At the age of 21, I had never heard of this condition and to be completely honest, I was quite shocked. Mostly because I didn’t know about it until the day she was to be delivered and I had little to no time to process the situation. I had many ultrasounds throughout my pregnancy, but it was never mentioned. (That’s a whole other topic I won’t get into here.)
I wasn’t shown any photos and I couldn’t google because this was 2002 and I didn’t have a smartphone. I was also heavily medicated at the time that I was told, due to being treated for preeclampsia. It wasn’t until she was delivered and shown to me that I had ever seen what a cleft lip looked like. For the sake of being completely transparent, I was shocked and confused and put off. I didn’t hold her right after birth. I felt guilty for those feelings for a long time, but these are very real and normal feelings.
After I gave birth, I was wheeled off to a dark room where I immediately started to cry and fell asleep while my family went to greet my little girl.
Once the epidural and other medications had worn off, I was able to process clearly. The best thing I could do at this point was to fully accept the situation (my new reality and how I felt about it) and my daughter for exactly how she had come into this world. Of course, she is my daughter and I accept her completely, no matter what. This was easy because she was such a happy baby. It was as though she was happy to be in this world from the moment she was born, and the fact that she had a mouth that seemed to be smiling was fitting to that effect. When I looked at her, I saw pure joy.
When I was focused on how pleasant her very being was, it gave me the strength to handle any obstacles I had to deal with. She was strong and happy and that gave me the strength I needed. To this day, she is my strength.
Challenges and Gratitude
Difficulties that followed were: feeding, my feelings and the process of getting insurance and treatment in order.
The feeding wasn’t too difficult once I got the hang of it. She had a special squeeze bottle that I had to make a large hole in the nipple so that I could deliver the milk into her mouth since she couldn’t suck. I was grateful for the nurses who helped me learn how to feed her properly.
As far as the reasons for why she was born that way… it’s up for debate. The thing to remember is that no amount of guilt will change or help anything. So, it’s best just to accept, be grateful and then let it go. When I let go of the guilt and any other negative feelings I was having, it made room for strength and courage to deal with the obstacles that followed. I couldn’t just wallow in guilt and self-doubt. I allowed myself to feel those feelings, so that I could get over them and move on in a positive way. The only way to get over something (negative emotions) is to go through them.
The paperwork and phone calls I had to make to figure out her insurance and appointments were very stressful for me and I struggled greatly with that. I literally cried every time I had to call CCS, Social Services, the Hospital or one of her five (give or take) doctors. I was constantly getting the runaround. Thankfully, over the years, things have become much more organized and less overwhelming.
Even though I was struggling with the paperwork and phone calls, I was grateful that there were programs and teams to help my daughter with treatment and surgery. I was also grateful for the programs that paid for treatment as there was no way I would have been able to take care of that on my own.
Ask For Help
I don’t choose to regret anything from my past. I choose to find the lessons and grow. One of the many lessons I took away from this experience is that it’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t make us weak to admit that help is needed. It takes strength to admit to it and courage to ask. I didn’t have help with the paperwork, the many doctor visit…etc, because I didn’t ask for help. You can choose to do it alone like I did, but you don’t have to and neither did I.
It is nice to have help, but there is a strength I gained from doing it alone and I am grateful for that.
I didn’t seek out any support groups until my daughter was a teen, but I have found it to be both helpful and fulfilling. It helps to talk to others who are dealing with the same thing. It’s comforting to know and feel that we are not alone. It is also fulfilling to be a source of support. Fulfilling is an understatement. It’s a joy.
The one I joined is Cleft Mommies on Facebook.com. A quick Google search will provide many sources of support.
Everyone’s experiences in life will be different, with different challenges, but we can learn how to deal with these difficulties much easier when we practice acceptance, gratitude, letting go and asking for help. As you can imagine, there is much more that could be touched on with this, so if you have any questions or need help, please do not hesitate to contact me through here or through any of my social media accounts.
❤ Leticia Rae