This writer talks about her condition and shares tips for those dealing with it too.
A cleft lip and palate is what happens when a baby’s mouth and/or lip does not form during their time in the womb. Sometimes, it’s referred to as a “harelip.”
As a result, they need surgery. Children who have a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both deal face many problems. These problems include clarity of speech, infections, and problems with feeding. A host of dental issues also tend to follow.
Having a cleft lip and palate took quite a toll
I was born with this condition 30+ years ago. While I’m no expert, I have quite a bit to share on the matter.
My parents and family did their best to make me feel comfortable in my skin. There was always an early sense of being “other.” To nobody’s surprise, this elevated when I started going to school.
In kindergarten, there was a lot of name-calling and nastiness. One girl called me a monster and tossed sand in my eyes. Yes, I remember that all these years later. That’s one of the first things to take note of. When you have a condition like mine, bullying is inevitable.
High school wasn’t much better, even if I went to a Catholic private school at first. I transferred to a small, now-defunct Montessori school, which wasn’t the best either.
Concerns and needs
Of course, there’s also the physical aspect of having a cleft lip and palate. My earliest surgery took place not long after I was born. I went on to have many surgeries over the first 10 years of my life. (I also had a cyst removed from my breast at around nine years old, but that’s a whole other story.)
I also needed maintenance. Skin that shouldn’t be in my nose had grown there. Much like forearm skin, it was hairy. That meant plenty of dirt could get trapped in the hairs. So I had to have my nose cleaned with special equipment on a weekly basis. A huge, huge thanks to my Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor since I was a kid, Dr. Daniel M. Alonzo, for those weekly sessions!
It may sound like having hairy skin where it shouldn’t be isn’t so bad. But when dirt and other things get trapped in it for too long, they’d start to smell. People often mistook it for halitosis. No matter how many times I brushed my teeth, there would be a smell if I didn’t clean my nose.
Living my best life
One of the most pronounced side effects of being cleft is my nasal tone. (In Tagalog, it’s generally what the term “ngongo” implies.) For a long time, it stopped me from pursuing certain things, like the performing arts.
By the time I became a young adult, my relationship with myself improved. A lot of the real growth and moving forward from rejection happened when I went to rehab. There, I faced my mental health issues and realized that I’d also rejected myself.
Today, I use my voice a lot! I have given several talks in schools about both mental health and body image. While I’m no Bianca Gonzalez, I also take pride in my hosting skills for events. I’ve also become an international spoken word poetry artist.
It’s more than possible to live your best life with a cleft lip and palate. Today, I’d even call it a blessing.
Featured Image Macky Arquilla