Today’s Guest Poster, Betsy Miller, came to writing in a little different way: she had a need for a book on a particular subject, but found it didn’t exist. So she jumped in to fill the need with her nonfiction title, The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia. After a long process of learning the hard way, she hopes to provide an easier – or at least more informed – path for people in her shoes. – Meg
I grew up knowing I had been treated for hip dysplasia as a baby, but never gave it much thought until I developed hip pain in my late thirties. When I checked with a doctor he said I might need total hip replacement (THR) surgery within five years. I was stunned. My kids were still in elementary school. I could not face the idea of it. I couldn’t even read about THR surgery without crying. Wanting to learn about hip dysplasia, I tried book stores—and found nothing. Searching the Internet revealed numerous websites devoted to canine hip dysplasia. I found a couple of medical sites discussing childhood treatment of hip dysplasia, and one site for parents. Soon I wound up in a medical library studying the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery and the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics. It bothered me that so much information was available about dogs when almost everything written about hip dysplasia in people was for doctors. There ought to be a book, I thought indignantly. But who would write it?
With a gulp I wondered if I could do this, weighing the pros and cons. In the pro column, I had over ten years of experience as a technical writer and had edited a book about postpartum depression. On the con side, writing quick install guides for wireless routers was vastly different than writing a book from scratch about a health topic I knew very little about. I would have to squeeze in time to work on it evenings and weekends since I had a day job, plus kids and everything that comes with having kids. Oh, yeah, and I was still something of a basket case when it came to thinking about THR surgery. I literally researched hip dysplasia for years before I told anyone that I might write an article or book on the subject.
I joined a couple of online forums, one for parents of kids in treatment and one for adult women with hip dysplasia. For awhile I lurked, reading the posts, feeling like I was listening in to other people’s conversations. Bit by bit I started posting comments. To my great relief, my hips improved and it looked like it would be ten years or more before I would have to deal with surgery. I dropped out of the group for adults, but stayed with the hip-baby group. Certain questions came up over and over. I was getting a sense of which issues were the most frustrating for parents, like “How do you diaper a baby in a body cast?”
I can’t remember my own hip treatment, and there are no photos because my mother did not want any taken of me in my cast. It hadn’t really hit me, what she must have gone through until I saw some photos of babies in harnesses, braces, and casts. My kids were fine, but I began to get an inkling of what it must be like for parents, especially the moms. I started getting to know the group, started caring about how that next doctor’s appointments would turn out—and getting excited when treatment ended. I kept working on my manuscript and managed to sell an article about childhood treatment. Several of the moms in the forum looked over the first draft of The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia, and gave me good suggestions about how to improve it. After some time I realized the book would be stronger if I focused on childhood treatment, not to mention more manageable from an emotional standpoint.
The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia needed illustrations and photos. I contacted companies that make harnesses and braces, asking permission to use their images in the book. I also contacted a number of moms in the hip-baby group asking if any would be comfortable providing photos. For some illustrations, it was impossible to get permission, so I hired a student majoring in studio art to re-draw them.
Now my manuscript needed a medical review by an expert pediatric orthopedic doctor. Feeling somewhat intimidated, I asked my doctor to recommend someone. The doctor he referred me to seemed enthusiastic, but then he stopped returning my phone calls. This left me in limbo. I had put a tremendous amount of time and effort into writing the book, and worried that it would never be ready to publish. I contacted several pediatric orthopedic doctors, none of whom responded. Finally, my persistence paid off when I reached a doctor who, though not personally interested in reviewing the book, referred me to two other doctors, both of whom were very receptive. One of them did the medical review, suggesting some minor changes. Finally, the book was back on track, and was published soon afterward.
My writing style broadened as I wrote The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia. My social circle also expanded. I was in contact with people all over the US, in the UK, Australia, and Germany, and met some personally to interview them. The Parents’ Guide to Hip Dysplasia has been well received, and I keep in touch with many friends I made while working on it. I am happy with the end result and hope this book helps makes life a little less stressful for those families who are dealing with hip dysplasia.