Often it can take weeks, or even months, to establish a good routine and just when things seem to be under control, something changes and what worked before doesn’t work anymore. Baby isn’t tired. Baby is overtired. Baby is teething.
Yet the disturbance to a carefully cultivated routine is actually what we aspire to, progressing from milestone to milestone until our babies can do ‘all the things’. How crushing, how soul destroying then, when a baby’s development seems to stagnate.
In the days leading up to our daughter’s eight month check, some part of me understood that our daughter was not where she needed to be. Like an exam we were always destined to fail, baby and I crammed right before our maternal health nurse appointment; doing tummy time, double time. It seemed that after the early months of feeding and expressing around the clock to bring up her weight – a challenge I’d not anticipated after two gutsy boys – the tummy time our baby experienced, when safely out of the clutches of her older brothers, had not sufficiently strengthened her muscles. So it wasn’t so much a surprise when the maternal health nurse commented on baby’s inability to hold her head up with ease.
Her recommendation; paediatric physiotherapy. I hadn’t realised there was such a thing. Who knew such little people could be assigned exercises to strengthen their muscles?
The physio was both nurturing and reassuring, insisting that this would be a temporary hurdle. But when I asked how far behind baby was, the physio hesitated like a tight-lipped doctor not wanting to alarm their patient.
‘Do you really want to know?’ she asked.
I nodded, needing to know what I was dealing with; how much work was yet to be done.
At eight months old, our baby’s physical strength was in line with that of a three or four month old. Although, I was told, she would likely progress naturally over time, the physio explained that because, mentally, she was an eight month old, over time, she would become frustrated, her body, not in tune with her mind.
‘See, she’s very bright. You can see she wants that toy,’ the physio said, baby batting for a toy she couldn’t play with; not without the physical strength to hold herself into sitting.
When I left the physio, I was determined to take our homework seriously, this time we were not going to cram. In short bursts, several times per day, we practiced. Baby leaning over a couch cushion laid on the floor, pushing up with her hands, while I held her knees in place, firmly against the cushion, so that the emphasis of her weight-bearing didn’t shift. For weeks, I committed to this cause, stressed and anxious, thinking of little else.
We returned to the physio four or five weeks later, so soon after our initial appointment because we were due to jet-set. When prompted, I suggested that, yes, I had noticed some improvement. The physio took one look at my little girl in action.
‘Oh Mary Clare!’ she said, ‘I think you really undersold the level of improvement here. Just look at her!’
I beamed. It was like our baby, all of a sudden, had decided to ‘perform’.
‘She wasn’t doing that at home!’ I said, the two of us laughing, stunned at how far baby had come.
‘You won’t need to come back,’ the physio said.
She was the loveliest paediatric physiotherapist I’d ever met – the only paediatric physiotherapist I’d ever met – but I was thrilled at the thought of never having to see her again, of never having to look back.
As we finished up our session, baby and I leaving the clinic as another ‘good-news story,’ the physio equipped me with a realistic expectation for our daughter’s continued physical development.
‘Most people associate the first birthday with walking,’ she said. ‘But walking at 18 months is still considered within normal range.’
In the end, our bright, slow-moving baby conquered walking at 16.5 months. Though this is now a blip in our lives, a slight hurdle compared to the heart-wrenching situations thrust upon some parents, I am grateful to the mothers who shared their personal stories of babies slow to progress; as I am glad to share my mine.