When Chris and I got married, we always knew we were going to have children. After several complications, we finally had a successful pregnancy. We had all of the emotions, ranging from excited to scared. We had many early ultrasounds showing that our baby was growing and healthy. At our 20 week ultrasound, our doctor told us they discovered a cleft lip and palate, however, everything else looked great. Initially I thought, okay, cleft lip and palate, no big deal. We definitely went through a grieving process but quickly considered ourselves lucky given that there are so many other birth defects out there. We met with a perinatologist who confirmed a unilateral cleft lip and palate. Over the next few weeks we researched treatments, before and after pictures and other family stories.
On January 20, 2007 our beautiful son Brennan was born by cesarean birth. The neonatal intensive care unit was available to make sure his airway and breathing were okay. After being given the all clear by doctors, Chris was able to hold him and show him to me. Brennan had a difficult time learning how to suck (as many newborns do), but once he figured out the Haberman nipple, he didn’t look back. When he was four days old we took our first visit to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We met his surgeon, Dr. Jensen, and his two nurses, Peggy and Maria. They recommended that he would be a good candidate for a taping technique that would stretch his lip and help shape his nose. We met weekly with Dr. Hansen, the orthodontist who oversees that procedure. Brennan did NOT like to have his tape changed daily and we didn’t like having to make him cry, but we knew it was for the best. We were very excited to see how the taping changed the shape of his lip and how it would make his surgery more successful.
We felt like we were in a race preparing for his cleft lip surgery. The daily taping and weekly visits to Milwaukee (a two hour drive one way) were intense. The taping covered a lot of his face and we wanted to “see” our beautiful boy. As the surgery day approached, we started to get nervous. We tried to prepare ourselves for the emotions we were about to face, but we had no idea what to expect. His surgery was very successful. Even though Brennan was very healthy and did not have any ear infections we had tubes placed in his ears as a precaution. His ENT said he did not see any fluid in Brennan’s ears, which was great to hear. His lip surgery went smoothly. He was in surgery about two and a half hours. We felt very helpless during the first day of his recovery. I am sure Brennan was confused and didn’t know what was happening. All we could do was to hold him and comfort him. We were physically and emotionally exhausted that first day. By evening, Brennan started to coo and we knew we would all be okay.
We are both amazed at how quickly Brennan recovered and how his lip is now healing. Within a day, the swelling decreased significantly. After a couple of weeks the redness subsided. We are now massaging his lip to decrease the look and feel of the scar. We are able to enjoy our son and watch his personality develop. We meet with Dr. Jensen in a few months to start discussing his palate surgery which should happen around January of next year. After that we don’t know what the future will hold for him, medically. A lot depends on how his teeth come in and how his jaw grows. We are very confident in his cleft team and know that he is getting the best care!
Thank you for letting us share our story with you,
Chris, Tina and Brennan Helmer
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Last Updated: Aug 30, 2007