The truth is, even having lived with a bilateral cleft lip and palate all my life; it’s still hard to talk about. There is no escaping the first impression. Your face is the first thing people see when they look at you, it’s how they remember you and keep you all sorted in their mind. Lips carry the words, that bring the emotion, that connect with the heart. And, when they aren’t perfect, it seems, the words get lost. Each year 6,800 babies in the U.S. are born with a cleft lip and/or palate. Many will have their lip closed with one surgery, their palate with another, and show very few signs of the open canyon from birth. Others, like me, born with the most severe cases, will have surgeries that stretch from the first days of life throughout adulthood. The care includes a team: speech-language pathologists, audiologists, pediatricians, plastic surgeons, oral maxillofacial surgeons, dentists, orthodontists, otolaryngologists, and psychologists. In addition, many children born with cleft lip and palate will also have learning disabilities in reading, and will be bullied for things they cannot change.
Still, with all of that, I love my life. I love my face. I love my challenges—they make me more human and give me a higher degree of perspective and empathy into others lives.
My hope is that by some small measure I can help someone who is going through the same experiences I had, or guide a mother through the emotional obstacles of raising a baby with a facial defect, or be a voice of reassurance that no matter how hard life seems, there is a purpose in every trial.