Have you ever had a dream that seemed too big and too far out there to ever be possible of achieving? Something that weighed on your heart but you really didn’t even know where to begin? When Rob was born it was such a whirlwind of unexpected things. I was due for a c-section but he decided to come early on Christmas day. David and I went to the hospital alone with family anxiously waiting at home with Will to hear the news. When Rob was born I’ll never forget hearing the doctor say cleft. I remember thinking is it a cleft palate like my nephew or a cleft lip? How big is the cleft? What does my baby look like?!?!
When you hear the word cleft you think of the Operation Smile commercials you might have seen on tv, or if you’ve ever googled cleft lip you face a sea of clinical, sterile, and sometimes downright frightening photos of cleft lip babies. Cleft lips can range from small imperfections to full-on bi-lateral clefts affecting the nose too. When I say the photos are frightening I want to be very clear on what is frightening about them, it’s not the baby or the cleft at all it’s the manner in which the photo was taken. They are like baby mug shots or the worst DMV photo you’ve ever had. Harsh lighting, sterile white background, incredibly close-up, and typically a screaming unhappy baby. The most beautiful baby in the world would look frightening under the same conditions.
Laying there on that table I thought of those images I had seen and I was scared of what my baby looked like. Yes, you can say I was being shallow and I certainly was, I’ve yet to meet a mom out there who thought man I hope I have an ugly baby. Everyone wants to have the most beautiful baby in the world, we are all a little bit shallow. I want other moms out there to know it’s ok to be scared and it’s ok to be shallow for just a minute. You do have to move past it and I promise when that baby is in your arms it won’t even be an issue for you. It’s the unknown that let’s fear creep in and shallowness, it’s the images we have been trained to think of that scare us.
So what was this crazy dream I had? To change the world’s view on cleft lip babies. To change the image that pops into your head when someone says cleft lip. To show new cleft moms, dads, and grandparents that cleft babies are just as beautiful as babies without clefts. This isn’t the 1800’s where the world pointed and laughed at those with deformities and put them in traveling shows or hid them away when company came over. Clefts are one of the most common birth defects yet you don’t see many professional portraits of cleft lip babies. I think parents are still a bit scared, still feeling that little bit of shallowness. We want to celebrate our babies and show the world how beautiful they are but you don’t see beautiful photos of cleft lip babies in mass media. You see scary clinical images. The kinds of images that make grandparents cry because it is frightening to think their new grandbaby might look like that.
So back to my dream that seemed too big to reach. I hired the best photographer I know for our newborn session, I wanted beautiful images of my baby boy with his cleft lip. I wanted to show him looking just as cute as his brother did for his newborn session. I wanted to capture the love that David and I have for Rob and his cleft. Marta Locklear is our amazing photographer and she created gorgeous images that I will treasure forever. She showed that my baby was just as beautiful as any other newborn even with his cleft. I told her about my dream and encouraged her to tag or name the photos with the term cleft lip so hopefully, others would find them and see beautiful images, not scary clinical ones. She came back to me recently and asked if I was interested in putting them on a stock photography website, Stocksy where companies can purchase rights to use the images for ad campaigns. I wholeheartedly said YES! She assured me that Stocksy only worked with reputable companies so I felt safe knowing my baby’s images would not be used in bad ways.
These have all been baby steps to this dream and recently a small but HUGE step was achieved. Medela chose an image of Rob for an online Facebook campaign!!!!! They made no mention of his cleft but just focused on how beautiful the image and the moment was. I found out when a friend recognized us in the photo and tagged me in it. Once I got over my happy shock I started looking at the comments and that is when the tears started rolling down my face (as they are right now while I type this). In the comments, cleft parents were sharing photos of their cleft babies!!!! They were thanking Medela for showing how beautiful cleft babies are and even more powerful for helping them feed their cleft babies. I was so blown away by their stories. I cried at least a dozen times that day because it made me so happy. Even better, that ad has had almost 2000 shares, over 40,000 likes, and 600+ comments. That is a HUGE step in showing the world how beautiful our cleft lip babies are!!!!! I really cannot thank Marta Locklear, Stocksy, and Medela enough for supporting my crazy dream and doing things I could never do to fulfill it. I know that I cannot achieve this dream on my own so I’m challenging parents and photographers around the world to photograph cleft lip babies just like you do any other baby. Share the photos, add the tag cleft lip to your images so google finds them, hashtag them with a few of my favorites #cleftstrong, #cleftcutie, #cleftlip. I’ve created the hashtag #cleftdream that I’d love for you to use too. I want to take over page 1 of google results for cleft lip with more professional gorgeous photos that will help parents and grandparents realize a cleft lip is no big deal! Let’s change the image the world has of cleft lip babies together!
I just wanted to say Thank You!!! to everyone who has read and shared this post. I wrote it thinking my family and friends would see it but that would be it, shocking to me is to see 1000’s of you have read and liked it! Rob is now 15 months old and we had his repair almost a year ago. You can read about that here – The Hardest Day of my Life. Also, check out some updated photos of him at 7 months which was 3 months post-surgery – Rob 7 months!
2020 Update: It’s been 7 years since this cute came into our lives! He had his repair surgery at 4 months old and his scar looks amazing. He has a tiny bit of droop on his nose and a little uptick on his lip that sometimes makes people think he has a fat lip from a fight. When he gets older if he wants he can have that adjusted but it’s really not noticeable. His scar actually lines up with the ridges under your nose so you have to look really close to notice it.
It’s amazing how quickly we’ve forgotten what he looked like with his cleft. If it weren’t for the photos we have around the house we’d have a hard time picturing it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I found out today on Ultrasound that my baby is likely to have cleft lip and after crying all afternoon and then feeling guilty for it I found this and it’s just what I needed to read. Your boy is beautiful and has put my heart at ease.
Oh Tameeka I’m so sorry but I’m so happy this helped you! I promise it goes by so fast. Our cleft lip boy is 6 now and it’s just barely a memory. My prayers are with you and your family for safe delivery and then a safe surgery for repairs! xoxo Melissa