Sandra and Bailley: How Far a Mother Will Walk so Her Son Can Too
Raising a child as a single mother is no easy task at the best of times, but when 21-year-old Sandra saw that her newborn son, Bailley, was born with clubfoot, she wondered how she would ever cope. In that moment, she felt something break inside her.
“I was suffering from severe postpartum depression,” she says. “It was as though I had forgotten I even had a child. I was in a complete daze.”
Sandra, who lives in Harare, Zimbabwe, had never heard of clubfoot and assumed that her son’s feet would stay bent for life. After delivery, a doctor tried to explain the condition, but in her fragile emotional state the words didn’t sink in. Seeing Bailley’s feet contorted at such sharp angles, the only thing that seemed clear to her was that he would never be able to walk. The responsibility felt crushing.
“I was so distressed. I just couldn’t understand it,” she says, sitting on a metal kitchen chair in the courtyard of her own mother’s house in the Highfields neighborhood of Harare.
“I kept thinking: if he’s disabled, how will I ever be able to look after him?”
It was more than two months before Sandra began to emerge from her postpartum fog. Around the same time, Sandra’s sister sent her a series of online videos about clubfoot, showing how it could be treated. For the first time since giving birth, she began to see a glimmer of hope. Sandra decided there and then that she would do everything in her power to find treatment for her son.
After asking for help at the hospital, she was referred to the weekly clubfoot clinic, run by MiracleFeet’s partner organization in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Sustainable Clubfoot Program (ZSCP) – a program that has been operating since 2010 and that now runs 14 clubfoot clinics throughout the country. When Sandra and Bailey visited the clinic it was immediately evident that Bailley was not the first child to be born with clubfoot, and that meant Sandra was not alone in her situation either. In fact, an estimated 534 children are born with clubfoot every year in Zimbabwe.
Sandra was happy to make the trips to and from the clinic for Bailley’s treatment, but money was so tight that she couldn’t afford the bus fare. So, she strapped Bailley to her back and set off on foot through the potholed streets of Highfields. It was a two-hour trip that she would undertake many times over the coming weeks.
To Sandra’s surprise both she and Bailley found support at the clinic. “Seeing the other children at the clinic and talking with the other parents really gave me hope,” Sandra explains. “I was so excited to go back again the next week.” And, sure enough, when Bailley’s casts were replaced a week later, his feet were already looking a little straighter.
Yet the process was not entirely straightforward. Bailley’s clubfoot was a severe case and was complicated by an undiagnosed neurological component. It took many weeks of casting before his medical rehab team was finally happy with the position of his feet. But through it all, Sandra remained dedicated to her son’s treatment, no matter how many miles she had to walk carrying her baby on her back and the responsibility of motherhood on her shoulders.
Bailley is now four years old and preparing to go to school for the first time. He’s heard that there will be toys to play with and is visibly thrilled by the prospect.
“I’ll be able to play with all the other children,” he says, beaming.
Until then, the house is his playground, the sofa his trampoline, and the kitchen table a venue for mountaineering. Sandra can hardly be cross at his creative use of the furniture – she still remembers the time she believed he would never walk. Bailley loves playing with a little plastic car, but his favorite toy is a small inflatable football in the colors of a watermelon that he kicks back and forth across the courtyard in front of his house.
Buzzing with energy, the only times he ever sits still are when he’s watching cartoons, or when his mother puts on his foot abduction brace, which he’ll continue to wear until his medical rehab team indicates that there’s no danger of relapse.
“He can do everything now. He can wear shoes, he can run, he can kick a ball,” says Sandra. “Everyone who saw him as a baby is amazed. They all thought he’d never walk.”
When asked what advice she would give other mothers going through the same thing, Sandra’s response is simple: “go and find treatment.” It’s a seemingly straightforward answer entwined with a maternal fortitude that propelled Sandra to find and complete the process. In the end, it was that fortitude which radically changed the trajectory of both Sandra and Bailley’s lives. “As a single mother, I don’t know how I would have managed if we hadn’t gone for treatment.”
Thanks to generosity of The Oak Foundation, transport subsidies are now being given to parents so that others don’t have to face the same hurdles as Sandra.