Thursday, July 14, 2011

Conflicted Feelings About Surgery

When people first see Veronica, they usually ask if and when her lip will be repaired. I can't blame them. Whenever anyone has a medical condition, people are always eager to have modern medicine fix the situation. Before we got her, I intended to have her lip repaired as soon as the doctor recommended and we will. Her surgery is already scheduled for the end of September (to allow for a couple months of adjustment and additional bonding time).

I hadn't anticipated feeling conflicted about it.

When my other children were born, I studied their little faces intently. I looked over their hands and feet, the shape of their heads, the creases in their wrists. I watched their expressions - the way their eyes crinkled before crying, the pursing of their lips as they dreamed of eating. I felt compelled to commit every detail to memory.

Now I am doing the same with Veronica. I want to study every part of her. And the longer I look, the more I love what I see. And the sadder I will be to see it go.

Obviously surgery to repair her cleft lip and palate are necessary. I do want her to have clear speech, an easier time eating, and the ability to go out without people staring at her (other than because she is so cute). But the decision isn't the emotionally conflict-free situation I thought it would be.

I am sure she will be just as cute after her surgery as she is now, but I have fallen in love with her cleft smile. That cute little gap in her lip and gumline makes her smile look even wider. I have confidence that her surgeon will do a great job, but I think about the beautiful face God gave her, the face I fell in love with, and know it will change forever. This isn't a gradual change like the way friends get a few crinkles by their eyes or the way a young child's face morphs into a big kid face when they get their top grown-up teeth in. It will be a sudden change. All of you who know me know that I am not great with change.

And as I look at my daughter, I know that her cleft is the reason she is my daughter. My husband and I specifically joined the Waiting Child program because we knew we could handle a few extra medical quirks along the way. Had Veronica not had this small difference, she would not have been our child. That makes it even a little harder to let go of this visible difference of what helped make us a family.

Let me reiterate and be perfectly clear: I am glad we are able to provide the surgery for her. I know I will fall in love with her changed face. But it will be bittersweet, too.

Am I the only one who has felt this way?


Jamie and Brian said...

No! You are not the only one who has felt this way, we have the same attachments to Lydia's birthmark. Will her life be easier once it's gone? Yes. Will people stop staring and pointing and asking questions? Yes. When she was born, and as it started growing, I couldn't wait to see it fade away... but now, as it is fading, I'm starting to miss it, and will miss it when it's totally gone.

Kristin said...

Jamie - Thanks. I can tell you understand what I mean. I realize the logistical benefits of surgery (without which, she will never have completely intelligible speech)but she looks so perfect to me. I'll admit, the first few days the cleft is what I noticed most when I looked at Veronica. Now, when I see people looking, I sometimes forget why they take a second look.

Kathy C. said...

I loved my Jasmine's cleft smile. Other people would gawk but who cares??? She was an infant so didn't notice. It was hard taking her through the surgery and having a whole different smile. She had a cleft palate too.

Football and Fried Rice said...

I love that you love Veronica exactly "where she's at" - she is perfect!

I have a friend who has several special needs Chinese children. One day, her kids were watching her surf blogs and they came across a little guy with an unprepared cleft. And they asked their mama if he was special needs? They couldn't "see" his lip - it did not define him in their eyes - so sweet!

We feel the same way about Mya's scar. It's not as obvious, but from time to time she gets asked about it. And for us, it totally serves as a reminder that the only reason she's ours is because of that scar.

Alyson and Ford said...

What a beautiful post, you are a great Momma!

Alyzabeth's Mommy

The Drinkwaters said...


Saw your recent comment on the Yahoo Cleft group and decided to check out your blog.

I also, felt very similar feelings as you are now. I still miss my daughter's "wide open smile" but am falling in love with her new smile as well.

One thing I am very happy we did was go to get some nice pictures taken before her surgery. I treasure these "before" pictures, and it wasn't expensive - we just went to the local Wal Mart to have them taken.

Also, I love your most recent post of your freezer! I need to get back to being that organized!

nicole said...

I too saw your blog on the adopt cleft yahoo group. I know exactly what you mean! My son although had his lip and palate repaired in China needed to have a nose revision this past summer. I was so conflicted with this decision. I knew it would be better for him, but I loved his little nose just the way it was. He's still adorable, but before surgery I would just stare at him because I was so worried that I wouldn't remember how he looked before surgery.

The Wanderers' Daughter said...

Came here through the adoptcleft group, and it's so funny...I have to tell you that I posted almost exactly this same post just before our first cleft surgery. I felt EXACTLY the same. Her huge smile was the most beautiful thing about her, and I was afraid that all the surgery and stitching and scar tissue would take away that huge, wide smile. I was afraid it would take away something that was essentially "her". I really was reluctant to have the surgery done in the last few days. And I can also tell you that after three surgeries I am STILL reluctant for the next surgery each time. Also, I should tell you that even my mother wanted to cover the cleft in her pictures with a finger so as to imagine her without it, and I felt so insulted by that. But, ultimately...that first surgery did not take away her beautiful smile. She still has it in spades.

Lou and KIm said...

Kristin, Ben,

How are you? It's Lou and Kim your buddies from Guangzhou with Leila. I've keeping up with you on your blog and following Veronica's progress in her new home. Looks like everything is going along great for you and all your children. Leila is getting along great with her new family, she loves her big brother, grandma and her 2 crazy beagles. There are several girls close to her age here in our neighborhood who are also adopted from China.

We saw a cleft palate specialist recently and expect to do the repair in the next few months. We'll need to see a pediatric ENT to see if he thinks she might need tubes in her ears. After that we can schedule her surgery. It's all kind of scary, and we've been prepared for it. But surgery is always unnerving...we went through it with our son and it's no easier. We are so happy with this new child running around our home and you must be as well. We hope for nothing but the best for you and your family.

Lou, Kim, Mike, & Leila