I'm a new mom of a beautiful baby boy, living in Long Island, NY. I was sure before I became pregnant that I knew exactly what this "mom life" would be like. I knew nothing. I'm ready to get real about what it's like being a mom, having a child born with a cleft lip and palate, and just trying to figure it all out.
I did a crazy thing this week. It is either going to be pure genius, or completely crazy. It’s been a bucket list item of mine for a few years now and I decided RIGHT NOW is the best time, when I am walking into our second surgery of the year, RIGHT now is the best time to do something I’ve always wanted to be able to do.
I am an officially registered participant for the half marathon in Bridgehampton scheduled for May 11th!!
To be completely clear about this crazy thing I have decided to do- I am not a good runner. I don’t have a history of long distance running, or fast running. In fact the longest I have ever run in a race before was 5 miles.
I have also not been very actively running for the last year, but just a few weeks ago I laced my sneakers up after a chat with a friend. We signed up for a 5k, and it was just enough to get me out on the street. We quickly caught runner’s high and signed up for another one.
The thing about running for ME is that I think it’s horrible! And boring! And exhausting! BUT it is also mind clearing and cathartic. I exhaust myself physically and numb myself mentally, I run away all of that anxious energy I feel buzzing in my body and come home proud of how I pushed through.
As soon as my feet hit the street that day a few weeks ago I was reminded of the therapeutic nature of running, because running for me is as much of a mental game as it is physical. Running is an exercise in mental toughness as much as physical ability. Mentally going out when I don’t want to, to keep running even when I would rather stop.
These next few weeks we will also be physically, mentally, and emotionally absorbed with the stress and worry and care of post-op. I feel the tears well in my eyes as I type this, but I don’t want to go through it all again. I don’t want to see my son in pain, I hate the sleepless nights, and worry over every possible scenario while we care for this small boy. Recovery from a major structural surgery is draining – physically and mentally.
So I am running a half marathon. Because running is a mental game, about not giving into the voices in your head that wants you to stop, wants to walk, or take a break. I cannot stop caring for my son when the days get hard, the way I cannot make our circumstances different half way through- we still have a long road ahead and I need to be as physically and mentally strong as possible. That doesn’t just come, you have to work for that kind of strength.
I am not running this race to make a certain time, I can be the last one across the finish line as far as I am concerned. I am not running this race to lose weight or get “summer body ready”. I am not running this race so people can think I’m super mom. I am not running this race for any reason other than pushing myself during this challenging time to care for myself too. I am going to prove to myself that this seemingly huge goal for a non-runner IS possible. I am running this race as a motivator to keep going – to set aside time 4 days a week to get out of my house, get away from the worry and stress that consumes me during recovery and to literally run it out.
Tuesday morning I completed the official registration. I had a woman coming to hang with Patrick for a few hours and I was getting ready to get out and run. I was buzzing with a touch of excitement, and a lot of hesitation. I kept thinking I must be crazy, THIS is crazy. It was all I could think of during my run and as I hit mile 1, I could feel myself settling into a steady pace and I began to cry. Full blown tears, running along the side of the road. It’s getting very real, the days passing, and surgery coming sooner, and I feel the weight of it. The tears came fast and hard and left the same way.
Because this is the therapy of choice in the next month, I have a feeling it won’t be my last cry while running… 13.1 miles here I come.
I haven’t updated the blog in a few weeks. I keep sitting down to write and falling short of words.
I really want to be positive. I want to come on here and tell this small audience of people who read my blog that everything has been so amazing and wonderful, and shed some incredible wisdom about pushing through the early hard stuff and realizing you can do anything.
The trouble is, I’m not so good at always staying super positive through the hard stuff. My husband, my rock? He is an expert optimist. He always sees the best in difficult situations. The beauty of that is he always reminds me of the good, the happy, the light in our tunnel. The down side? He struggles to understand why I don’t always feel as optimistic as him. He tries, but he is just so darn positive, it’s difficult for him some days to understand.
But I know I’m not alone, I know that the way I’m feeling, and that the emotional roller coaster I am on, is just like ones before. I need to work through how I am feeling and allow those emotions some time to come and to pass. This is the part of our journey that is mine alone. My husband doesn’t experience it this way, and my sweet, incredible, smart, strong-willed baby? He doesn’t know anything different.
I struggle with each milestone that is moved up too fast, I struggle with the idea that I PICTURED it being a different way, that I WANTED it a different way.
I am appreciative of every moment along this path, and I always wrap my head and my heart around our own unique milestones, and our own unique path. But each step along the way requires digesting the information and emotions as they come.
We are 5 weeks out from our next surgery and this week we made a major step in preparation for that surgery. Drinking exclusively from an open flow cup was a goal we set back in the summer. We talked about it like we talk about all big ideas. It was general, vague, and far off in the future.
We started slow and it was a fun little game, we played with water and let him control when he felt ready to be pushed a bit, and when he needed a break. But then we felt our deadline approaching and he became increasingly frustrated with our “little game”. He began throwing a full cup of milk clear across the room, slapping my face as I tried to bring the cup close to him. He wanted his bottle. He did not want to drink from a cup. I didn’t blame him. He would cry and throw milk. I would cry and clean it up.
The days in the last month were long and difficult. They were a constant reminder of our approaching surgery and the struggles we might face in its aftermath. You see, Patrick was born with a cleft lip and palate and that means surgeries and recoveries. That is a big idea. The details of that big idea can be more challenging to face day to day.
My son is so smart, and he knows that he loves his bottle and that the cup isn’t the same. My son is strong, he fights for what he wants. My son is sweet and loveable, but he is also feisty, strong-willed and has a temper. Getting my son safely across the finish line of recovery means pushing him past what he wants to what he needs. It means fighting him FOR him.
This week marked the official end of bottles and Patrick is doing outstanding. He is drinking from his cup like a champ, the absolute best case scenario, the best I could ever dream or hope for. I am so overwhelmingly grateful for this somewhat miraculous turn of events.
But like all things, the other shoe is dropping. My mom emotions are kicking in and it feels like my baby is growing up. I’m gratefully and miraculously putting Patrick to sleep after he drinks his cup of milk and I know I should be positive now, we have gotten exactly what we have worked so hard for. But my arms miss that special time with him. I miss that time in his rocking chair, when the room is dark, and the sound machine is loud. I kiss his head and rock him as he drinks his bottle. The saying goes “the days are long but the years are short.” But our year isn’t even a year. It feels far too short, and that breaks a piece of me I don’t know how to explain.
I haven’t written in a while, because when I sit down to write in the past month I find myself consumed by a number of emotions I am ashamed to admit. The emotions make it hard for me to clearly explain how exactly I am feeling. In this small window of clarity I can tell you that I have crossed from frustrated and exhausted, to angry and bitter. I have gone from sad to mad, to relived and back through them all over again.
This stop in our journey is hard. It’s another step in accepting where we are and what life looks like for us. Accepting the differences in our journey means letting go of the picture in my head of how it should be or could be. Like each step before I am giving myself some grace. I am letting myself feel what comes in an effort to work through it on my terms.
I am so grateful that Patrick is stronger and healthier than ever. That I have the leading expert in positivity walking by my side. That I have family and friends who listen to me, and check in on me, and give me the same opportunity to move through emotions without judgment or question. Raising babies takes a village and I have the best one. Tonight I’m resting myself right there.
I had the incredible privilege of connecting with a super star mom recently and I am overwhelmed with the need to share her story, and the beautiful shop she has created in the midst of this chaotic, and beautiful life.
Kristen is a military wife of 20+ years and a mom of 3. I have a soft spot for military families. My sister had her 2 babies during their time as a military family and experiencing first-hand the strength, faith, and love needed to fill that role will always overwhelm me.
If you also know anyone who has lived through military life, I probably need not say any more. You raise your little ones with the extra chore of perpetually starting over. Kristen and her family have lived in at least 7 different cities. 7 major moves, 7 homes, 7 moving trucks, 7 groups of friends, activities, and area customs. 7 Brand New Beginnings. All while, I remind you, your husband is consistently away for weeks and months at a time.
In 2002, while her husband was deployed, Kristen went in for her 20 week ultrasound where she learned that their son would be born with a cleft lip and palate. She recalled during our conversation, having to make that call to her husband overseas. “Something is wrong with the baby…” Having experienced that same news myself, I can only imagine the fear on both ends of the phone 17 years ago. But Kristen remains grateful for the time where they could prepare before their son was born. “It was devastating, but we were prepared..”
During 7 brand new beginnings for this family, they had the added responsibility of also starting over with a new medical team. Their son received 6 major surgeries and 7 sets of ear tubes in the past 17 years. Imagine for a minute, the trust and care needed to hand your baby, toddler, and teenager over to a surgeon. Then imagine starting fresh so many times.
The reality of this fact really hits me, it takes courage, strength, and understanding. It means you need to know more, and understand more, so that you can have the faith to keep starting over. Again, in talking with Kristen she shares the struggle, and brings back this incredible strength “We have been able to use some pretty great doctors. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Like many moms Kristen looked for a creative outlet. Something that she could do and enjoy for herself! She began to embroider things around the house; “I would monogram or personalize anything that wasn’t nailed down!” She has expanded her passion to vinyl work, and in 2012 she began an Etsy shop.
Her family is preparing for a military retirement and Kristen plans to use this last New Beginning as a true New Beginning for herself and her passions.
I am lucky enough to have a few shirts Kristen made for us, an adorable onesie for Patrick and t-shirts for Shaun and I.
For all things embroidery and vinyl check out her adorable Etsy shop: Sew Vinyled.
One year ago today, I was excitedly getting ready for our 20 week anatomy ultrasound.
I was told it was a long ultrasound where they would look at everything closely, measure baby’s bones, and head, and organs, and make sure everything looked good. I heard we were getting to see our baby, and get new pictures! We were doing a gender reveal that weekend, so I was anxious to get a good picture to bring. Those were my thoughts walking in, “I need a good picture I can frame and bring with us Sunday.”
Shaun left work a bit early to meet me at the doctor’s office, we were both jittery with nerves to see our little “Simba”. (Even though we didn’t know the gender yet, I was sure the majority of my pregnancy that the baby was a boy, and took to calling him Simba.)
I didn’t love the way the ultrasound was going. I thought the woman was being rude; she was quiet, kept moving around really fast, and said she was not going to be able to get a great picture of his face for us. I walked out of the ultrasound room a little let down, and frustrated. I wanted a re-do, that wasn’t at all what I had hoped it would be…
Then we were called back to a patient room, and my favorite doctor walked in. She was newly pregnant and we shared some back and forth about gender, and names, and dreaded nicknames. Then she got quiet. She shifted a bit and I felt my stomach knot. I get this feeling in my head when my nerves pick up, a tingling warm feeling that always immediately makes my eyes water and ears buzz. It’s like my own internal alarm bell… something isn’t right. Instinctually I began to hold my belly, protecting my little Simba from what was about to come.
She very calmly and sweetly informed us that everything looked good on his ultrasound, head and organ sizes are normal, they had a difficult time getting some necessary measurements of the heart just due to his positioning, but that right now, they were seeing what they thought might indicate a cleft lip.
I looked to Shaun who was as confused as I have ever seen him. We locked eyes and then back to her… He said “What the hell is that?” I knew what it was, I had seen the fund raising posters and tv commercials. I had, in my ignorance, believed it was a problem that affected third world countries… How would my baby have this?
Everything from this evening, around 7pm and on has changed my life. It has changed my perspective, and my goals, it has changed how I see myself and others. It has made me stronger, and more cautious; it has made me more empathetic, and yet less tolerant. Less tolerant for drama, and BS, less tolerant for negativity.
In a support group I am in, moms talk with perspective to expecting moms and often say “I wish I worried less when I was pregnant, as soon as your baby comes, you’ll love them so much, and everything will be okay.” I completely and whole heartily GET that. I understand why they say it, and I even get why that’s a helpful, reassuring thing to be told. But I want to say something different:
To moms expecting a baby you have just learned won’t be “perfect”, who didn’t walk out of their anatomy scan with an “all clear” and a beautiful picture to frame for their families. To parents whose babies are born with surprise concerns and require medical intervention, and moms whose babies come early and spend time fighting for their life: WORRYING is part of the process. Grief and sadness, and feeling let down by God, or the universe is part of the process.
If I had walked out of that appointment and said “No worries here, I will love my son, so it will all be okay.” I wouldn’t have spent the next 3 months researching, and understanding this birth defect. I wouldn’t have reached out to a therapist to digest my emotions, and work on coping mechanisms. I might not have gone back to church, where taking the chance each week to pray for him and for me, and for strength to preserve gave me the hope, and acceptance, and understanding I was searching for. I wouldn’t have been online googling special bottles and watching youtube videos of feeding and taping. I wouldn’t have found and read medical research about the best pre and post surgical methods so I could ask all the important questions at our doctor appointments.
Worrying and stressing over what our little one’s life will be like, is what we do no matter what our children’s medical, emotional, and physical life is like. Worrying is part of the process. It gives us the push to know and understand and learn so we can advocate for them.
Grieving was one of the most important things I did initially. I spent time allowing myself to feel sad, and let down, and disappointed. I know some people might find that shameful to admit, but I think it’s important to stand up and say this: No one wants their kids to be “different”. No one wants their kids to experience pain, and struggle. When you learn your child might experience some of those things, you grieve. You had a picture in your head of how this little one might grow up, and the things you want for them in their life. That picture starts to change, and you have to walk in that path.
I know so many moms and parents whose children have extended stays in NICU and they have to leave the hospital without their baby. Parents who split time between children at home, and a baby in the hospital, parents who lose one baby, and pull themselves together to continue fighting to save another. None of this is how we pictured it to be, and it’s UNFAIR. It’s hard, and it’s cruel. Take a minute, and read that again. It is UNFAIR, and CRUEL, and HARD. But it’s happening, and now as parents we have to continue.
So here’s what I did.
I wouldn’t let myself compare. Telling yourself that “it could be worse” isn’t going to help you manage the emotions you have inside you, only make you feel guilty for having them. Yes, someone else might have it worse, but I bet you went on Facebook today and felt like 100 people had what you wish you could have. Manage the emotions rather than push them away.
I found support. I joined a Facebook group of parents whose children are cleft affected and we can share, support, and love on each other. We live in different areas, and experience some different struggles, but we understand the fight and the struggles and we are there for each other.
I lean on people around me, who I trust. I have a core group of people I know I can vent to, and who will love, and understand me even when I don’t want to sound upbeat and positive. My husband, my mom and my siblings should get medals for dealing with me this year… it’s been a struggle but I am so grateful every day for their love and their support, and for dealing with me!
I let myself cry, and I let myself feel whatever it is. Some days I want to feel bad for myself, and I want to feel bad for Patrick, and I LET MYSELF! But I don’t let myself stay there. I read motivational books, and follow motivational speakers, and I keep a record of things I have to be grateful for. I am allowed to feel these things I am going to keep feeling them, but not forever.
I rely on my faith. It’s a fall back for me, something I grew up with and something that feels like a warm blanket on a cold day. I actually pray. I know we all say “I’m praying for you.” But I really am. I pray for myself, and our family, I pray for other moms and their families regularly, and I find comfort in it.
And finally, I do this… I write, it is something I have always loved, and that I now feel compelled, almost obligated to do. To write my feelings and my experiences, and to share this journey.
If you’re following this journey with me, thank you for your support. If you are a mom or a parent fighting through your own journey, you’re not alone. I am with you.
Taking a moment today and the last few days to reflect on this year has me feeling all kinds of crazy emotions about 2018. I guess I would describe 2018 as a new best friend, the one who, after getting to know each other better you admit… “I really thought you were a bitch when we first met.”
But I think to be really raw with you here, I should back it up a bit. There are a few things people who know me well know…
I have never wanted anything so much my whole life, as I wanted to be a mom.
I have suffered from anxiety most of my life. I went on medication around the age of 16 when my anxiety became dangerous to my health. I was having panic attacks, that lead to fainting episodes. I just couldn’t manage the anxiety, and some days it really consumed me. The medication was a low dose, and took just enough of the edge off that I felt like me, but a version of me who could cope and wouldn’t faint so much.
At the start of 2017, Shaun and I decided we wanted to start trying to get pregnant, I re-visited the side effects of the medication I was taking for my anxiety. It was considered technically “safe for pregnancy” but not advised. We spoke about a few other options I could consider, but ultimately I really wanted to see how I could do. I had been on this particular medication for 12 years and I thought it was time I try out my sea legs.
Coming off my medication took about 6 months, and was one of the hardest things I had ever physically done to date. I wanted my pregnancy to be clear of any questions that I could be harming my baby, so it was beyond worth it. Initially I gained some weight, and felt dizzy a lot. About 3 months later, we started to try to get pregnant. That didn’t take long… by September 2017, we learned we were pregnant!
Fast forward to January 2018, I am 20 weeks pregnant, so excited about this little baby, about the nausea finally subsiding, and the bump that had started to show. We were planning a gender reveal and going in for an anatomy scan. My anxiety at this time of my pregnancy was beginning to heighten and I should admit, I was not always easy. When I’m feeling panic, I want control and order, I want simplicity. But our life didn’t feel like any of those things. We were planning a kitchen remodel, and we didn’t agree on baby names. A gender reveal was being planned but I wasn’t allowed to be involved. My mom and my siblings were so far away, and I couldn’t find a sense of calm.
We learned Patrick would be born with a cleft lip on January 11th, 2018. It was confirmed with a second ultrasound on January 12th. My family flew into town for our gender reveal on the 12th.
Shaun and I decided that we would wait to share the news after the parties we had that weekend, we wanted more time to digest, and felt talking about it, might spoil the mood.
Looking back, I wish I did this differently, maybe the weekend would have been able to go differently, maybe we could have had an adjustment in the plans where I might have felt more comfortable. But I didn’t and that’s life.
We’re having a boy! I knew the whole time, I could feel it, or sense it, I was sure this little baby was a boy. I wasn’t surprised, but I was exhausted with fear and crimpled with anxiety. I wanted to run away and hide under blankets until I could process, until I could come up with a plan. But I was at a party and people wanted to hug me, and talk to me, and rub my belly. I smiled and I hugged people back. I could feel my knees want buckle underneath me and I could feel my armpits tingle with sweat. Everyone was so excited, but no one knew what we just learned. I held my belly hoping I could protect my son from what people might say, what people might think, how the world might accept him, from the surgeries he would need, from the extra care I didn’t yet know I would need to give him.
The next few weeks after this party I did just what I had wanted that night, I hid in my blankets and I researched, I planned, I called doctors, and googled bottles, I scheduled meetings, and I researched questions to ask. I was game planning, I needed a plan and I needed to make order of what I didn’t know.
I spent the following 4 months of my pregnancy in various states of anxiety, and calm. After meeting his cleft team at Stony Brook Hospital I felt confident in what we needed to do, I felt relief that we had such an amazing team so close by. I felt an incredible sense of warmth and community when we first publicly shared the news of Patrick’s cleft. Our friends and family reached out to us with such acceptance, support, and love.
Patrick’s birth was not at all as planned. Obviously! We were separated for the first 7 hours after he was born. He was taken to NICU for feeding evaluation and I had a low temperature they had to bring up. The day after he was born was our “initiation” I like to think into the life of a baby born with cleft. We saw more doctors and specialists each day than I ever expected, some I didn’t know existed, and others I didn’t know to plan for. I remember my mom standing at my side, anxious to hold her grandson, but more concerned with taking care of me. She and Shaun ran all over the hospital to make sure I got my pain medicine, enough water, what pump should I have, and she hasn’t eaten yet today. She was my rock and I knew the question was coming… do you want to talk to someone about managing the anxiety?
I should have, right? I mean one of the biggest concerns for moms post-partum is mental health. But I felt this strength in me that I hadn’t before. I didn’t want to give in now, but I promised we could keep talking about it. (** I should say, that mental health is not a game of strong enough to beat it! What I felt was different that just being strong, I had known in the past when I truly needed the medication and I don’t believe it’s a sign of weakness to accept help medically when it comes to mental health. If you or someone you know if struggling, please reach out to someone and get help, take the pill, and be proud you’re doing the right thing for yourself and your family.**)
The next time I really thought about medication was right before Patrick’s surgery. It was the hardest thing to imagine. I didn’t want to change his face, I didn’t want him to look differently, and I absolutely didn’t not want him to be in pain. The recovery for this surgery is hard, and I had been prepared for the physical and emotional pain moms feel. So many incredible women who have gone before me, were there by my side, texting, and sending their support and their advice. I really thought about it. Not that I was trying to be a hero, because I’m not, but I still felt that new strength I hadn’t felt before, I felt centered, and focused.
The day of surgery was a test of mental stamina for the best of us. Handing your baby back and walking away for hours, sitting, waiting, wondering. I asked that Shaun and I be alone. It was advice I was given, and grateful for. It was important that we do this together for our son, and that we do so without any extra voices. Good or bad, it was the best thing we did.
In the days to come, we needed those voices, and hands, and hearts, and legs. For about 2 weeks Patrick only slept for 1-2 hours at a time. He would wake and cry to be held. He hated eating and it was a real fight to get every ounce into him. His reflux was so bad he couldn’t keep anything down, and we were all concerned about his weight.
I took more help in the 3 weeks after Patrick’s surgery than I have ever accepted in my life. I have never been more grateful for people in my life! My husband who constantly asked what I needed and never got mad when I lost my patience, our family who checked in, and stopped by, our friends who came over to cheer us up, and distract us, the incredible support from everyone online, and in our support group!
We rolled right from 1-2 hours of sleep to just days later, Patrick started sleeping through the night. Once he was truly recovered, once we made it through the weeds, he was better than ever!
2018 took me from one of the hardest, most difficult weekends of my life just 12 days in, to the happiest day, the birth of our son, and then the hardest days after surgery, to the best most incredible Thanksgiving with all of our family, a memorable trip to Buffalo, and a beautiful Christmas with the Houlihans.
2018 you were a bitch, and a blessing, the hardest year, and the best year. Now that we have survived you, I think we can survive anything.
I’ve been a little MIA… we have been super busy enjoying some first Holidays celebrations and preparation. We have also had a lot of follow up appointments. Two and a half months post-op Patrick is doing so well, and we are so grateful for how he is healing.
I recently shared that Patrick’s cardiologist saw him and we learned that his VSD, the small hole in his heart, has closed. When Patrick was born and we learned that he had a heart defect, I was terrified. I didn’t expect to learn anything about his heart, and I worried about what this meant in terms of complications for the surgeries, and his life. I worried about things like; would he be able to play sports, would he need heart surgeries?
We learned that the VSD would show symptoms while eating, causing sweating and difficulty breathing. His doctor believed based on the size of Patrick’s VSD, that it would not show symptoms, and that it may eventually close completely. We prayed that it would, that he wouldn’t have to experience the added struggles. At our pre-op appointment in September they cleared him for surgery without any additional measures necessary; the VSD was getting smaller and they were so happy with how he was doing.
While the expectation was that the VSD might close, when we got the final clearance, the absolute relief, and joy was overwhelming. I was holding Patrick, hugging him to my chest and I just kept crying. We love his cardiologist, but to learn we can take him off of our list of concerns, no more visits necessary; it was such amazing news! I could still cry of joy thinking about it.
We also met with his cleft team last week and scheduled Patrick’s next surgery for April. I have mentioned and spoken to people about this surgery and they’re surprised or confused.. “Another surgery so soon? He looks amazing though.” This surgery will repair what you can’t see, the cleft of his palate. While Patrick looks absolutely incredible, the cleft of the palate is a structural defect, one that makes it impossible to create true suction. Until his palate is repaired he would not be capable of successfully using a traditional bottle, sippy cup, or straw.
Just like the first surgery, we have prep to begin for the second. The biggest piece of prep for us is getting Patrick to drink from an open cup. You will start to see us posting pictures and maybe videos with his cup, and I know the first reaction will be “So Soon?!” It is incredibly early for a baby to begin working with an open cup, most children would start working on a milestone like this around 14-18 months old. However, after Patrick’s surgery he won’t be able to suck for 4 weeks, so the bottle will go away again, this time for good.
After his lip repair, we weren’t able to use a bottle and instead we fed Patrick mostly through a syringe and a special bottle called a tender care feeder. Both were super annoying and he hated them. The goal for this second surgery is that he is weened from the bottle completely and successfully drinks from an open cup. Our surgeon and speech therapy team have talked to us about how important this is, babies who are successful with this have a much easier time with recovery and fewer days in the hospital! We’re very motivated and so far Patrick likes his cup. He goes through the motions of drinking from the cup. We’re working on actually swallowing, I get so excited when he does!
We are so beyond grateful for a few months where we can enjoy a little break. Most of our medical team has cleared us for 2 months, which means January and February will be slow months for appointments and I have never been more excited about the idea of the pajama days! Since Patrick was born we have had an average of 2-3 appointments per week. Some weeks we might only have 1, but others we would have an appointment every day. Thinking of 2 months free is almost inconceivable. Best Christmas present we could have received.
I am a member of an online support group for moms with children born with cleft. The group is much larger than that though, it consists of mothers, but also fathers, grandparents and of course individuals born with cleft themselves. The group’s only rule “Be Kind.”
My mom actually found the group and shared it with me not long after I received the news Patrick would be born with a cleft. Initially the group felt both a bit overwhelming even scary, and yet comforting and informative. There were days early on, I had to force myself not to go on, it was too difficult and I was too emotional. Other days I would scour the group with intense curiosity and a sense of community- we weren’t alone.
The group on a whole I would describe as supportive, open, and accepting. Members geographic locations are diverse scanning all regions of the United States, and many regions of the world. With this diversity comes a large range in quality and access of care, insurance struggles, and saddest of all, local community acceptance of their children. I have heard stories that break my heart and others that warm me. Overall, I am grateful to witness the general warmth these parents receive when they come to the group for advice, support, and overall, a safe place to vent.
It came as shock to me you’ll understand when 9 months after joining this group, I log into Facebook to see a firestorm of drama unfolding on the page this morning. Someone had posted what I would describe as a rude, trying to start shit, post. She asked “why do so many people call their kids clefties?” (A term a number of people use to describe their cleft affected children. It’s a slang for the longer term cleft cuties” ) It bothered her, and she thought we should all accept our kids for more than the way they were born.
Personally, I don’t use the term. I get it, I don’t hate it, I think it can be cute the way people use it, but I don’t. The way the mom said it bothered me though. And as you can imagine, it realllllly bothered a lot of other people. Now the comments were HUGE! I started to read some, obviously sucked into the vortex of this drama unfolding online. I mean lets be real, this was car crash level, you wanted to look away, it wasn’t right to stare, but you just couldn’t!
There were so many comments I didn’t read all of them, but many were nasty, on both sides -defending the post and agreeing we needed to stop using the term. Others bashing her for not being accepting. (ironic when we harass someone nastily for not accepting us, while not accepting them.)
The post was taken down, and the admins all made a post reminding us of our only rule in the group “Be Kind”. A lot of comments continued, apparently there was a comment I didn’t read that really went below the belt. YIKES, I really wish I had seen it. (so wrong, I know!)
I tease, but watching this unfold in a place I truly believed to be one of compassionate and accepting parents reminds me of just how low we can go when we believe someone disagrees with the way we parent, the way we get through a day, the way we choose to survive raising tiny humans.
The thing is, we will never all do things the same way. We don’t think the same things, and we haven’t walked the same path as each other. I am the youngest of 4 children, all of us parents ourselves now. All four of us have chosen to parent our kids so differently. Imagine now, we grew up in the same home. We, as a larger community come into parenthood with different experiences and perspectives that shape what we believe is the best way forward.
Organic foods vs non? Breastfed vs bottle? Purees vs Baby led weaning? Cry it out vs Rock them to sleep? Private school vs public? Working mom vs Stay at Home? Tough love? Help with homework?
We are never going to do things exactly like our friends or family, or neighbors, or kid’s best friend’s parents. That’s not how this works. There is no one size fits all parent, and the choices we make, or actively don’t make, are part of the journey to surviving being a parent.
I would have told you at 23, I knew exactly the kind of parent I was going to be. I would never let my kids sleep in bed with me, I would breast feed all them until they were at least a year old, and tv or screen time should be seriously limited!
Guess what? My baby has been bottle fed formula, slept in bed with me for 3 months, and we play cartoon nursey rhymes every day! HA!
Life. It happens, and not always the way we expect. But I believe with all my heart that all of us make choices every day that we ultimately believe is in the best interest of our kids.
Those nursery rhymes for my 5.5 month old? Maybe not the best for Patrick, but they keep him quiet for a little while, which is good for me. Good for me is good for him.
Let’s be nicer to each other. Let’s talk nicer to each other. Let’s stop talking behind each other’s back!
These moms in my group who call their kids clefties? They say it in the most endearing and loving way. They love their kids, and find the term loving and adorable. They don’t believe it’s a bad thing. They’re raising their kids to embrace who they are in all ways.
The moms who hate it? They are working with a different mindset. They believe giving them a nickname of their birth defect would then define them this way. They are working on showing their kids that they are more than just how you were born.
Both of these kinds of parents are right, because they love their kids! You will inevitably agree with one of these two things. Just don’t hate on someone when you learn that they think differently.
Let’s agree to support each other, even when we don’t agree. Let’s agree that we will always believe moms, and parents are making each decision with the intention of doing what is best for their kids, and their family.