July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month
Sometime, in the early stages of our adoption journey, my husband and I had to make the difficult decision as to what special need child files we would be open to review. With the average wait of 6 years and climbing for “healthy” girls from China, the special needs program offered a shorter wait and often included very minor or correctable needs.
After much prayer we listed the needs we felt we could manage and waited for God to put his plan into action. Flash forward about 6 months and we received that highly anticipated phone call and email file! As I gazed at that beautiful face I noticed her big brown eyes and smooth skin, her adorable ears and her gentle hands…I did not even notice her unrepaired unilateral complete cleft…it just did not matter, she was our baby.
Our Princess was 20 months old and living in the remote mountains of Northern China.
There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of birth defects. While some causes are still unknown, genetics and family history, pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can affect the healthy development of a baby. As a result, these factors could also be the cause of a baby born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. We will never know why it happened, but we will never know where her outstanding fine motor skills and dimples came from either…and that’s OK.
But what is a cleft palate/lip? A cleft is a gap in the mouth that didn’t close during the early stages of pregnancy, and this kind of birth defect happens more often than you may realize. It is estimated that, worldwide, a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft — about one in 500-750 births. Sometimes a cleft condition can be easy to see because it’s an opening in the lip. Sometimes it’s harder to tell if someone has a cleft because it’s an opening in the roof of their mouth (called the palate.)
Our Princess after we met her in China, already charming her Mama and Baba
Cleft lip and cleft palate can be repaired through a series of surgeries and orthondontics. While it can be corrected, it really is not an “easy fix”…despite what you may see in Operation Smile advertising. Our brave girl has had 3 major surgeries and some pretty extensive speech therapy with quite a few more surgeries in her future and orthodontic procedures continuing into her young adulthood.
Her first surgery at Johns Hopkins
Our Princess is spunky and sweet. She is tremendously brave and the joy of our home. We can’t imagine life without her.
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