In the Course of a Year

by Melissa Cook

The Beginning

It was a little over a year ago, that I began my "education." This was an education that I could never have learned in any school. One that can't be studied in any manual or heard at any lecture in college.

My "education" began without warning, but will continue on as I grow older. It is amazing how one little thing can change your life so drastically. In the course of a year, I have learned so much -- more important than anything in my 27 1/2 years before that. Let me start with a few facts.

Birth defects affect over 150,000 children in America every year, according to the March of Dimes.

There are multiple types of birth defects children can be born with, including severe ones that can affect the child for the rest of his or her life.

Others can have a short affect and can be corrected.

The defects affects on a family and an individual can be devastating, but can be rewarding, too!

Our Story

One year ago, my husband and I were expecting our second child, a boy. Everything had gone very well in my pregnancy. I had several ultrasounds, each one "normal" in every way. The biggest thing we were worried about was the size of my little boy-to-be. His big brother was a whopper at birth (9 lbs, 11 oz), and the OB/GYN said to expect about the same.

About 3 weeks before my due date, I went into labor. It as a very quick process, and with no help from Mommy, our darling son entered the world very early, on a Thursday morning. I looked down at the end of the bed to see my new born child, and noticed that something was different about his face.

I looked over to my OB, who had just walked in, and asked, "What's wrong with him?" "Nothing," she said, "He's perfect and healthy," she added. I knew better, but didn't say anything. I just wanted to hold my new little guy.

The nurses scooped him up and cleaned him off, checked his vitals, etc. to see what as going on with him. It took a nurse to tell my husband and I that our son had been born with a cleft lip.

I didn't know what to think. I really didn't have a good chance to look at him, or take him in, and only recalled from my elementary school years, a friend who's sister had been born with a cleft lip. All kinds of thoughts flooded my mind, full of fear, worry, concern, and tons of questions, but all I could do at that moment was hope and pray that our son would be okay and, of course, cry.

During the bustle of after-birth care, a few more pediatric nurses came in. They were doing what tests they could in the birthing room. As I lay in the bed, I turned to look at my husband. I don't know why I did at that moment, but what I saw then, changed my whole outlook on our new situation.

My husband was crying-tears just flowing forth, down his face, one after another. If you know my husband, you know that he is not a man who cries easily, if ever at all. My whole thought process changed at this very instant! I felt in my head and in my heart that I, alone, had to be strong! I knew, I felt, that I HAD to carry on, be strong, show no fear, no emotion, nothing. Just plug along, and be strong for my husband, my new born son, and my oldest son at home!

The next few hours, actually, the whole day, flew by. About 3 hours after our baby was born, doctors, specialists, nurses -- anyone that had an inkling of expertise in dealing with a cleft, came into our room.

We first met with a speech pathologist. She told us a little bit more about our son. Trevor was not only born with a cleft lip, but also a cleft of his hard and soft palate and gum line too. Shock number three hit us that day. We didn't know what this meant. We had heard of a cleft palate, but didn't know anything about it.

"What does this mean? How does it affect our son? What causes this? Will he be mentally challenged because of it? What else is wrong with him?" These were all questions that we had in our minds. We didn't know a thing! The pathologist told us that because of this cleft in his palate, he won't able to drink from a regular bottle. He did not have the proper suction for it. He would have to drink out of a special bottle made just for babies with a cleft.