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Being a parent and clubfoot

Fin’s Mum – Reflections on being a parent of a child with Club Feet

It could be our personalities or my medical experience (I am a paediatric nurse) – or a combination of them both – but when Fin was born with 2 club feet I wasn’t worried. I spotted it before the medical professionals but I was so excited at having a new born that it really wasn’t an issue. I knew it wasn’t life-threatening and I had also been working in a children’s hospice so for me this REALLY wasn’t an issue compared to those I had been used to nursing.

I would be lying though if I said that I haven’t been a bit  anxious about Fin these last 18 years.

It was in the days that the Ponseti technique was just coming in. So Fin had the more traditional treatment which was surgery on both legs at 13 weeks. Then plaster casts for about a month. His right leg was much worse and they didn’t manage a good correction so he cant move his foot  – it’s very fixed. He underwent physio before surgery and afterwards I was expected to do all the stretches for years! I can’t say it was done every day…….

So my concerns?  When would he walk? And once he started walking (aged 18 months on Mother’s Day!) would he be able to run? Would he be teased about his splint? What size of shoes to get to accommodate the splint on one leg? Could he wear shorts? What did the future hold regarding pain, any operations, his circulation (terrible! Permanent freezing feet)…….so maybe I wasn’t as chilled as I thought – or maybe I was just being practical and thinking ahead.

From the beginning Fin has never been allowed to use his splint/dodgy leg as an excuse for anything. He has been as active as the rest of the family and although he has developed a dislike to big walks, he soon found that biking was what he preferred. As regular mountain bikers, that meant we could all do it together and we expected the same effort from him as we did from his little brother! During his primary years he had a few weeks with  a cast on to stretch his tendon and we still took him up the funicular up to the top of the Cairgorm Mountains near Aviemore in the snow with numerous socks and plastic bags over the cast. He loved it but I am not sure all the other people up there thought we were wise!

I found Sports Day to be a tough day. He usually came last in everything and I would have a lump in my throat. But he would be grinning finding it all just fun! One year the gym teacher wanted to give him a handicap – I was enraged!! Fin was really keen on the idea but I wouldn’t allow it – I didn’t see him as ‘handicapped/disabled’ so absolutely not! What I was keen to drive though was a fairer sports day – not just flat races but throwing, obstacles, a kind of multi sports that allowed other children to have a chance at being first and not just the really fast ones.

Fin also liked to play football in the village we lived in and went to Saturday training  – he really enjoyed this but you could see he wasn’t  going to get very far with it in terms of competition as he was not at all fast, and he ran with an awkward gait, his right foot (splint leg) turned in a lot.

But to this day he still loves a kick around and is totally passionate about football and his trivia knowledge on the game has always been incredible. Not being able to play in a team has never put him up nor down – I guess we have been very lucky with his laissez faire attitude.

He was accepted at school with his skinny legs and his splint. He never seemed self conscious. He explained to anyone who asked (and a lot did!) that his splint was for his ‘twisty leg’ and that was enough for his peers.

We moved to north of inverness when he was 9 and a local kid called him ‘peg-leg’. Fin told me and immediately started laughing! I wanted to go out and deck this child!

That was the only teasing he got that I know of.

Kids are curious – so simple explanations will suffice, and then they will accept what they are told and move on.

As he grew up he got more interested in biking and started training and competing. It was better fun than walking. Having no calves is a disadvantage in life as you don’t get that spring action as you walk up hill, or up stairs so you can tire more. He hated the secondary school sponsored walk – 11 miles of hilly walking. So one year he decided to run it – less time on his feet he reckoned! He managed it with a very respectable time, faster than I managed and I used to run a lot  – but with horrible wounds from the splint rubbing!

He  had an operation in 2016 to turn his big toe as it rotated round. Otherwise nothing else as yet. He gets pains now and again and his toes are really quite hammer-like.

We would love a nicer splint for him rather than his chunky NHS one but the cost would be huge.

So where are we now – although he is 18 (he left school at 17) I still worry about him but I think mothers are wired that way. He has been lucky enough to have tried lots of sports and has found one that fits with his club feet. He has raced against ‘able-bodied’ up until now and has done well – especially in endurance racing – but he decided he wanted a fairer platform so he wrote to British Cycling and basically said how do I get onto paracycling because I want to take part in the Paralympics! And through a LOT of travelling and sheer grit, hard work and huge determination he is doing well and may one day represent GB – who knows! He was 8th a few weeks ago in Belgium at the Paracycling World Cup in the road race.

As parents, we have never ‘molly-coddled’ him. We have never made him feel more special or different than his brother. But we have given him many opportunities by buying/building him bikes and taking him to trail centres in the rain and the sun regularly – because that’s what we all did as a family.

Fin and I chat about it sometimes and he wonders if his club feet have made him so determined – I guess we will never know. But from aged about 2 – watching Tim Henman on TV at Wimbledon for an entire match – he has been sports crazy so  it definitely is a passion from within.

So help your child find their passion – it might be writing stories, playing an instrument, playing a sport (don’t forget ‘para-sport’ if your child is interested), working with animals……

Whatever it is, focus on that and don’t let their feet be an obstacle for anything in their lives.

I am incredibly proud of Fin – I know I don’t tell him this as often as I should. Make sure your child knows this from a young age because this will give them the extra confidence that they are going to need in life, being a little bit different from their peers.

Wishing your child all the best in their life!