Challenging myself to be the best mum I can be

Generally I hate the inspirational quotes you get on social media, but I saw one the other day that really got me thinking.

‘God only tests those who can take it’.

Now, I’m not at all religious and I don’t believe in fate or pre-determination, but I am so grateful that Kitty came to us. Not only is she the light of my life, but her difference forces me to be a better person than perhaps I have been in the past.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago how I would cope having a baby missing part of her arm, my answer would have been simple. I wouldn’t.

The 25-year-old me would have raved and cried; felt sorry for herself and dragged the rest of the world down with her. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to be positive enough to bring up a strong, confident child.

But times have changed. I’ve changed. In those 10 years, I’ve left a town, job and friends I’d known since leaving university to move to a city where I didn’t know a soul. I’ve pushed myself to address the negativity and anxiety that ruled my early 20s. Challenged myself to diversify in my career and grasped every opportunity that came my way. And best of all, met the love of my life and the most unerringly positive person I know.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t have days when I feel sad and wish this hadn’t happened to Kitty. I still get those ‘why us’ moments when I’m lying awake in the middle of the night and I do worry about the extra challenges she’ll face.

But those 10 years of challenging myself have hopefully given me what I need to help Kitty become the incredible person I know she’s going to be.

I’ll teach her to be positive, confident and inquisitive and push past the things that scare her. To use intellect and humour to put would-be bullies in their place; to never concern herself with what other people think. And most of all, to believe in herself and embrace every opportunity with both arms – big and little.

There will be tough times and we’re all going to have to adapt and pull together as a family. Our little gang against the world.

But I’ll never forget how lucky I am to have this amazing little girl in my life and I’ll do anything in my power to make her happy.

So whatever brought Kitty to me, whether some benevolent deity, quirk of fate or glitch in genetics, all I can say is ‘thank you’. I’m the luckiest mummy alive.

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Enjoying the simple things in our first days as a family

Tips for life with a ‘little arm’ #1: Getting dressed

Kitty is my first baby, so everything’s new (and sometimes challenging!).

Caring for her is no different because of her arm. But I have learned a few little tricks that may help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.

I’ll start with the easy stuff – getting dressed.

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Kitty’s looking cool for summer

#1. Don’t try to hide it – Kitty uses her little arm, holding it with her hand and using it to touch and bash things. If it’s covered, it’s hard to use. Plus, if you’re telling a child it’s OK to be different, then cover it up, you’re sending very mixed messages.

#2. Buy sleepsuits without built in scratch mitts – you can adapt them but you go through so many in the early days, it’s easier to roll sleeves up. And extra material round the cuff can make them too tight.

#3. Roll sleeves up before you put the outfit on – most babies hate getting dressed, so this little bit of preparation saves time and grizzling.

#4. Little arm first – it may seem counter-intuitive, but I always find putting her little arm in the sleeve first is easier.

#5. Get Granny knitting – jumpers and cardis are hard to adapt and too thick to roll, so find someone who can knit clothes with a shortened sleeve. Luckily I know some very talented knitters so Kitty has a collection of customised cover ups.

#6. Learn to sew – I haven’t got round to this yet as she’s been mainly in baby grows and now it’s summer, short sleeves, but hope one of my crafty friends will show me how to use my very confusing sewing machine so I can adapt her winter clothes.

#7. Choose carefully – it’s easy to get hooked in by a cute baby outfit, but always think practically. We have a few things that have never been worn because they can’t be adapted or rolled up. Think first and it’ll save a lot of hassle and expense.

Why kids are more grown up when it comes to being different

A few weeks ago, I saw a news feature online about CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, who’s missing part of her arm.

It talked about how, when she first appeared on TV, people complained, claiming her arm would frighten their children.

Now, Kitty may only be 13 weeks old, but so far, I don’t think she’s scared anyone. In fact – despite me having my spiel ready should anyone ask – hardly anyone has mentioned her arm. They’re obviously too busy looking at her chubby cheeks, cute toes and gorgeous grin.

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Scary? Who, me?

And kids seemed the most unconcerned of anyone.

Our friends and family have taken various approaches with their kids; some telling them about Kitty’s arm, others not mentioning it at all. One little girl, who had been told, came straight up to her when they first met, took hold of her little arm and gently stroked it while giving me the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.

My four-year-old niece simply tells us about all the games she’s going to play with her when she’s bigger, and how she’ll help Kitty with anything she struggles to do.

Then the other day, the question finally came from a friend’s three-year-old. It was the third time he’d met Kitty and clearly the first time he’d noticed.

‘Mummy, why has Kitty only got one hand?’ he asked.

‘Some people have two hands, some people have one. Some people have two legs, some people have one. It’s just what’s different about Kitty,’ his Mummy explained.

He looked at Kitty for a second, processing the information, then ran off to play with his brother. Definitely not scared in the slightest.

It only goes to show that prejudice is the product of nurture, not nature. It’s only as we get older that we start to feel uncomfortable around people who are different from us, and this discomfort sometimes prompts some very childish behaviour – like complaining about a children’s TV presenter kids clearly love.

We’re bound to get questions as Kitty grows up, but the questions children ask are borne of nothing but innocent curiosity.

And teaching her to respond honestly and simply will be key to building her confidence.

Now I just have to discourage her Daddy from getting her to tell people it was bitten off when she was wrestling a lion.

Though the kids would probably love that.

‘Just one of those things’… a strangely reassuring diagnosis

After losing a baby in January 2014, I was equally thrilled and terrified when I found out that I was expecting again that July.

To allay our fears, we paid out big money for the latest DNA testing to give us as much information about our child as possible and – after a normal 12-week scan – were over the moon when our test results came back as ‘low risk’.

Obviously, no test is infallible, but we were happy with our odds, so told our family and friends the good news.

But the sharp eyes and perseverance of a lovely sonographer* at the 20-week scan put an end to that unfettered excitement.  After much checking and double checking she was sure. Our baby was missing her lower left arm.

After I’d stopped crying, I started Googling, and found loads of sites and notice boards with posts from people just like us. It seemed this had happened to thousands of other families too. Of course, there were no definite answers and many horror stories (after all, who shares good news on the internet?), so we were still none the wiser, and now more worried than ever. Could her arm just be a sign of something much more sinister?

God bless the NHS, we were at the foetal medicine unit the very next day, for the most thorough scan and an ECG to check for the telltale signs of underlying conditions that may have caused our baby’s left arm to not develop. So far, so good.

The consultant ran through every possibility, including Edward’s syndrome, which could mean the baby wouldn’t make it to term, and if she did, she’d live a very short time with many health problems. Or it could be ‘just one of those things’. So the choice was amniocentesis or CVS with a 1 in 100 chance of miscarriage, or ‘wait and see’. With odds of 1 in 120,000 quoted on our DNA test results for Edward’s syndrome, we went with ‘wait and see’.

Over the next 14 weeks, I had several more ultrasounds where no other issues were apparent. But as a lifelong over-thinker, I spent many a sleepless night imagining the worst.

Our big breakthrough came with a visit to a clinical psychologist on the first day of my maternity leave. Within minutes of us arriving, she dismissed Edward’s syndrome (‘very unlikely’) and proceeded to tell us about all the kids she works with who lead incredible lives with a missing limb.

We talked through our concerns and how we planned to manage other people’s reactions, and as we shared our plan of action, I realised how well prepared and positive we were, and how excited we were to meet our little girl.

And as we got up to leave, the psychologist said the simplest, most reassuring thing we’d heard since the 20-week scan.

‘She’ll be just fine you know, and she’ll amaze you every day’.

Five weeks later, at just before 2am on Good Friday, the midwife plonked a chubby cheeked little baby on my chest after 10 hours of labour. I didn’t even notice her arm at first- just how steadily she held my gaze and how beautifully pink and pudgy she was.

And there and then, it was clear that the psychologist was right.

Day one and already amazing.

(*we later discovered that very few cases like Kitty’s are diagnosed antenatally, so we can’t thank that sonographer enough. Having five months to prepare made all the difference.)

an exciting new chapter

Having a baby is always life-changing. But when you’re told at the 20-week scan that your baby is missing part of her arm, life really does change forever.

At first there’s the shock – that horrible wave of heat and nausea that sweeps over you whenever a medical professional says ‘I just need to check something with a colleague’.

Then the disbelief and sadness. The ‘why us?’ The constant shifts from excitement to apprehension and back again.

But eventually, after lots of talking, tears and some amazing support from the NHS, we realised that yes, we can do this. We can make our little girl a happy, confident child who can do absolutely anything she wants. And this blog is my way of hopefully helping other parents who get the same heart-stopping diagnosis to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And to remind myself that we’re doing OK. Mostly…

This is the story of the incredible Miss Kitty.

Kitty at eight hours old

Kitty at eight hours old