I have a confession to make. I used to be a competitive parent.
I had it bad. It started straight away. When my daughter was a newborn, I was competitive about how long I spent in labour.
"Oh, it took you 15 hours?" I'd ask, as other new mums retold horror stories of their baby's entry into the world. Then I'd sit back and smugly announce, "I barely laboured for eight hours. In fact, I was only pushing for twelve minutes."
I hung up my competitive mum mantle at around the same time all the other babies started to sit unaided. I found it exhausting, surreptitiously propping up my daughter from behind, as other mothers compared notes on tummy time and attempts at crawling.
I was being left behind, you see. At nearly nine months old, my baby still lounged against cushions, sitting stranded, amidst a sea of crawling, mobile children.
So I became an advocate of the, "She'll do it when she's ready" approach, deliberately avoiding conversations about physical milestones. When quizzed about my non-toddling toddler's age, I would joke, "Oh she's 16 months, but she can't be bothered to walk yet."
I entered this new relaxed mum phase with gusto. What a mistake that was.
Because, at 20 months old, when my child was still not walking, I was told she had a problem with her joints. X-rays concluded there was no dislocation, but further tests proved she needed intensive physiotherapy and orthopaedic shoes for her flat feet and hypermobile joints.
I was informed that my daughter's flexibility - which I had always rather marvelled at - was hindering her ability to support herself on two feet.
If only I had been more competitive. If only I had taken her to a doctor sooner.
My daughter's joint problems are not unusual. According to the latest NHS figures, it's thought up to three in 10 people in the UK suffer hypermobile joints to some degree.
The hereditary condition is very common in children and often corrects itself when the joints stiffen as they become teenagers. But in severe cases - those of Hypermobility Syndrome - the problems continue into adulthood, causing pain and chronic fatigue.
Kylie Hodge's three year old son Joseph is also hyper mobile. "He was diagnosed at 21 months. He was born at 27 weeks gestation so all his physical milestones were delayed, but cognitively he was really quick. As I am hyper mobile, I assumed he probably was too."
Unlike Kylie, I didn't know what I was looking for. It was only when the tantrums started that I realised there may be a problem. It was like my daughter's legs wouldn't do what her brain wanted them to. And this made her angry.
Frustration is often mentioned as a side effect of hyper mobility in young children. "Joseph would get upset, because he knew he was behind his peers," recalls Kylie. "It meant he would refuse to try to walk for a long time. At three years old, he is slower than other kids and has to really think about what he's doing, which clearly annoys him. And he can't walk very far."
The inability to walk long distances is another typical trait. But because there is still relatively little known about hypermobility, this is often explained away as laziness or "growing pains".
In fact, the list of symptoms for the more serious Hypermobility Syndrome can be so long that cases can commonly take years to diagnose. And when they are diagnosed, parents can sometimes be left more confused because of the lack of clear advice available.
This is something Kylie has battled against. "The worst thing for me has been ignorance. Not many people know what hypermobility is and when they hear about it they overreact. I feel like we've been left to cope on our own."
Jane Blackmore's two year old daughter, Libby, was also recently diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome.
Being a mum of three, Jane admits she has attempted to take a relaxed approach to her youngest child's milestones, but it's not always been easy.
"Everyone tells you they'll walk when they're ready," admits Jane. "But as a mum, you just want them to be 'normal'. You want your child to run around like the other kids. You don't realise how much you want them to walk until someone tells you they can't."
Looking back, I wish I had kept my competitive mum mantle. I'll never know, but earlier intervention could have made the last six months easier.
It could even have meant my daughter being able to dance at her second birthday party. As it is, she'll be left standing in the centre of the room, as the other children run around her.
You can find support and information about Hypermobility Syndrome from the Hypermobility Syndrome Association.
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