see if you could see it hey LOL!

And so with a lot of prayer and faith that everything would work out for the good, we went for loads and loads of scans and tests at the hospital – every two weeks for the 2nd half of the pregnancy. It was very intimidating to say the least, not only the frequency of the scans but also because it was a teaching hospital the students were in the room too, there were always tons of people in there all observing the sonographer and/ or doctor busy with us. They did very detailed scans; they checked the levels of the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby, they measured every inch of the little person growing inside my belly, and checked and re-checked everything twice, it was a long drawn out process every time. The nice part was that we got a nice long look too, we got to see our baby snoozing, hiccupping, kicking, squirming and playing, all while they were checking on his feet and every other bit of him. On our second scan actually Jonathan and I, while the doctors were talking to the students and moving the probe around, saw for ourselves that we were expecting a little boy, funny actually when the doctor asked us if we wanted to know the sex, we just looked at one another and smiled because we had already seen it on the screen a few seconds earlier, there was no mistaking it we were expecting a little boy. Definitely a memorable moment that still makes me smile when I think about it.

We thanked God after every positive report that everything was okay and that our little unborn baby was healthy and strong. Our family and friends all knew when we had our scans and tests, and so would always check in afterward, so we immediately told everyone that we were expecting a boy. But we had decided to keep his name a secret, and we only revealed it on the day he was born.

On 16 March 2008 we welcomed our son, Caleb Daniel Ulster at 07:05am, weighing a healthy 3.05kg and 51cm tall.

Caleb was 4 weeks old when we were referred an Out-patient Clubbed Foot Clinic run weekly from a hospital for disabled children. The doctors assessed Caleb’s feet and confirmed that it was positional bilateral clubbed foot disorder, while he wouldn’t require surgery immediately, they did warn us that a minor procedure to stretch the tendon may be necessary later on. The treatment for a case like Caleb’s is called the Ponseti method and consists of gentle manipulations and plaster casts to obtain corrective position changes gradually.

At just under one month old, Caleb got his first casts put on – using orthopedic plaster bandages which consist of a cotton bandage that has been combined with plaster of paris, and hardens after it has been made wet. They wrapped both his legs, each from the thigh all the way to the just above the toes in a slightly bent position with the foot turned outward as much as possible without causing him pain. This had to be repeated on a weekly basis.

Every Thursday evening, we would remove the casts by soaking it warm water, we’d have him sit in the bucket or bath while the casts soaked and we could unwrap the bandage, topping up the warm water as needed to keep it just right so he didn’t get cold. The following morning, we would go back to the clinic and the doctors would asses the progress and put a new set of casts on.

*after just one week in casts we can clearly see the position is much better

It continued that way for about three months, by then the direction of the foot was corrected however his foot wasn’t able to flex upward since the achilles tendon was too short, to correct it Caleb needed to have surgery. The operation was done on the 30 July 2008 followed by a fiber glass casting over the regular plaster of paris one, so that it would last for a longer period while he recovered from from the surgery. The doctors removed the cast after the four weeks and determined that he was healing well, he required one last set of casts on for another four weeks and by the time the cast was removed the tendon had a chance to regenerate to a proper length. On 26 September 2008 Caleb was six months old and finally cast free and his feet fully corrected. No more bilateral clubbed feet! We were overjoyed! Thank God that everything went smoothly and there were no complications with the castings or the operation. The doctors were fully confident that because Caleb was treated so young he would hit all his physical milestones without delay and lead a completely normal and active life.

He could finally take a proper bath, put his toes in his mouth and wear shoes! Who would’ve thought a simple thing like being able to wear shoes would be a something we found joy in. When he was seven months old and only a few weeks after the casts cam off, we went on a family holiday and he had his first swim in a swimming pool, he absolutely loved it, and still enjoys swimming today!

Caleb reached his gross motor skill milestones on time as if he had never had any impediment before, he crawled for the first time at exactly eight months old, which was also on my birthday – a lovely birthday gift for me! He took his first steps two weeks after his first birthday, he was running and jumping and climbing in no time just like any other toddler and unless told, no-one would guess what he had gone through.

He may not be a star at sport, he’s actually quite average in comparison to his peers, he plays in the school’s Rugby D team, he came 55th place out of about 80 kids, for long distance athletics, he once won an egg and spoon race and came third in a 100m dash, he’s by no means a sport star and he may seem just ordinary, but in my eyes and considering what he’s been through, he is extraordinary!

Most people will never know what he’s been through, and he doesn’t even remember it himself. Many don’t and will never see the miracle that I do, and yet God sees that and so much more! Jeremiah 29:11-13 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Only our heavenly Father knows just what Caleb is capable of, what he’ll still accomplish and the testimony his life will be. I pray that Caleb will always follow God and that he’ll lead the life that God has set out for him, always, and if I can just get a glimpse of that, that will be more than enough for me.

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  1. […] his casts and everything he only had bed baths for the first seven months (see his clubbed feet story here to read why we had to do bed baths) but those first few weeks as a newborn he had regular baths. […]

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