“I was thirteen and I had just started my first ever job at a local bakery. I was so proud of myself for getting that job. I was going to be super hard working, save up all of my money, and be able to be independent.
It was Sunday and the bakery filled up with people. I smiled my widest at an elderly lady and asked her if I might be of service. She replied ‘Oh my god… it is unbelievable they let people like you work in a place like this! I want someone else to serve me, someone normal.’
That was the day it hit me that I would always be treated differently.
I was born to young parents. They were 21 and excited to welcome me. When the time came and I finally arrived into this world, the midwife took one look at me and told my parents ‘just one moment.’ My mother instantly knew something was wrong. I was bundled up and the midwife stood there looking, with sympathy, onto my parents. ‘She is perfectly healthy, but there’s something wrong with her face. It did not form just right.’
When people say ‘Wow, you look so good I can barely tell your lip was cleft, you are so lucky’ my response is always the same. ‘No, this is not luck, this is not genes. This is a tremendous amount of strength and fighting power from my parents.’
I was not an easy child to raise. In addition to my birth defect, I also suffered from undiagnosed ADHD, FND, IBD, PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression, all starting from an early age. At the age of twelve, my eyesight took a turn for the worse when they found out that my eye muscles were loosening, and I was in dire need of an operation.
Being born with a cleft lip and palate is so much more than people imagine it to be. It is not just about looks. It can affect the way a child can be nourished. As a child, it has caused me numerous ear infections that affected my ability to hear properly. Eventually, my eardrum was damaged by the age of four and would not heal. At the age of seven, I had to get an implant and silicone earplugs, which caused me to develop a fear of water after I was unable to hear my swim instructor with them on. I still have not learned to swim.
Having a sick child had an impact on my family. They were constantly talking to doctors and taking time out of their workday to bring me to my appointments and surgeries. When I was six months old, my parents had to be admitted to a hospital for a few days just so that they could have time to sleep, eat, and bathe themselves.
At this time, there was no support for parents of children like me. They had to battle the system themselves, especially since there was no financial aid available for my condition. They had to work twice as hard for my well-being as well as their own. They never settled for anything but the best.
To my parents, I will be eternally grateful. They walked alongside me in life, lead me on, and taught me to never settle for anything less than I deserved.
For me, being constantly sick, fighting multiple ear problems, always going in for surgeries and being around doctors, my inability to go swimming without earplugs, and the difference in my speech, teeth, and gums were all normal to me. I never thought much of it. It was not until I was about eight years old that other kids began to pick up on the fact that my lips were somewhat odd and that my speech was different. It began to ‘bother them’.
I was never popular, but then again, I was not unpopular. I was ‘allowed’ to hang around the girls at school, once in a while I even got invited to hang out after school, but I was never part of a friend group. I was ignored, teased, and often told to shut up because my speech was ‘a horror to listen to’.
This all pushed me to entertain myself. I began drawing all of all the time. I read all of the books in my school library and developed an amazing vocabulary. As if my speech wasn’t enough, my advanced vocabulary annoyed my classmates even more than you can imagine. I was terrible at math, so my classmates made fun of me for that too. I was just a tosser at school. Not only was I ‘dumb’, but I was ‘annoying’ and ‘ugly’.
Nothing I did was accepted. I played the wrong sports, liked the wrong music, read too much, drew too much, was too outward, and did not try enough to please them.
When I was ten years old, I had to get a bone from my hip closed, straightened, and replaced with a plate. My teachers got all of the kids in my classes to write me a letter while I was at the hospital, a really great gesture on their part. While some of the letters were quite nice and expressed hopes for my quick recovery, others complained that the teacher was forcing them to do this and that they didn’t actually care about me at all. The surgery had taken a full day, a week in the hospital, two weeks where I could barely walk. I had to avoid solid foods and could only drink liquids for three weeks. I couldn’t run or play for months. When I returned to school after the long recovery, I was welcomed with ‘because of you we were forced to write a stupid letter for you in the hospital. Hope you are grateful.’ To this day, I still have phantom pain in my hip.
Schools always stepped in early and tried to get me to make friends with other kids who needed friends or those who had just transferred. It never did work though. I was already not a strong character when it came to socializing, and the other girls at school had issues with me having friends and always managed to split me away from others. I was distant, didn’t trust others, and easily manipulated.
To this day, it is difficult for me to get to know people. I don’t like keeping in touch with others. I keep myself at a distance when it comes to connecting with people and making friends. I can talk to strangers with ease, but I can get really awkward and afraid when participating in any serious conversation with people close to my friends or extended family.
After that Sunday in the bakery, I came home to my parents hurt like never before. I asked them if there were any surgeries that could make me look normal. I told them I could not be like this anymore.
Not two months later, I was under the knife once again, this time for a cosmetic and not practical surgery.
They took the fat from my hip, where they had previously taken a bone from, and placed it in my lips to make them fuller and even. The healing process was quick, and I was on my feet in less than a week.
I was sure this was it. I was sure I would arrive a new person and no one would have anything to say about my looks anymore.
‘Are you thinking about a career in porn? You look like a porn star now.’ I was shocked, but at this point I decided it was time to finally fight back.
My response was not good. I took the boy and beat him in front of our entire school. It earned me some peace for a time, but it didn’t last. I decided to devote myself to my skating so I would have a reason not to participate in social activities at school. I made sure I had to have as little contact with my classmates as possible.
To my classmates, I am aware that some of you might not see your actions as bullying. Some of you have realized your actions, and some have even asked for my forgiveness. To those who have not, I forgive easily, but I never forget.
My journey of being born with a cleft lip and palate has been colored by bullying. It continued all throughout my high school years and did not stop until I decided to move across country to begin a fresh start and get to know myself a little better. It was a tough time, but I am truly grateful for it today. I did not know it then but in my journey to find myself, I would also find my future partner.
Being self-conscious and prone to being easily influenced was a big problem for the longest time. My road to self-love began when I moved back to my hometown and decided I needed to ‘face the music’ and get some help. I swallowed my hollow pride and decided to talk to a shrink.
But I really did not start giving it my all until I became pregnant in 2013. After seeing that tiny heartbeat on the monitor, I thought to quietly to myself. This child deserves a strong mother.
I decided to give it my all. I saw a shrink 1-3 times a week for a full year to get over the trauma of bullying and abuse, learning to not just trust others but myself. The fear of becoming a mother and failing my child haunted me the entire pregnancy. I did not feel ready for this task ahead of me.
Then one day, I remember looking at mother and saying, ‘Mom, I think I am ready now to become a mother.’ Four hours after the revelation, I gave birth to my son, my mother at my side to see it through. That day she gave me all her strength and I finally understood the love that drove my parents for all those years.
It took years to get to the point that I am at today and I would be a liar if I said if I was alone in my journey to self-love and forgiveness.
My son has taught me so much. Because of him, I am strong and willing to do what takes, not just for us but also for others. It has driven me to want to tell my story and hopefully inspire others.
My partner has given me incredible power. He has shown me that I can do whatever I want. He has helped me in becoming an independent woman that is not easily manipulated. He has shown me that I have a unique beauty and should not be ashamed of my story.
My best friend, she taught me what a friend truly is, and how a friend can become family. Thanks to her, I see people in a different light, and I am now much more willing to connect with others and let people into my life.
My family are the most underestimated people. I took them and their sacrifices for granted for the longest time, but they have been by my side all my life, fighting, winning, crying and laughing on my behalf. For all of the ups and downs, they are there.
Without them, there would be no me. To them, I am forever grateful.
About two weeks ago, I had major surgery (I still look a little like a rubber ducky so no photos of that yet). The healing process is slow this time. The filling from 07’ was almost gone and had left a pouch, causing my lips to begin to part again. They opened up my lip like a balloon and tried to scrape away the scarring all the way up into my nose. They took even more fat out, from my knees this time, and put it into my lips in hopes of softening up the scar tissue. When I had my lips filled in 07’ I hoped it would be my last surgery. But since then, I had two more. I want this surgery to be my last and, this time, I truly hope I am right.
I hope you liked this little story, it is strange to put your life out there for the world to see, you know, rock the boat a little, but I hope someone out there takes it to heart and gets inspired.”
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