A Mother’s Journey
Mother of Aden
It was my 24th week of pregnancy and my husband and I were looking forward to finding out if our baby was a boy or girl and keen to see a clearer scan. The doctor started to point out the key features and when it got to the mouth, I noticed something unusual. “He’s just yawning, it’s nothing”, the doctor said. But she looked again and then paused and said, “It looks like a cleft lip”. My heart stopped several seconds and my mouth went dry. I was thinking: “This can’t be happening.”
Those few weeks, I went through different emotions-from being depressed, to denial, and to feeling strong again. My husband channeled his emotions and tried to find out everything there was about cleft lip. Soon he found the Hong Kong Association for Cleft Lip and Palate and arranged a visit. We found out that there was not only cleft lip but cleft palates as well, which was more serious, as this usually affects nursing and the child may require speech therapy and additional surgeries in the future. But until the baby is born, it is very hard to determine whether a cleft palate also exists. As a mother, it pained me greatly that my newborn may need to undergo operations at such a young age. We also worried about our baby’s appearance, which might affect his low self-esteem.
Beside those worries, the more pressing problem was breaking the news to the family. The hardest for me was telling my mum and I was not wrong. She was unhappy, she told my aunty and my cousins who were doctors. They asked me whether we’d consider aborting the baby instead, which made me even more distraught. My in-laws thankfully brushed it off as it was something minor and fixable. We gradually told our friends and colleagues and almost everyone was supportive. I admit that now I still have a lot of difficulties in telling some people. I think that they would see it as a defect inherited from me, and his imperfection meant that I somehow wasn’t a good mother, and I was to blame for this. But like many other parents, we didn’t know what had caused it.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, despite the tiredness of lugging an extra 20 pounds and also the stress of working late nights, I focused on ensuring I ate enough so that my baby would be heavy enough for the operation and hoped that he wouldn’t be prematurely born. My husband, while into Taoism, became very devout and recited prayers daily and vowed never to eat lamb and beef again. We all prayed that he would only have a small cleft lip and no cleft palate.
The day came and Aden was born 7.7 pounds at 4am on a Saturday morning at St Teresa’s Hospital. His cleft lip hadn’t grown much larger than what we observed from our last scan and we waited nervously to find out whether he had a cleft palate. The next day, the pediatrician delivered the good news that Aden only had a cleft lip. Aden also turned out to be a very good eater and sleeper. He was also a happier baby than his sister, smiling a lot, and loved us singing to him.
We found a doctor well known for cleft lip surgeries and locked in a date for the operation. As the date drew nearer, my heart grew heavier and a growing knot of worry in my stomach continued to form. While I knew that it was a relatively simple operation with little complications, alarming thoughts would pop in my head making me worry about how we’d be able to feed and take care of him.
The time came for Aden’s operation. I will never forget the experience of seeing him after his surgery. A nurse was holding him on a seat and he was crying and making this guttural sound that you make when you’re in pain and have been crying for too long. His cheeks were swollen, and dark blood was caked around his stitches and in his nostrils. The nurse told me to hold and soothe him immediately. And when I picked him up and I looked into his face , I couldn’t help but cry with him. I knew that I needed to stay strong for him, and through my tears, I kept telling him over and over again that ‘it was ok’ and that I loved him…… reliving those moments still brings tears back in my eyes and a sick feeling in my stomach.
The following 24 hours were tough-struggling with the best way to feed him and trying to ensure he cried as little as possible. The operation had been smooth and hadn’t affected Aden as much as we expect because he still ate and slept fairly well, even smiling the next day. We survived the experience and looking back, I really believe we were tremendously lucky that Aden was born with a relatively minor cleft lip and no cleft palate. I totally felt sympathy for those whose children have both cleft lip and palate, because they have to endure not only one, but two or more operations. I know I am very blessed with a great husband who has been so strong and understanding. I am so grateful for the Hong Kong Association for Cleft Lip and Palate for all their wonderful support in getting us through this tough period. The overall experience has changed my perspective on family and their importance. And I have learnt that while my son is not 100% perfect in his appearance, we love and support him as it’s the inner qualities that matter.