Tears streamed down my face in the sonographer’s office as I cradled my precious bump. Moment’s earlier, she’d detected my baby boy had a cleft lip during a routine 19-week scan.
I couldn’t understand it.
A harmony test at 11 weeks had shown no abnormalities and my first son, Jax, seven, was born perfectly healthy.
“Will I be able to love this baby like I love Jax?” I wondered for a brief moment. But it was only a knee-jerk reaction because the truth was, I already did.
When the obstetrician called me from home at 7pm the next evening, a cold chill ran down my spine. As if a cleft lip wasn’t enough, it turned out my baby had heart problems as well.
An amniocentesis confirmed everything.
The obstetrician warned me it was going to be a hard slog. Our baby had not one hole in the heart, but two.
As I got up to leave, he asked if he could give me a hug ‘because you are going to need it for the journey you are going on.’
Then I burst into tears all over again.
I’d never change him for the world
As my baby bump grew, the shock gradually dissipated and I was comforted by the knowledge the survival rates for my son’s congenital heart issues were very good.
I vowed to love my precious son despite of his cleft. I had no idea I’d love him even more because of it.
Oliver was born on 21st may 2018 weighing a healthy 3.2kgs. He had 15 birth defects mainly involving his face and heart.
The cleft affected his lip, palate and cheek all the way up to his eye socket and his left ear was deformed on the outside.
Gazing into that perfect little face, I realised I’d never change Oliver for the world.
When he was 18 days old I was thrilled to finally be allowed home. Like all proud mums, I wanted to show my baby off to the world!
My friends and our community smothered us with love, but we had some very insensitive comments from strangers.
One was, ‘It’s amazing what the plastic surgeons can do these days.’ That really upset me because I had no intention of ever hiding Oliver’s cleft, or his face, or any of his defects.
Another person asked, ‘Didn’t you know when you were pregnant?’ As if to insinuate I should have aborted Oliver.
But the most confronting comment of all was from a brutally honest six-year-old girl at Jax’s school.
I was talking to her parents when she said, ‘Oh look a baby.’ She looked inside the pram and went, ‘Eeww, he looks gross. He looks like a freak. Mum he looks weird.’
I was so overwhelmed with shock and horror, I just left.
The thought of my baby boy starting school and having to endure this kind of cruelty was sickening.
I had to do something.
Taking to the school facebook page, I recounted what happened and asked parents to show Oliver’s picture to their children and teach them that even though Oliver may look different, he was just like them on the inside.
The positive responses I got back blew me away. Many of the parents told me their children thought Oliver was absolutely gorgeous and couldn’t understand why anyone would be mean to him.
As a proud mum that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.
I’ve got so many reasons to be proud – Oliver is such a happy and resilient child. He sailed through open heart surgery at four-and-a-half months old and started crawling six weeks later!
I was really torn about his cleft repair surgery in March this year because although I knew it would help him feed, I loved his face just the way it was. However, when we got that first forever smile two days after his operation, I just melted.
He’s doing just fine
Oliver is now 14 months old and despite all the challenges he’s faced, he is absolutely thriving.
He was walking by his first birthday and now he just wants to run everywhere. He even says ‘Mummy’ despite all of his cleft issues. He’s such a little champ and that cheeky smile of his lights up the room.
Though he couldn’t physically attach to my breast and had to be tube fed, I wanted Oliver to benefit from breastmilk, so I decided to pump instead.
Although I’ve wanted to smash that bloody pump on occasion, over the last 14 months I’ve pumped over 600 litres and clocked up 1150 hours. I’ve now got enough breastmilk in the freezer to keep Oliver going past the age of two.
He will need more surgery in the future, but my biggest fear is Oliver starting school and the discrimination he will face – which is why I’m sharing his story today.
I just want Oliver to be treated like a normal child, because he is a normal child. He just looks different.