My third child, Timothy, was born with a left sided cleft-lip. My husband and I were completely unaware of this facial abnormality up until the time of his birth.
We opted not have a 3D ultrasound done for him like we did the first two. You know, third child and all. We did have the normal anatomy scan performed at 20 weeks. But because his hard palate was not affected and because the left side of his face fell in a shadowy spot during the ultrasound, his little lip went undetected. Other than that, my pregnancy was healthy and I was young so that 20-week ultrasound was my last.
To be honest, I am glad I didn’t know he had a facial deformity until he was born. If I had, it only would have caused me to worry unnecessarily for the rest of my pregnancy. Clefts are commonly associated with other syndromes and disorders. I have no doubt, like any parent, my thoughts would have gone to a dark place wondering about his future.
Needless to say, my husband and I were shocked. After I delivered we were speechless but our exchange of worried and unsettled expressions said it all. I mean, we just were NOT expecting it. When the doctor handed us this tiny bundle we had been waiting on for months and right in the middle of his face was a giant gash screaming something isn’t right here, we immediately started to ask ourselves a million questions.
What happened? Did we do something wrong? Is there more than just this that we can’t see? Is he healthy physically and mentally? Will he have surgery? When? Who will do the surgery? What will he look like after the surgery? Will he be able to nurse? Will this affect his speech? How will this affect the rest of his life? His relationships? His career? Will he be bullied in school? Will he be happy?
My mama bear arms were already protectively swinging and fighting for him before he even took his first breath.
But let me tell you what else I wasn’t expecting. I was completely and utterly unprepared for how much I would love this kid and his goofy, wonky smile. In my eyes, he was absolutely perfect, created and crafted just the way he was supposed to be made. I mean, you guys, I fell hard for this one.
2 Month Photos
A mother’s love is difficult, perhaps impossible, to explain. It’s not that I loved him more than I loved my other children but I guess you could say my love for him was stronger and more potent. It’s as if it radiated out of me like some sort of super-hero power shield to fight off anyone who dared to think or say that he wasn’t alright. I think because I was so concerned that the rest of the world wouldn’t love him, my body and heart responded by creating this impenetrable barrier of love and protection around him.
Again, mama bear to the max.
I am completely aware that, on the list of “things that could go wrong” a cleft lip is extremely mild. Almost nothing. A little plastic surgery here, perhaps some speech therapy and dental surgery there and we would be on the road to not even remembering it happened. But in my world and at that time, it was a huge deal to me and my husband.
And if I am being honest, the thing I worried about most in the beginning was his appearance. Call me vein, prideful and shallow but, like any mom, I had been excited to show off the newest addition to the world. But now I was asking myself How do I handle this? How do I announce that he has a cleft lip and we didn’t know it? How do I tell my family and friends, who also weren’t expecting this, that he was born and that mama and baby were healthy but…
Like any good millennial would do, we sat in the hospital room for the next 48 hours waiting to be discharged and Googled the heck out of “babies born with a cleft lip” and “before and after cleft lip repair.” We could find information on medical websites explaining what we could expect but what we had a lot of difficulty finding was a timeline of personal photos showing the progression of children who had the procedure done and following them from infancy to elementary age.
So this post is for those parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of the family who are sitting there doing the same thing. Who are shocked. Who just want to see some pictures and know it’s going to be okay.
And it will be. It will be okay.
Ironically enough, the day before Timmy’s surgery I sat on our back porch swing staring at his adorably crooked smile for hours bawling my eyeballs out because, even though I knew he needed the surgery and it would make his life significantly easier, I was really going to miss the amazing face he was born with. There was a big part of me that wanted him to stay exactly the way he was created because, to me, he was perfect.
For those wondering, Timothy is a happy, healthy, silly, active, super-smart almost-5-year-old boy. He starts kindergarten next year. He radiates energy and joy wherever he goes and basically charms the pants off of everyone he meets. I can’t imagine my life without his smile.