Our brilliant girl stands out for all the best reasons

Kitty’s nursery recently had a visit from the Ofsted inspector and asked for parents’ comments.

I’ve been really pleased with everything they’ve done for her, so took five minutes to write an email, focusing on the strong bonds Kitty has with her key workers and how they always find ingenious ways to help her get fully immersed in every activity.

I wasn’t aware that the nursery had chosen Kitty to spend time with the inspector; not surprising as she’s a proper little charmer.

What was surprising was their reaction to my email.

When Kitty’s key worker handed it to them, they apparently read it and looked puzzled.They asked if there were two little girls called Kitty, because the Kitty they’d spent all that time with wasn’t missing part of her arm.

Yep. They genuinely hadn’t noticed.

Slightly worrying, you might think, for a professional observer, but it confirmed what we’d always thought; her personality and charm are what really stand out. 

Now, we stopped noticing her arm about five minutes after she was born. But it’s amazing how someone else completely discounting her difference can give you a boost you didn’t even know you needed.

But then that inspector just confirmed what we already knew… she’s amazing and that’s all anyone needs to know about her. 

Ditch the textbook doctor, and talk to me like a human being

Why do some doctors insist on using textbook definitions when plain English will do?

A couple of weeks ago, Kitty had three febrile convulsions in the course of eight hours, triggered by some unknown virus. It was utterly terrifying.

She spent two nights in hospital on an antibiotic drip and a heart monitor, under constant surveillance by a medical team who were, on the whole, absolutely amazing.

But I have one quibble.

Every time a new doctor came to see her, they asked about her ‘defect’.

Now, I’m under no disillusions. My daughter is missing part of her arm. And had I been in less of a shell-shocked state, I might have called them on it.

Because they could have just said ‘her arm’ and I’m pretty sure we would have known what they were talking about.

Like the other D words – ‘disability’ and ‘deficit’ – I really don’t think it’s necessary to be so downright blunt. I don’t see Kitty’s arm as a defect; it’s just part of who she is and how it happened is pretty much irrelevant. We love that little arm just as much as we love the rest of her.

So doctors, please… I know you’re eminently qualified and spent a long time learning that accurate medical terminology, but spare a thought for those of us affected by these labels and go easy on us, eh?

Because next time, when I’m not in a quivering heap on the floor, I might have a few choice words for you.

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Someone’s back on form…

How our amazing baby’s adapting to change far better than me

I’ve recently gone back to work after maternity leave and I’ll admit, it’s been a struggle.

Getting up at 6am, getting to grips with a new job, plagued by the inevitable lurgies that winter brings… I’ve definitely been better.

But the one thing I haven’t had to worry about is Kitty.

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been utterly amazed by how unfazed this tiny little person has been by her entire world changing. She’s settled into nursery without batting an eyelid, made loads of new friends and come home doing even more clever things than she was before.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about this change in our life; perhaps more so than other parents because of her little arm. It’s the first time she’s been away from the protective bubble of home and, like any mum, I worried about how she’d get on, out there on her own in the world.

But I really shouldn’t have worried. Every day, she’s doing something new. She’s using her little arm more and more; tucking a toy underneath it while she makes a grab for another, pulling her favourite teddy in for a hug, clapping along to Old McDonald.

She’s already doing things her own way, adapting to make the most of every single day, and every new trick she learns makes my heart swell with pride.

Already, you can see glimmers of the person she’s going to become – the determination, the cheekiness, the inquisitiveness and the genuine love of people that I hope will stay with her as she grows.

She draws a crowd wherever we go and it’s clear that has nothing to do with her arm and everything to do with her personality.

I know it’s early days and I realise that, at some point, her confidence will take a knock. Because it happens to us all. But I’m so proud of how, at not even 11 months old, she’s already a courageous little thing who meets every day – and everyone – with open arms.

Time to pick her up from nursery now. I can’t wait to see what she’s learnt today.

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Dressed up as a bee ready for nursery fancy dress day.

Banning the D-word, because ability matters more

I recently attended a charity conference and sat through a talk about Disability Living Allowance. And I have to admit, I tuned out. Many of the people there were entitled to it, and no doubt rely on it to support their family. But not only do I not believe in claiming for anything if you don’t need to, I think claiming would open a whole other can of worms.

By claiming for Kitty, we’d be applying a label; one I don’t want to define her, in her eyes or other people’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to the words ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’. There are people who need those classifications to get the help and support they need; but I don’t want them to be in our family’s vocabulary. I really think not categorising our little girl is key to her self-esteem.

Of course Kitty’s different and of course, people will sometimes treat her differently because of her arm. But I want other things – like being kind, funny, clever and determined – to define who Kitty is.

I want her to hear, every single day, positive words that make her feel good about herself. For her to then use those words to describe herself and believe them. And I never want her to give up before she’s even tried because of someone else’s classification.

Although she can’t read yet, I’ve found a quote I’m going to hang on our wall.

‘She believed she could, so she did’

Now it’s our job to find those magic words that will make her believe. And the D-word definitely won’t be one of them.

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What am I? Cheeky and charming!

The amazing supporters cheering kids like Kitty on

Being surrounded by people with a limb difference isn’t something that happens every day. Before I met Kitty, it’s not something I’d ever encountered before, so standing in a hotel lobby in Leicester where probably a third of the people were like her was unusual to say the least.

This weekend we attended our first family weekend with the charity Reach, who support the families of kids with upper limb differences. I was a little apprehensive on the drive down, as it’s the first time we’ve done anything linked to her arm, but the second we walked through the door, that nervousness melted away.

Everyone was so welcoming, so friendly and so open. Within minutes, we’d been approached by the parents of a 21-year-old with an arm like Kitty’s to tell us how he’d driven them there in his adapted car. So many people came over just to say hello and coo over Kitty – and her arm. ‘It’s so cute – reminds me of my little boy,’ said one mum. And of course, Miss Kitty loved being the centre of attention.

We met families I’d had messages of support from on the Reach Facebook page when we first found out, and even a family who live less than a mile away from us. We learned about bionic arms, 3D printed limbs and heard some really inspiring stories from people who haven’t let their difference stop them from doing anything.

But I think the thing that affected me the most was seeing the kids – from toddlers to teenagers – just getting on with being kids. Running round messing about with their mates, getting dolled up for the gala dinner. All of them different but just the same, and all so confident.

By the time we checked out, I found I’d stopped looking to see if our fellow guests were Reach kids or not. And I’d forgotten that Kitty has something different about her too.

I feel so grateful to have found Reach and feel so positive about Kitty’s future after this weekend. These kids do things I would never dare attempt and with them (and us) cheering her on, there’ll be nothing our incredible Miss Kitty can’t do*.

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*Except sleep. After an exciting day making new friends that was one thing she wasn’t capable of. Someone pass the coffee…

Visit Reach at http://www.reach.org.uk – they’re a small charity that do amazing work, so need support. If you can donate or help out with fund-raising, you’ll make some incredible kids very happy.

If I’d known then what I know now… a letter to the old me

Dear Past Me,

There have been lots of times when I wished I could have told you what was coming. Given you a heads up and told you ‘everything’s going to be OK’.

It was a year ago that we found out our baby was missing part of her left arm, and now, more than ever, I wish I had a time machine to go back and hand you this letter.

Right now, you feel like the world has ended. Like you’ll never be happy again. But just take a look at this:

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This time next year, you’ll be spending all your time having fun with this little dude. Playing and giggling together. Glowing with pride as she dives under the water at swimming and comes up smiling. Watching in amazement as she scoffs down Japanese food without batting an eyelid. Making an absolute idiot of yourself just to hear her laugh.

She’ll be your best friend, your greatest achievement and the love of your life, and what you feel like now will be nothing but a distant memory.

So please, 2014 me, don’t cry or mourn the life you thought you were going to have. Look forward, because everything’s going to be OK. Actually, it’s going to be brilliant.

Lots of love,

Present Me

P.S. Sleep now, while you can. Seriously. At every opportunity.

The question I’d been waiting for

It finally happened. A total stranger approached us and asked; “So, what happened to her arm?”

And do you know what? It wasn’t awkward at all.

Maybe it was because this lady and her friend had spent all of lunch cooing and smiling at Kitty who, true to form, spent all of lunch baby-flirting with them. Maybe it was because her opening line was ‘isn’t she gorgeous?’

She then went on to tell us that her husband had lost his arm in a motorbike accident in his teens and that nothing much fazed him. I suppose that kinship gave her the confidence to approach us where others might not have dared, and we really appreciated her matter-of-fact approach and reassurances.

In a lot of ways, that two minute conversation made me feel as though a weight had been lifted. I’ve spent many a night rehearsing my response to any questions (one that doesn’t include any four letter words), as I’d just assumed they’d be negative. But so far, I haven’t had cause to use my little speech.

People do stare sometimes, like the entire family at a service station coffee shop who turned around, en masse, to have a look after granny clocked Kitty’s arm. And I’ll admit, I might have struggled not to leap across the table and slap them all round the face with a cheese and ham baguette. But then, I’d never seen a baby missing part of an arm before Kitty came along, so I’m not surprised that people look.

There’s still a way to go before I stop checking to see who’s looking and that speech is still filed away just in case. I suppose that instinct to protect your child from harm – physical or emotional – can never be subdued. But I’m definitely going to give people the benefit of the doubt from now on, swapping the glare for a smile so people feel confident enough to ask.

So, if you see us in the street, come and say hello. Kitty’s got her biggest smile ready and waiting.

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Kitty attracts a lot of attention when we're out and about