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Charlotte’s little arm

Charlotte is an eager, enthusiastic and excited child. At seven years of age Charlotte is always keen to try new things, ready to find solutions and willing to explore her world. One wonders if this inbuilt enthusiasm for life played a part in Charlotte prematurely entering the world with her “little arm” at 29 weeks.

Narelle and Shaun learned their daughter would be born missing her left arm above the elbow at the 13-week pregnancy scan. “When Charlotte’s limb difference was discovered doctors ordered an array of tests and scans which, thankfully, revealed that our daughter was unlikely to have any compromising health issues,” Narelle shared. So, with relief, at 28 weeks Narelle looked forward to enjoying the pregnancy.

But Charlotte had other ideas. “I went into early labour at 28 and a half weeks and despite the medical team’s efforts to prevent an early birth Charlotte was born a few days later,” Narelle explained. Charlotte astounded her parents and the medical team by quickly breathing on her own, adapting to breastfeeding and being discharged a mere eight weeks after birth. “We were so grateful that Charlotte was healthy the fact she was born missing part of her arm was a secondary consideration – not just for us but also for Charlotte’s siblings as well,” Narelle recalled.

Early on, Shaun and Narelle decided that they were not going to treat Charlotte any differently to her other siblings. “We wanted Charlotte to be her own person first, and not let her little arm be her defining feature, either within or outside of the family,” Narelle noted. “We also decided that we would support Charlotte to learn how to do things in her own way, and only step in when we identify she needs assistance or when she asks for help,” Narelle explained.

This year Charlotte has learned to ride her bike without training wheels and can confidently use her scooter; skills that some children of the same age are yet to master.

“Charlotte amazes us at her willingness to try new things and work towards achieving goals, often without asking us for help,” Narelle said. “Just recently Charlotte wanted to play with a children’s bow and arrow set and, although we thought that would be impossible for her, to our astonishment she found a way of holding the bow and was shooting arrows in no time,” Narelle explained.

But Narelle and Shaun acknowledge that in order to prevent any potential physical or social impacts associated with Charlotte’s limb difference, early intervention strategies and drawing upon professionals are important. “We now have an NDIS Plan for Charlotte and have psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and assistive aids included and we can draw upon these if we think she needs external supports,” Narelle explained. Similarly, Narelle and Shaun have worked closely with Charlotte’s primary school to ensure that she has the right tools and technology to assist in learning and staying on par with her peers.

For the most part Charlotte is happy and confident in herself, refers to her left arm as “her little arm” and is happy to tell people “I was born like this” if ever asked why she has a limb difference. While Narelle does acknowledge that Charlotte doesn’t always want to draw attention to her little arm at other times she confidently shows her difference off; with her choice of Halloween costume this year being just such an example.

After discussing Halloween costume ideas, Charlotte decided she wanted to dress up as a zombie. Wearing a dirtied tutu, grey makeup, fake blood on her little arm and carrying a bloodied fake severed arm Charlotte epitomised trick-or-treating fun! “Between the fantastic comments received at the Halloween party, and the likes and feedback from my friends and the Limbs 4 Life community Charlotte truly felt she was famous,” Narelle shared. Without giving too much away, or needing to issue a spoiler alert warning, Charlotte has already decided that her 2020 Halloween costume will involve a Toy Story 4 character who develops a limb difference …

Charlotte has attended a number of Limbs 4 Life events in South Australia this year; opportunities which have enabled Charlotte to feel more confident in her body and learn how to talk about her little arm. “Being connected to Limbs 4 Life, Kylie, other children and families, and adult amputees has helped Charlotte to realise that she is not alone and not different,” Narelle shared.

When asked to share learnings with other families just commencing on the limb difference journey Narelle simply says “don’t underestimate your child and think that they can’t do something, as you will be amazed by the innovative and unique ways they will find a way”.

Limbs 4 Life thanks Narelle, Shaun and Charlotte for sharing their story. We wish Charlotte all the best with the street dancing and singing lessons she is taking up in the new year, and we wait with bated breath to see her 2020 Halloween costume!

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