This is to the parent that JUST had a child born with a cleft lip and/or palate. This is ALSO to the parent that is taking their child to their second to last reconstructive surgery to fix the cleft. Most of all, this is to the parent (who would never say this aloud) that is worrying about whether or not their child will have thick enough skin to withstand the teasing that, more often than not, comes along with a cleft lip and a cleft palate.
I wanted to write to you specifically because I want to ease your mind. As an individual who has grown up with both a cleft lip and cleft palate, and also one who has had thirteen surgeries to try to reconstruct their lip, I want you to know that in the end, life will unfold the way it was supposed to. The goal of this to let you, parent, let go of that concern and heavy heart.
I wanted to share with you the journey that your child will go through so that as a parent, you can prepare and anticipate these tough moments - and possibly craft out how you will react.
When your baby was born, you may have cried tears of joy AND tears of sorrow. For the latter tears, you will never admit it to them and secretly are ashamed of it. I would say don't be. They will understand. If they decide to one day become parents themselves, they may grow into a deeper understanding of the emotions you are going through. Its something you don't even have to speak about. Don't be ashamed of your tears.
They will also understand why you may not have any pictures of them as a newborn. Yep, those are semi-tough photos to look at if you have them. They are totally okay with not having them. And if you do, great. But just know that you are forgiven if you decide not to have any.
These are the earliest photos that I have of myself:
You know those ten surgeries that are needed for reconstructive surgery? Yes, they will cost a lot. But your kiddo will be forever grateful. They probably won't remember the first nine of them. Your child MIGHT have a slight memory of a bunch of medical students crowded around them while they were sitting on a chair 20 feet in the air prior to the surgery. Oh, and when they are an adult, the smell of bubble gum will always take their mind back to that cold operating table. But those are things that they will brush aside knowing that you have their best interest at heart. Your child will also appreciate the fact that you covered up all the mirrors inside the house while they were healing and recovering.
Furthermore, they will appreciate the scheduling of the last surgery during a school transition time, minimizing the awkwardness of explaining what's different about their face to their classmates.
At times, you may find that your child may come home from junior high a little quieter than normal. Here are some scenarios that may have played out. Feel out your tween on whether or not they want to talk about it. Chances are, they have friends who will help them cope through it:
- A classmate may have used the word "lopsided" or "crooked" to poke fun of your child to another, and they may have overheard it. Even more directly, someone may have pointed out the obvious and said their lip was "messed up" or "crooked" or "lopsided" to their face.
- That hot guy that EVERY girl in class had a crush on may have made fun of them in the hallway with all the popular kids around by making a gesture that represented a pig noise, and then snorting like a pig.
- The assistant principal's son also made fun of her in the hallway that same day.
The last two could be considered bullying, so I would say don't take it lightly if it comes up in conversation. But chances are, your child may not talk about it. In the end, with the advent of Facebook, your child will take this as a lesson on life. With her song lyrics Mean, Taylor Swift sums it it perfectly (and your child will find out it becomes totally true in real life):
And I can see you years from now in a bar,
Talking over a football game,
With that same big loud opinion,
But nobody's listening,
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things,
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can't sing,
But all you are is mean
Three decades later, the words lopsided, crooked, and pig when spoken aloud will make them cringe. You may find that your child may not date as much as the average teenager, and I'm sure that's probably okay with you.
The silver lining to this is that your child may also find that writing down their struggles in an essay form may help them with winning college scholarships. By crafting one main essay about the struggles with having a cleft palate, and submitting them as multiple entries, you may find that these struggles help pay their way to college.
When college rolls around, the teasing is very minimal, if at all. There is a more subtle form of teasing, but the hardest part (middle school and high school) is behind them.
In college, they will probably date. And, to answer that question swirling in your mind, your child will find someone that will appreciate that not so perfect smile and lopsided *cringe* nose. They will end up having beautiful kids without a cleft palate (and even if they did, we know things would be okay).
In summary, you have nothing to worry about.
Well, probably one thing. You might forewarn them (in the most delicate way possible) that they'll have to read books to their toddlers where pigs are the main characters and they may be required to snort. (I still cringe to this day.) But you know what? My life with a cleft lip and palate has turned out beautifully.