This one is about: The Road to Resolution, One Mother's Feelings at Birth
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THE ROAD TO RESOLUTION
name withheld by request
When my daughter was born the last thing I expected was a birth defect - particularly one that was as obvious as a facial cleft.
We were both educated, we had carefully planned this pregnancy. I was more than simply careful while I carried my child. I was obsessed! And for all our careful planning, Beth was born with a unilateral left-side cleft lip and palate.
I had a hard time dealing with this. I guess we had grown so accustomed to a life that allows us so much control in so many areas that I was not willing to accept that this one area was beyond my control. I was angry with myself, angry with my husband, and angry with whatever Being or Entity there may be that could have made this happen, be it God, or Fate, or whatever. I am ashamed to admit it now, but I was angry with Beth too. It's as though some stranger had insinuated herself upon my life uninvited, and upset the orderly existence that I had strived so long to build. But she wasn't a stranger, she was my infant daughter; and she wasn't uninvited, I had planned her conception. Yet, my life suddenly was no longer going according to the "Grand Plan", and I was looking for someone to blame.
When I first really looked at my child, I was taken completely aback by the cleft. I had never seen a cleft before and I was not ready to look at one then. The first thoughts that ran through my head included the following: What happened to this poor baby? How will we ever fix that that hole? Why me? How did this happen? And all the normal first questions, but I had other "first thoughts" too - ones I am not proud of, nor did I understand now. Those thoughts included: How will I explain this to my family and friends? Can I keep my family and friends from seeing it? How could I take her out in public? Do I have to take her home this way?
The nurses and staff at the hospital where Beth was born were terrific. They were very supportive and positive. Beth was born in a Medical Center that includes a craniofacial team, so I can honestly say that within a few short hours after birth we were talking to experts about her repair. A wonderful caring nurse spent hours with me and Beth, helping me try to nurse her, and teaching me how to use the Mead Johnson nurser. (When I experienced so much trouble trying to breast feed, my anger only increased. That was one more thing I had carefully planned but could not do!)
Less than 24 hours after the birth I was visited by another mother of a child with a cleft. She was very sympathetic, and I felt that she knew what I was feeling because she had been through it herself. Beth was brought into our room while this mother was visiting and she picked the baby up in her arms and smiled right down at her and commented on her beautiful eyes and on how pretty my baby was. It just took me totally by surprise. There she was, she knew what I was going through, and she was looking right at my baby's deformity, and she was calling Beth "beautiful." Then she said the most curious thing. She said I would "grow to love her big, wide smile."
I thought this woman might be making fun of me when I heard that. How would I ever love the deformity? I looked more closely at my daughter when the other mother left, and I saw for the first time that she was a beautiful child, were it not for the cleft.
When I left the hospital Beth was able to leave with me. Except for the cleft, she was very healthy, and she was already eating quite well with the Mead Johnson nurser. But I hated the idea of leaving the maternity ward with my baby in my arms. I was so concerned about all the people in the corridors who would come smiling by to peek at the new baby, only to recoil back when they saw the cleft. I did everything I could to tuck the blanket down over her face so nobody would actually see her.
To my horror, we had some problems with insurance. We figured it out right away that there would be a delay in getting the first surgery done. As it turns out, she was 16 weeks old before her lip was repaired.
Somehow during those 16 weeks, something happened. I fell in love with my daughter and accepted her unconditionally. I stopped seeing the cleft and started seeing my child instead. I began taking her out in public without her "veil", (as my husband called it). She was doing cute things that I couldn't wait to share with others. And when she laughed, her whole face would light up with the sheer joy of it.
When I took my four-month-old beauty back to the hospital for her surgical repair of the lip I thought how different it was from our original departure. When we left the hospital after her birth I had wrapped her like a mummy, so ashamed of the child I had borne. When we came back four months later, I carried her proudly in my arms, returning curious glances with a proud smile!
The surgery took two hours. I understand that is more or less standard. I was beside myself the whole time. It was odd, too. Four months earlier I couldn't wait for the cleft to be repaired. But once it was done, and my little Beth looked so tiny and vulnerable in that great big hospital crib, I just kept wondering why we had to put her through it!
On the day following the surgery Beth sat up in my arms and gave me her first, careful, tight little post-surgical smile. Oh, how I missed that big, wide smile of only a few days ago! And then it dawned on me. The other mother was right. I did miss that big, beautiful wide smile!
Beth is now a 3-year-old and those early days of anger and grief seem a lifetime away. I decided to share this story to help others who might feel some of the same negative emotions. I have two points to make: First, you're not alone. Most of us had to find our way through the grief, in our own time and in our own way. And second, if you feel those things now, believe me, it will pass. One of these days you are going to feel nothing but unconditional love for your baby, and those days of grief and rejection will be a distant memory from another life.
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