This is not a actual baby picture of me. In fact, there are no baby pictures of me that exist.
Let's face it, this is not the face of a baby you rush off to the photographer every few weeks. At least not in the 60's when I was born. In fact, I didn't even go home with my parents until I was 6 months old. Imagine what it must have been like for my mother,
People have a great misconception about people with cleft palates. I've had people assume that I am mentally challenged, without ever talking to me. I have had people point and stare. I have had people refer to me as a monster on occasion. None of these people knew me, or wanted to know, these were just assumptions of strangers.
Of all the names I have been called in my life, by far the most hurtful one is Harelip. People toss that word about as if it is just a common term for a cleft palate. It is not. It is an insult. Let me illustrate.
This is a hare. I do not look like this.
This is what I look like. See the difference?
Let me put it another way. Think back to the last time you said the word Harelip. Perhaps you were just describing someone you saw on the street. Can you think of a time where you ever heard someone use that word as a compliment? I can tell you right now...NO. For me, two words are taboo in my vocabulary. Harelip and the N-word. I don't use them and I don't allow anyone to use them in my presence. Both are derogatory, hateful words, never spoken in a complimentary manner, and, therefore, should be banned from the english language permenantly. I cringe when I hear those two word casually tossed about when I know from experience just how deeply it hurts.
I am 48 years old. I am a wife, a mother, and an author. Tomorrow I will go to the hospital for yet another recontructive surgery. How many have I had? People ask me that all the time. The truth is, there have been so many, that I lost track years ago. I can ballpark it. Figure 1 or 2 a year til I was 18. Let's say 25..conservatively. I had 3 surgeries when I was 21, another in my 30's and tomorrow I will go in for what may be my final one. This scares me. It scares me because I know it will not be "right". What I come out looking like tomorrow will be what I will look like for the rest of my life.
Will it be good enough. It will for the people who love me. For the people who don't know me, probably not. But, I learned a long time ago, not to live for those people, only to live for myself.
So, the next time you stare at someone with a facial defect, or laugh, or call them some derogatory name. Stop. Stop and think about what they have possibly been through to try and be what you consider to be "normal". All the pain, the tears, the prayers and the wishful thinking they have been through. Think before you tear all that down with one hateful word.