7 weeks ago, we had our 20-week ultrasound, it’s supposed to be an exciting time the 20-week ultrasound it’s the longest appointment, it’s the big anatomy scan and at first it went great – but then the doctor called. My doctor called the day of our ultrasound, so I knew that something was wrong, I knew it in my bones, and I was terrified. Sheldon was outside with our dog and I tried my best to focus on the doctor’s words, I tried to understand what he was saying, “We saw a small cleft lip on the ultrasound, it’s not that bad, but you’re going to get a call from a genetics counsellor, they’ll do another ultrasound… don’t Google.” Of course I Googled.
After a weekend of crying and waiting and too much Googling we finally went to our appointment, and despite the COVID mess of it all Sheldon was actually allowed to come with me, so fortunately I didn’t have to do it alone. We arrived bright and early before all the doors were even open for yet another ultrasound, where I asked far too many questions that the poor techs couldn’t (weren’t allowed) to answer. After the scan it was time to wait… again. So, we waited for the appointment with the genetics counsellor. The rain outside mirrored how I felt, pathetic fallacy has always been one of my favourite things, I don’t think the weather should be sunny and beautiful when I feel like crap.
Hours (what felt like years) later we walked down a long hallway and met with three doctors in a room that felt like the kind of room they use to tell you that you have an incurable disease, which I of course had to vocalize for reasons. For the next half hour they told us everything they could, the cleft lip was confirmed, but they couldn’t see if it impacted the nose because our little person likes to dance around a lot, so we’d need another ultrasound (yay!). Because in 10% of cleft cases there is an underlying genetic cause they recommended an amnio, which they will tell you (lies) feels kind of like a bad period cramp, to test for all the potential genetic issues. The first round of results from an amnio will come within 3 days, but when you’re looking for the more complex issues it can take up to 3 weeks, so after the test we knew we’d have to wait.
The second ultrasound was 2 weeks later, we still hadn’t seen genetic test results, and despite the dancing baby we were able to get some good profile images, chin and nose were both fully formed which made Pierre Robin Sequence much less likely. We confirmed that the cleft lip was small, only on one side, and for the millionth time the doctors reminded me that this wasn’t my fault, but it doesn’t matter how many times I hear that it will always feel like it is.
At 3 weeks exactly, literally to the day, they finally called, no genetic defects. The cleft lip is all that is wrong, everything else seems healthy. I cried a lot that day, I felt like a giant elephant sized weight had been lifted off my chest. But that elephant leaving me, it just created more space for the guilt and sadness I feel – our baby is healthy so I shouldn’t be upset, our baby is healthy and has a small facial defect but it’s nothing serious, our baby is healthy and all I can think about is how will their face look? Will they look strange? Will I want to take that newborn photo in that hospital or will I avoid taking pictures until after the surgery? Am I a bad mom already for thinking these things? Did I make this happen? Cleft lips are the most common birth defect, they happen to 1 in 700 babies, they are a complete fluke, it’s just nature being nature. But no matter how many times I say it’s just nature, no matter how many times the doctors say it, it’s always going to feel like I did something wrong.
So, I’m trying to read the good stories, I’m trying to remind myself that surgeons will fix the baby’s lip before they are even a year old, I’m trying to tell myself that of course I will love them, and a small cleft lip isn’t a big deal… I’m trying. It’s been 3 weeks since we found out that everything else is OK and I’m just trying to be OK too.
The baby likes to kick and dance a lot, sometimes I think that is their way of telling me that they are fine, no doubt they will be stronger and more fabulous than I am regardless of what their lip looks like for the first 3 – 4 months of their life.