It’s July, and for a lot of people that means many different things. Independence Day, fireworks, pool time, and long, hot summer days. It means going out to enjoy the weather, and maybe get a tan (if you’re like me that just means a sunburn). I used to not think very much of July. I’ve never been a fan of the summer months, and as a home-schooled kid I never had a “break” from school. We went through summer schooling, too.
Now that I’m older, and maybe just a bit wiser, you would think things would change and I would see the joy in the summer months. I didn’t, though. My first, and only, miscarriage happened in July right before the holidays. So I became more bitter to the month as a whole because of the void of not having what would have been my first son, and second child of four.
Well, things have changed since then, and July has become more significant in ways that I never imagined it would.
On January 3rd, 2017 I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Our princess Charlotte, whom we lovingly refer to as Lottie, was born a full week early after over 48 hours of early laboring at home. This child came into the world special, and I don’t mean that just because she’s mine.
You see, Lottie was born with a cleft lip, and July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month.
You’ve likely seen the ads on television, right? The ones in the third world country asking for monetary donations? Truth be told you don’t really think about it happening here in the United States to your child. At least I didn’t, but at my first ultrasound my ultrasound tech spotted it right off. I was told by my OBGYN, and my response was simply: “Okay!”
It was a little bit shocking, but I figured if she was healthy otherwise it would be fine. I thought I could handle it just fine, but the more I delved into the world of craniofacial defects the more my heart began to sink. There is so much more to it than just a simple surgery that no one really warns you about at the beginning.
Did you know it takes several surgeries over the course of almost eighteen years? I didn’t. Did you know that their teeth could potentially grow into their nose? I didn’t. Did you know that they could potentially become deaf later in life, have major speech problems, and/or need multiple revisions to their primary surgeries? I certainly didn’t!
The more I read the more I felt myself slipping into depression. 30-years-old, and pregnant, and I finally admitted to my doctor that I needed antidepressants. It wasn’t until I went on the medication that I came out of the fog of my depression so I could enjoy the little life growing inside me.
By the time she made it into the world I felt that I was ready, but I still worried if I would love her the way I love my other two children. I worried that my husband would love her, and that their siblings would love her as well.
Then I saw her face, and all my worries melted away. I cried tears of joy that I didn’t realize I was holding back until they handed her to me. She was perfect in her imperfections.
Within the hour I was breastfeeding her. I thought it wouldn’t be possible, but I’m one of the lucky ones. She took to it better than my non-cleft kids ever did. Even to this day, at 6 months old, she still prefers her mother over a bottle. My husband took one look at her and jokingly said, “She almost seems feline.” which was his way of accepting our new role as cleftie parents, and he’s never not once treated her any differently than our other children. As for Charlotte’s siblings? My eldest daughter, Lillian, took her sister Charlotte’s surgery harder than the rest of us. It brought about the realization that every person is beautiful in their own way, and she begged us not to go through with the surgery.
Of course, on April 24th, 2017 Charlotte had her first surgery. I took it better than I thought I would, but my husband and I realized that we would soon have a brand new baby presented to us.
I kept thinking, “I loved her before, will I love her now?” and “Will things change?”
So many questions ran through my mind during her surgery, but every last one of them faded away the moment I saw her and she opened her groggy little blue eyes. She was definitely different, but in a familiar way. Gone was the crooked little cleft smile, and replaced was the beautiful scar as a reminder that she would be gorgeous no matter what. When she smiles now her scar will stretch, and a lot of the time I just spend watching her in all of her beauty.
Each and every time now that I run across a cleft child I stop and admire their unique beauty. I strike up a conversation with the parents, or guardian, and hope and pray for the best for their cleft child. It’s a long journey for them, I know, because I’ve only just begun ours.
Even so, this cleft mom and her cleft beauty are ready to take on the world!
Brooke Wheeler is a mother, wife, blogger for mysmartasskids.com. She often spends her time chasing around her three children, and documenting her daily struggles with a large dose of wit, and sarcasm.
I want to give a big thanks to Brooke and her family for sharing their story. Hearing stories like Lottie’s makes my heart break for these families that will have to endure years of surgeries, therapies and hardships. But I know that they will come out the other end stronger, with the love, support and dedication of their families, the medical professionals and all those that are praying for them!
Cleft and craniofacial conditions affect thousands of infants, children, teens and adults in the United States each year. Some are born with congenital anomalies like cleft lip and palate, others with more complex, life-threatening craniofacial conditions. To learn more about cleft lip and craniofacial deformities please visit Transforming Faces. They have a lot of information about what to do, how to care for and how to raise money and awareness so that families like Ava’s family can receive the help and support to get them through this challenging time.
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