However... when I was still pregnant and learned that we were having a son who would be born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, I, like those who have been in my shoes, starting searching for ANY information about this subject. (I wasn't so much looking for pictures as I was information regarding surgeries, etc.) Most of what I found was very clinical. Helpful, but clinical. (I was not quite as saavy a blogger at the time so I really only searched medical websites, completely forgetting to search personal blogs.) But I wanted to know what 'life' was like. Real life. I wanted to know what raising Colton as a baby would be like. And I didn't really find much...so to rectify that, I will be that "real life" information for anyone else searching...
So here we are! If you are having a child with a cleft lip or palate or you know someone who is, please, send them here! I will tell it like it is! Early on, about halfway through my 33 week pregnancy, we learned that Baby A (Colton) had a bilateral cleft lip and palate. I would say that both Brian and I were momentarily stunned upon hearing this news. And I would be lying if I didn't admit to being a little bit sad. Not for us, but for him. It's one thing to be a singleton and have this condition, but when you are born at the same time as two others, comparisons begin immediately and are frankly inevitable. (Plus, the kindergarten teacher in me has seen the blatant, often hurtful honesty of children and I just didn't want my child to ever fall victim to that.) So my heart broke for Colton, thinking about what people would say or think when they saw my triplets, and then noticed the "one with the cleft lip." But here's the thing. If you are receiving this news about your own child, DO NOT BE UPSET! It's NOT THAT BAD!
Honestly, I know we all want our children to be born perfect, but I don't think that's even possible. It is startling news to hear of course, but it will be whatever you make of it. None of my children are perfect and that's why I love them all. It's the funny things about each one that make them so unique. Who would want to be perfect? That's just a lot of unnecessary stress, dont you think? :) So be sad if you want for a day or so, but then remember:
This is NOT your fault, and more importantly, it is NOT your child's fault.
YOU must be your child's advocate. YOU are required to love your child unconditionally.
YOU are the one who must pave the road for your child.
YOU determine the attitude that you take.
YOU can seize this opportunity early on to teach others about tolerance and acceptance or you can wallow in sorrow or embarrassment.
YOU are the most important person in your child's life.
YOUR opinions about your child will most strongly influence THEIR opinions about themselves.
Don't get me wrong, there are socially ignorant people out there and we've all met them from time to time. I still remember the pain I felt the first time I heard the word "harelip" come out of someone's mouth when describing Colton. And through that pain and anger, rather than stew about it and be mad, I used it as an opportunity to teach. I explained to this woman that "harelip" is sort of an outdated term to describe this condition and can be construed as derogatory. I explained that it's simply called a cleft lip. She may have been offended by my remark to her, but I'm okay with that, because I'm pretty sure she'll remember it next time she comes across someone with a cleft lip. I'm certain she was not trying to be rude or insulting, but often times, as with anything, sometimes people just aren't aware they are being hurtful until someone brings it up.
Anyway, my point (2 paragraphs ago) was that initially, I felt this great need to just put it out there! But that subsided. Soon enough, I stopped even thinking twice about it, and I think others did too. Which again, is why I say, a cleft lip is no big deal. It will only be as much of an issue as you make it.
So right away, even while Colton was still in the NICU for being a preemie and having the cleft lip/palate, we were put in touch with an Orofacial Team here in our town who would help orchestrate all of Colton's services until he is 18. Years! Not months! How great is that? So my first advice is to find the closest Orofacial team to where you live. They will help you understand what kinds of special needs your child will have as they grow.
The first difference between Colton and his brother and sister is that he uses a different n.ipple on his bottles. He does not have an ability to suck like a typical child, so we were taught to use a Habermann N.ipple. I remember sort of fighting this with the NICU nurses at first. We really just wanted to SEE if Colton could eat from a regular bottle. But, he can't. He tried. And it's not a big deal. Whoever feeds Colton knows that they have to manually squeeze the n.ipple to allow formula to pass from the bottle, through the one-way valve and into the longer than normal n.ipple where it cannot flow back down.
Sounds easy right? Well it is. But it wasn't- for us, or for Colton. I would go home from the NICU so frustrated that I could not master the right amount of pressure to create the right amount of flow to get him to eat comfortably and he couldn't decide where in his mouth was most comfortable for that n.ipple to go. So he'd eat a few millileters and then be done. FRUS-TRA-TING!!! But as with anything else, practice made perfect and now the child can guzzle 10 ounces in a heartbeat! So that's the first difference.
Second difference? He had to have surgery at 3 months old. His brother and sister did not. He handled surgery like a pro and the results are hundreds of times better than I could have hoped for. His surgeon, Dr. Craig Hurst is phenomenal. Seriously. He used as much skin glue as he could as opposed to sutures so as to minimize scarring. Well, it worked. Colton's lip is amazing to me. Surgery was tough mainly because he was such a little baby. But he only stayed overnight one night and then continued to heal in the comforts of our home! Babies are much more resilient than adults, I believe that now. So now we prepare for his second surgery, which will correct his palate.