A Broken But Beautiful Smile

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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14 thoughts on “A Broken But Beautiful Smile

  1. Your daughter is beautiful! A childhood friend of mine had a cleft palate and lip at birth with the successful repair. She became a Registered Nurse as an adult.

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  2. A friend of mine had a cousin born with the same condition; he’s probably much older than I’m thinking he is now, but if you did not know, you wouldn’t notice. We are in the process of adopting a boy through the foster care system and had to sit down and go through the same things we’d be willing to deal with in terms of special needs and their past trauma, and I have considered adopting an infant/toddler in the future too, bringing into the thought of future special needs as well. It’s tough, but praying is the way to go. She’s definitely a Princess and I can see how she was so charming as an infant too!

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  3. Bless you. My second child was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. Wasn’t easy for sure, but he had several surgeries to fix it too. Looks like they have come a long way with the repairs in the 47 years since he was born. You have done a most beautiful thing.

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  4. My brother was born with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. He is now 54 years old and is living a wonderful life with his wife, children and grandchildren. I always think of his beautiful smile both before and after cleft surgeries. He is the strongest person I know.

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  5. My granddaughter was born with a cleft lip/cleft palate. She had her first surgery at 6 months old. It was an 8 hour surgery and the doctor at Boston Children’s hospital held her in his lap for the entire time! She had her second surgery at 9 months old to close the palate. She’s about 2.5 now and it’s difficult to see where the cleft was. She will have more surgery in her future but she is so full of sass and has the most beautiful smile! I am so impressed with what they are able to do medically now and also with how dedicated the medical professionals are to this cause.

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