Dealing with Birth Defects

I handled my daughter’s birth defects by educating others and with a heaping dose of modesty, but really, it was my itty bitty wonder who taught me a lesson.

As a mom of two girls, I feel a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility to parent in a way that instills confidence and ability from the very start. I balance every “You look so pretty!” with a “You’re so brave!” I try to make sure that they know they’re capable, smart, and worthy of love and respect. They’re one, so you know, they’re not exactly absorbing the meaning of all these words, but I am adamant that we train ourselves to think this way now in hopes of raising confident, responsible young women. 

When our girls were born, Marlowe (Baby A and first born) came out swinging. She also came out with club foot and later developed a hemangioma. Short explanation: her feet turn in and would need about three months in casts, followed by three months in a boots-and-bar contraption. She has a “strawberry” birthmark that gets a drop of topical medication twice a day and she sees a wonderful dermatologist at Children’s Hospital a couple times a year. Both of these by technical definition are birth defects. Neither threaten her life, both have successful treatments and will eventually resolve themselves. Both are visible differences.

To me, as her mom, “different” was just as scary as “defect”.

I never really took much stock in defining these conditions as defective. I’m a mom, so naturally, I think my kids are perfect. These are just things she has. But they are, by every definition, different. They stand out. They solicit questions and comments from strangers.

Marrying these two things – raising the confident girl and acknowledging differences – has been an interesting lesson for me. Wanting my girls to understand their worth is so much more than what’s on the outside; they are an entire package that has value. And yet at the same time, I worry about what people think when they see her. What will people ask? Will this go away? Will she be scarred for life, literally? Am I being incredibly vain and will I actually be the one to affect her confidence because she’s a BABY and has no idea what’s going on??

As a habitual oversharer, I leaned in. I decided I’d welcome questions and encourage people to inquire about her “magic boots.” I wouldn’t give it a cutesy name, like an “angel kiss,” I’d call it a hemangioma. I’d get the best treatment I could for both and become a walking campaign for hemangioma and club foot awareness and education. Turns out, most people ask questions because they are interested, not because they think it’s weird or gross. They genuinely want to know.

I am shocked at how many people saw her boots and shared that their uncle/mother/brother/grandma had clubfoot too and tell us their memories of the boots and bar or how they’re now an athlete/dancer/runner. 

I’ll never forget when Marlowe was about four months old, we took the girls out with us for dinner. A sweet woman stopped us to see the twins and without pause, she kindly said, “Look at her and that beautiful birthmark.” I immediately teared up and thanked her profusely. I hadn’t even realized I was trying so hard to preemptively jump ahead of any negative comments by educating about her unique characteristic that someone out there might even think the birthmark itself made her more beautiful because it made her her.

The good news is that at one year old, Marlowe has no lack of confidence. Nothing gets in her way or holds her down. Really, the only time she cries is when she can’t figure something out herself. My fears were mostly just wasted worry, and she’s once again taught me a lesson. 

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