Carolyn Holly: My Vantage Point

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One mom's precious response to "SMILE" blog

One mom's precious response to

Little Owen was born with a bilateral cleft lip and complete cleft palate. He showed his first "real" smile 36 hours after his first surgery.

by Carolyn Holly

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBCarolyn


Posted on April 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 3:04 AM

I want to share this email with you from a mom who will forever know the meaning of a smile.

Jodie Mastas read my blog Monday, which encouraged people to JUST SMILE, to maybe make their day a better day.  Jodie's story about her son's first smile made my day a fantastic one!  I hope after you read it, you too will SMILE!

"I just wanted to tell you "Thank you" for your reminder to SMILE.  While your article points out the ease of such a friendly reminder and how it can affect ones attitude, it is much more to our family who will never take for granted the amazing gift of a smile. 
After four years of trying to conceive our second child, we were overjoyed to learn that we would be expecting a little boy to join us at home with our then 5-1/2 year old daughter.  I had many complications during my pregnancy and after reaching my 7 month mark, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  At the time, it was just one more problem to add to an ever growing list.  I thought to myself and commented to my husband that little Owen was a rascal and it must be true that pregnancies are different when you carry a boy versus a girl.  I remember a co-worker asking me how I was coping with all of my issues, and my response was "It's almost over, and besides, what else could go wrong?"  That same afternoon, I had a follow up appointment for an ultrasound to monitor Owen's size due to my diabetes.  I assumed this was just a routine appointment and went alone.  Little did I know that my world would soon be turned upside down and I would find out the consequences of "what else could go wrong."
My doctor did the usual measurements of the uterus and amniotic fluid, and then started taking approximate measurements of the baby.  He would review the monitor and then go compare it to my file which lie on the counter.  After several trips back and forth and not a single comment to me, I started feeling uneasy.  My mind was racing coming to all types of conclusions about the size of this little guy inside me.  The worst that came to mind was that he would be huge and complicate my last trimester.  I can't even begin to describe the portrait I had painted in my head of the delivery of such a huge baby through the small area he would need to travel, lol!  As I often do during uncomfortable situations, I tried to make light of the tension and make a joke about how he could sign me up for a c-section because I was not physically up for birthing a huge baby. 
It was at this exact moment that I realized life would no longer be just about me and my comfort.  The doctor rested his hand on my leg and proceeded to tell me of his fear for my baby.  While I had already been through quite a few ultrasounds and was obviously privy to the sex of my son, he had always had his face hidden by his hands.  At the time, my husband and I thought it was cute.  We liked to think Owen would be a thumb sucker or maybe he was playing peek a boo.  There was no concern, only comfort in the fact that we knew the sex because our daughter was a complete surprise. 
Then he proceeded to tell me that there was something wrong with Owen's mouth.  His recommendation was to refer me to a maternal fetal doctor who specializes in 3D ultrasounds to confirm his findings.  I was thrown off guard because this wasn't what I was worried about.  A cleft lip and palate were things that I had heard of before but I was so overwhelmed with confusion and fear, that I couldn't comprehend what that would look like.  This wasn't suppose to happen.  I spent the last four years trying to bring home a sibling for our daughter and Owen was the last piece of the family puzzle.  Why me? What did I do?  What did I not do?  Was this something in my husband's genetics that I wasn't aware of?  I knew there weren't any family members on my side that had such a condition.  I had tried to be so careful with medications during my pregnancy that I even refused to take things that were prescribed because of the slim chance of birth defects.  And lastly, how am I going to explain this to my husband and daughter?  Would they not love him?  What if I could not love him the same as my daughter?  What kind of mother am I?
While I should have been thankful that my baby wasn't going to die of some incurable disease, I wasn't sure how I would cope.  Surprisingly I didn't cry right then and there, but I remember I had to remind myself to breathe and it was so difficult to swallow.  I some how made it to my car and was able to drive a few miles before the tears overcame me and I could no longer see.  I was smart enough to pull over and dig deep for the courage to call my husband who was now at work.  I'm not sure how he was able to understand any of my rambling words through the heavy sobs, but  he told me it would all be ok.  Maybe it was a mistake and not to freak out until we could make it to the specialist.  But I knew.  I had always known something was different between this pregnancy and the last.  Maybe I couldn't get pregnant for so long because it wasn't meant to be.  I had fought the odds and turned to fertility treatments when I felt I was running out of time.  Maybe this was my punishment for challenging God's plan for me. 
Time lingered between that day and my next appointment.  I was able to research the subject on the Internet and my extended family kept telling me not to worry.  Confirmation came that he would have a bilateral cleft lip and complete cleft palate.  And while the anticipation was now over, the pain soon became deeper.  It took a lot for me to be able to discuss the situation when people asked me how I was doing.  All but one person had tried to reassure me that it would be a simple fix after he was born.  The ignorance of the condition was overwhelming because I soon learned that a quick surgery was not going to magically repair my broken child.  There would be years of surgeries, consequential health problems, and the financial burden would be excruciating. My husband and I had decent jobs and good insurance, but it just wasn't fair!  My sister in law was the only person who told me they were sorry.  She knew how long and hard the journey had been to bring home this baby.
That was in November 2008 and Owen made his debut a few weeks early on January 6, 2009 at Saint Alphonsus in Boise.  He spent four days in the NICU due to his feeding problems and the effects of the insulin during the pregnancy.  He had his lips repaired at the age of three months and his palate at 13 months.  He has endured several complications including two surgeries to place ear tubes, feeding and weight gain, and yet he is the happiest, most beautiful boy I have ever met! 

He warms the soul of everyone he comes into contact with and his first "real" smile came 36 hours after his lip repair.  But the thought of his smile then and now, makes me realize how we all truly take that for granted. 

I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to be his momma. 

I am on a crusade to educate the community of children in the Treasure Valley that are born with this challenge.  Dr. Russell Griffith is the only pediatric craniofacial surgeon in Idaho and leads a team of wonderful and talented doctors, speech therapists, and dentists to assist these kids to live like everyone else.
Thank you again for reminding all of us to smile and I hope that this message can be spread to all.  I would also like to thank you for taking the time to read our story."