Saturday, April 16, 2011

About having cleft palate and babies being born 'perfect'...

This note arises today from a conversation had with a friend or two where we discussed an image that had two babies (one boy, one girl) that read: "All babies are born perfect! Keep them that way. Say no to circumcision." and its relation to other instances in which the word 'perfect' could take on many different meanings and incite a spectrum of consequences and reactions -including 'subjecting' (and depending on whom you ask and on what procedure, this can be an equally wonderful or horrid thing for you to do) the child to surgeries, etc. The  union of  the thoughts and feelings written here has been, for a long time -or 39 years I'd be willing to say, combining and multiplying its little gametes into the zygote in the womb of my conscious and subconscious brain and are now finally born. I suppose with a possibly more peculiar intensity than in many others', it's been quite the powerful and empowering gestation and birth -since I, myself, was born with a unilateral nose, palatal and lip cleft.

That said, damn it, I can't think that I wasn't 'perfect' to her, to my mom - let alone as her 3rd attempt to birth and the first 'successful' time at it (funny on the 'perfect' on more than one count, if you know ME, right? :P)

Incidentally, we had recently talked about her cesarean when she birthed me. It sounded like a very nice c/section, a humane one even.  One in which even the use of the anesthesia was carefully selected so she could be more present, etc. etc. (her OB had been through the miscarriages w/ her and they were very close), even! [Albeit the reason for having it! My butt was right on the opposite end of where it should have been (no.way. :P). I had actually disengaged from good ol' vertex and felt by her, obviously, just  the day before that)... 

That's where the 'nice' part ends in my head (no part of an unnecessary surgery is ever 'nice', is it?)... Because the next thing she knows after finding out I'm a girl is NOTHING. The gentle OB knocks her out. Why? Because he was so sad and upset for her, that after all her work, passion and care towards having children (as well as having another client next door to my mother - you know, one of those 'crack-head, clueless, lost and evil souls' [whom, while careless and irresponsible, apparently, must not 'deserve' a healthy child] with guess what? A 'perfect' and healthy child who was just born not an hour or two before me), he could not bring himself to tell my mother I was born and how wonderful, but - and quite the 'but' to be put out by anesthesia at his discretion- I had cleft palate.

I'm lucky and grateful - it now turns out, huh?! Please see more below on this - that I was able to have the large number  of surgeries (and performed by some of the best surgeons in Mexico City) AND the incredibly ARDUOUS, physical, and emotional work of my mother with my speech. People my age with cleft palate, to the degree with which I was born, mostly don't look or sound the way I do at all. This I owe to the surgeries (cosmetic or not) and my Mom. 

So, no, I don't have much of a cleft palate semblance. In fact, what I often get asked (first tip that tells you people don't get it's cleft palate :P) is if I fell off a bicycle or if I just plain fell when i was a kid. People who realize it's a cleft or are plainly afraid, for any reason, don't ask. :P Which brings me back to the above discussion. I am completely grateful AND privileged for 'being subjected' to the surgeries. I cannot imagine what my mother had to endure as a mother and as the 'everything else' that such required (i.e. becoming a speech therapist, urologist, etc. just without the recognition of a diploma for any part of it). So while I was 'subjected' in that I had no decision/input on it, I still am grateful. Is having the pseudo 'normal' appearance and further 'generally accepted' worth it? Sure as shit. 

I cannot imagine the innate suffering and guilt of the mothers (whether from the physical demands of a health issue with a child with such condition, nor from the inherent guilt that comes with it. reasonable or not.) - and of, more specifically, mine - who have to go through this: through DECIDING for the life of the child, these types of decisions (even more so than in a generally healthy-kid parenting scenario requires, is given and should be taken for granted as that's parenting, etc.). So many implications and possible horrid or wonderful consequences for having to do that, you know? For example: 

-In terms of basic health (she obviously couldn't directly breastfeed, which my mother wanted to do, nor had support around her to feed me breastmilk otherwise). Here, I can easily imagine additional, inherent guilt. 

-In term of aesthetics and its cosmetic procedures (I can, again, easily imagine that one couldn't help but think, as a parent of this child, that she has now this additional burden with which to contend -once passed the immediate shock and dire health-related issue resolved - in how s/he'll fair as a potential mate. I'd say it is a primal human concern to find a suitable and healthy potential sexual candidate and these clear physical characteristics indicate the presence of an 'unhealthful' person [meaning, w/o being capable to suckle on milk, I would have died in the animal Queingdom (how's that for an awesome combo and *almost, but not quite* all- inclusive term :P), right?]. And while it could be interpreted as frivolous to an extent, it then could also be traded off as a basic health need, as well?? Notwithstanding the societal pressures or realities of being defect-less to add to the lovely mix.

So, for the extraordinary (literally) and seemingly endless nights of tears, for the momentary relief, for the forced gratitude to life in such hard circumstances you had to show and convince yourself to feel, for the plain and almost unbearable suffering and guilt which only made you fight harder, and for the doubtful moments you went through whether for me or for those who are not in your attempts at becoming a mother before me, Mom, I THANK you. I can never thank you adequately for teaching me how to be so strong and confident; how to find that, yes, while the probably frivolous touch of surgery has made me a more 'viable' human, I am a worthy human regardless.  For showing me what light looked like:  ¡Te adoro, Mami!

Thank you for reading, you made it this far.  :)

(For the reason to write this, as for so many others, thank you:  Monica W.)

1 comment:

  1. I remember your mom asking me, right after she woke up from anesthesia " have you seen her, how is she?" and I said to her " Yes, she is very pretty...she was born with cleft palate..." and she asked "what do you mean?" and I explained to her what was all that...she had some tears coming out and at that moment she was asked by a nurse if she wanted to see her baby, and she yelled at her "Sure I want to see her, why wouldn't I?" The thing is that obvious as it was the cleft palate also was that you had these immense and expressive beautiful still do.



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