There are no early baby photos of me, I guess my Mum did not want to
remember what I looked like when I was born and knowing her she would
not want me to see them. I would like to have seen one, it would make
for more extreme before and after pics than when I won a makeover at
the ‘Red Door Salon’ in NY in my 20s.
I know that any parent will be dismayed to look at their new babies
face and see a great flaw; and a cleft lip is not pretty. The parents
anxiety will not stem from human vanity but rather we don’t want our
children to suffer physical pain or emotional trauma. We want to
protect our children, we want them to be happy, we would take every
burden from them if we possibly could.
I was born with a single cleft (as opposed to double) and was
fortunate in that my palate was not cleft. I also had a rather wonky
nose, one nostril much bigger than the other. My teeth were very skew, but that was fixed with braces.
I think I have had 4 reconstructive operations but I may be missing one.
I’m writing this for parents having to deal with the early days on
discovering this. There is no need to share with others with the same
‘problem’. If you’re like me it simply isn’t a problem, it is an
absolute non issue. I have never googled cleft or harelip, when I
look in the mirror I don’t even see my scar. I can honestly say that
it caused zero impact in my life. At points in my life I have
desperately wished that I wasn’t so hirsute (as a child I heard ‘harelip’ as ‘hair lip’, now that I didn’t like!).
I have wished that I was a cup size or two bigger (once in a pub an obnoxious shit tapped me on
the shoulder and politely asked if I was male or female, that hurt!).
I think my scar is kinda cool, it sets me apart, makes me
interesting. I’m not disfigured. I love this quote from ‘Captain
Corelli’s Mandolin’ ““Symmetry is only a property of dead things. Did
you ever see a tree or a mountain that was symmetrical? It’s fine for
buildings, but if you ever see a symmetrical human face, you will have
the impression that you ought to think it beautiful, but that in fact
you find it cold. The human heart likes a little disorder in its
geometry”. My point is that my cleft lip did NO emotional damage.
Back to the operations, the first was when I was days or weeks old, I
think just to close the gap. The timing of the operations spanned many
years this is because some facial features need to be fully developed
before being operated on. My next operation was when I was about 8
years old give or take a couple of years. This one was fun, my Mum
told me that I could have any present I wanted for being so brave,
dunno what was so brave about the hospital adventure. I got to drink
through bendy straws, got a Cindy doll and a colouring in book, I still
remember that the cover picture was of a mouse in a champagne glass.
Going to hospital was not traumatic, I got so much attention, what more
can a 8-year-old ask for. Even the bandages were cool. The only
problem I remember was that when I laughed I burst a few stitches and
when you know you should not laugh or smile, everything is hilarious.
The 3rd op was on my nose, pretty cool for a 16-year-old to be choosing
a new nose. The 4th and last I must confess was a bit uncomfortable,
this was a tidy up under local anesthetic, one side of my lip hung
down a bit lower and needed to be trimmed. I hated being awake and
knowing what they were doing, I could taste the blood, feel the tugs of
the cutting and stitching. None the less in my late 30’s I had gum
flap surgery for gum disease and that was way way worse.
I am eternally grateful that my parents really researched who the best
surgeons in the field were, this is important and really worth doing
properly. For the most major op (the 2nd one) we flew to Cape Town
from Durban as the best guy was there. This made it even more fun for
me as I went on a boat cruise and a huge great white shark came and
bumped against the side of the boat, unforgettable. We stayed with my