Guest blog: Charlotte Hendricks was born on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 to Kristine and Matt Hendricks. Her entry into the world was a traumatic one, but her parents are confident Charlotte’s strong will is part of why she’s made amazing progress, along with several weeks of outpatient occupational and physical therapy at Mary Free Bed.
“Charlotte’s personal goals are to conquer opening baby gates and empty every kitchen cupboard before getting caught,” Kristine said. “As her parents, we want Charlotte to know she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.”
I remember everything about my daughter’s birth and the moments leading up to it. At 38 weeks pregnant, my water broke. It was the evening before Thanksgiving, and I was carrying the laundry upstairs. I excitedly called my husband and told him it was time. The hospital bag had been packed for more than 10 weeks. I attended birthing classes and truly felt like we had done everything to prepare to meet our baby.
We had dreamed and waited for this moment for what seemed like forever. Getting pregnant was not easy, and we eventually turned to in vitro fertilization. Our IVF cycle had given us only one embryo. ONE. The doctors told us our odds were not great, only 10 percent. That’s when I knew our baby was a fighter. We found out a few weeks later we were pregnant and spent the next nine months preparing to meet our miracle!
Unfortunately, labor and delivery were not what we had hoped for. I progressed slowly and after hours of pushing with no progress, a C-section was performed. I immediately knew something was wrong. I waited to hear her cry, but the room filled with silence. Our baby was struggling to breathe. She was immediately intubated and taken to the NICU. We later learned she had fluid in her lungs.
I have replayed every minute of those 29 hours of labor over and over in my mind. What should I have done differently? What went wrong? And while we will never have clear answers to these questions, we did finally get to meet and hold our Thanksgiving miracle, Charlotte Grace, all 7 pounds, 4 ounces of her!
Charlotte recovered quickly and was discharged from the hospital five days later.
Some things you should know about me: I am a speech-language pathologist and have spent the last 10 years working primarily with children ages one to six. I love every part of early education and have dedicated my professional life to working with children with special needs.
I’m also a twin! My sister and I were born eight weeks early and both have cerebral palsy. I have it very mildly, and it affects my left leg. My sister has spastic diplegia in her legs, which affects the way she walks. But having CP hasn’t stopped her from anything, including running a half marathon last summer!
At home, I adored watching Charlotte explore her new world. I loved watching her learn and tracked each new look, sound and milestone. Around the time Charlotte was two months old, I started to notice minor things that raised little red flags in the back of my SLP mind. She still had some of her newborn refluxes and held her arms tight to her chest. She suffered from acid reflux and despised tummy time. My family told me not to worry, but something inside of me knew something was off. At Charlotte’s four month checkup, I shared my concerns with the doctor, which now included not rolling over and her eyes crossing. Given Charlotte’s traumatic birth, her pediatrician agreed we should keep an eye on things. At her six month checkup, I requested an MRI due to developmental delays. She rarely rolled over and was unable to sit independently. An MRI confirmed my instincts were right. We were devastated to learn Charlotte suffered permanent brain damage as a result of her traumatic birth.
Charlotte has diminished white matter damage, which resulted in a diagnosis of peri-ventricular leukomalacia (PVL). Children with PVL have difficulty with gross motor development, often leading to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Her form of CP manifested as an especially high and constant tightness or stiffness in the muscles on her right side, mostly affecting her right leg and foot.
Hearing the diagnosis felt unreal. I felt blindsided, shocked, upset, devastated … the emotions flooded just as fast as the questions did. How could my baby have CP? Knowing its range and severity, I wondered how it would affect her. Saying the words “Will Charlotte walk?” out loud made me feel sick. However, there was a silver lining — and it’s beautiful how the world works in mysterious ways. I was led to be an SLP for a reason. I grew up with CP for a reason. And I was Charlotte’s mom for a reason.
I firmly believe in the importance of early intervention. We wanted to do everything we could to help Charlotte, and we wanted the best. I began asking colleagues for pediatric physical therapist recommendations, and Mary Free Bed was mentioned more than once. Something in my heart told me this was where we needed to go.
Mary Free Bed has been one of the best decisions we have ever made. When we started physical and occupational therapy here, Charlotte could barely sit unassisted. We were desperately looking for help, and Mary Free Bed has provided us with the tools to help Charlotte be successful. I will never forget our first session with our physical therapist, Andrea Dennis. She immediately calmed my fears and helped take the sting out of Charlotte’s fresh diagnosis.
I am so appreciative of the extra care and attention our therapists offered throughout this process. They taught me how to effectively work with Charlotte on sitting, crawling, standing and walking – all while answering every question and letting me know what our next step would be. Charlotte is now 17 months old and is sitting, crawling and standing independently. And it won’t be long before she is walking on her own! We believe having Charlotte in therapy at such an early age made a big difference.
It is difficult to express how thankful I am to find Mary Free Bed. Anything I say won’t describe the eternal gratitude I feel. The help and constant support has set Charlotte on a path to success so she will be able to accomplish anything she wants to. It is more than we could have ever hoped for, and Mary Free Bed will always hold a special place in my heart.
Fox 17 shared Charlotte’s story. Click here to watch.