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This one is about: Teens Talk About Clefts

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Excerpted from "Passages" panel presented at 1991 NCPA Convention at Hilton Head, SC

Jennifer and Tim were both born with cleft lip and palate. They were both 15 year old when they shared some of their thoughts and insights concerning growing up with a cleft.

Q. Tell us your thoughts about the way others may have teased you as you grew up.

Jennifer: I feel that one cause of my growing strong has been the way that I handled teasing. I wasn't teased all that much, but when I was, I learned to just ignore it. After a while kids saw that it didn't bother me and they left me alone. When being teased, you need to remember that the person that is teasing you doesn't know anything about you.

Tim: Sometimes kids did tease me about my cleft, but some didn't. I believe that the kids who teased me had problems mentally. They sometimes called me a wimp, and some still do. I tell them that I have been though so many operations in my life that I probably have more guts than any of them. Then usually they leave me alone.

Q. What can you tell us about the importance of a supportive family?

Jennifer: My family has been very supportive. Both my parents have educated themselves and others on clefts. This helped because they've been able to answer my questions. I have also tried to help educate people about clefts. My family's support and love has really helped me tremendously. I think it would be very hard for a child to grow up with non-supportive parents and family.

Tim: What may have helped me the most with dealing with my operations is the understanding of my parents. I love them for this. My mother is the one who shares the common bond. She also has a cleft lip and palate, so she can understand what I'm going through. My father did not fully understand what it was like to go through the operations until he had appendicitis several years ago. I believe now that he understands better what my mother and I have gone through.

Q. Tell us about surgery.

The surgeries were scary in the beginning, but I got through them. I'm still scared, but not as much as before. I think one reason for this is that I'm more comfortable with my doctor now. It's helpful when the doctors explain what they are going to do before the surgery. It also helps to take a doll or a stuffed animal into the operating room, because, to tell you the truth, the operating room is a pretty scary place. A difficult, but very important decision that I have gotten to make as I got older is whether or not to have surgery. This is a very important decision. It's hard because in some cases you know that you should have the surgery, but you've had so many that you don't want any more. It's necessary to really think this question out and make sure that you are comfortable with your decision.

Tim: I'm presently getting ready for an operation and I am going through the regular routine. People say, "Aren't you scared?" and I say, "I am." This operation would be Number 14. I hope I don't have to go for 15. People are amazed when they find out how many operations I have had, but I don't brag about them - though sometimes it probably wouldn't hurt, considering I get so much sympathy from the girls!

Q.  Do you have any final thoughts?

Jennifer: Overall, being born with a cleft lip and palate hasn't been a good experience, but it hasn't been horrible either. Yeah, there are the surgeries and the check-ups, but if I wasn't born with a cleft, I wouldn't be here today...

Tim: I basically lead a regular life now. No one makes fun of me anymore. I think this is because many have matured. I think that my cleft lip and palate has affected my treatment of other people with problems.

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