I was 17 weeks pregnant when my husband and I went to an ultrasound to determine the gender of our sweet baby. Up to this point, my pregnancy hadn't been easy, but our sweet baby was healthy and we had made it out of our first trimester so we felt "in the clear". A few days later, as I was teaching my last period of the day, I looked at my phone to see a missed call from my OB. I immediately knew something was wrong. "The ultrasound tech saw a cleft lip and other possible birth defects," the nurse told me over the phone. I can remember holding my breath and fighting back the tears as I scheduled an appointment for a full anatomy scan. I left work early to call my husband. I could hardly get the words out. I was grief stricken. I didn't know anything about clefts, and I had no idea what this meant for my baby girl. In an instant, everything I thought I knew about my pregnancy, my daughter, and becoming a mother, went out the window. Our journey had taken a HARD turn down a road I knew nothing about and felt utterly unprepared for.
The Remainder of the Pregnancy
I spent the last 12 weeks of my pregnancy in a haze. It still felt like I had been holding my breath since I got that phone call. I prepared myself as best I could and armed myself with as much knowlege about cleft lips and palates as I could. If I could sum about the remainder of my pregnancy in one word, it would be "bitterness". I felt like everyone around me was pregnant with healthy babies. It seemed like they were getting to focus on nurseries and newborn photos and water births. And I was focusing on naseoalveolar molding and NICU visits and interviewing surgeons. In my heart, I was still beyond excited to be a mom and blessed to be given such a precious gift. But I couldn't get past the bitterness and jealousy of the healthy pregnancies and babies around me.
July 6th, 2018
The moment they handed my precious Christian Grace to me -- after months of holding my breath -- I finally felt like I could breath again. A wave of calm washed over me. All of my anxiety and fear and bitterness left. She was here. She was beautiful. In an instant, I knew I could be anything for her, do anything for her, and be as strong as she needed me. In the weeks that followed, there were a lot of tears: crying because they confirmed she also had a cleft palate (the roof of her mouth), crying because the cleft palate meant we couldn't breastfeed, crying as we began taping her face, crying the day she was fitted for her NAM device. But just like with anything, it just became part of our family's "everyday life". And after about a month, everything was the way I imagined it before the cleft diagnosis. I was a mommy to a beautiful, healthy baby. She laughed and she cooed and she smiled. I took a million pictures of her, and I loved showing her off. Everything was just as I imagined it, just with weekly doctor appointments and taping her face.
Here we are, with a 7-month-old beautiful baby girl. She made it through her first surgery in November, and we have another scheduled for this July. While we wouldn't have chosen this path for our daughter, it has its silver linings. Christian's story inspires and encourages others. It brings comfort to families going through the grief and fear of a similar diagnosis.
In the beginning, Christian's cleft felt like the center of our universe -- like the sun that everything was centered around. Everything went back to the cleft. But now, the cleft is just one thing out of a billion that make up the uniqueness that is our daughter. She has blonde hair, blue eyes, loves to take baths, hates waiting on her bottle, is obsessed with her puppies, can say "mama", is constantly kicking her legs like she's dancing, and --oh yea-- she has a cleft lip and palate. What was once the center of our universe is now one of the billions of stars that make up who she is. We are beyond blessed she is ours, and I thank God everyday for such a beautiful gift.