The following essays written by teenagers are excerpted from the Cleft Palate Foundation’s new publication “As You Get Older: Information for Teens Born with Clefts.” For a free copy of this brochure, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being a teenager is hard enough on its own. Being a teenager born with a cleft lip and palate obviously has its own added set of frustrations and concerns. For me, the thing that’s been harder than the surgeries, braces, and speech troubles is my outlook on how all this affects who I am and how I feel about myself. Friendships and relationships are a big part of being a teenager, and I often wonder how my cleft lip and palate affect the way people see me. I have learned over time (though it is still sometimes easy to forget) that the effect is actually very little.
Being born with a cleft lip and palate has played a huge role in my life. It has shaped who I am today and given me strength for the difficult situations that life puts in front of me. I have endured more surgeries (all before age 21!) than what most people will have in their whole lives.
Several of the major surgeries were during my teenage years, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because of all the love and attention I received from family and friends, making our relationships a lot stronger. I also got to skip many days of school—yeah!! However, it has also been a major source of sorrow and frustration.
As a teenager, a kid tries to fit into the normal high school life, but that is a little hard to do when you stand out by having a noticeable scar on your lip. People call you names because they are ignorant to what you are going through.
Remember that the same thing happens to any person who is a little different than the rest of the students. Their teasing got worse if they saw me getting angry, so I chose to ignore them. At times it was very frustrating when kids would say the same thing every day. I lost some self-confidence and became very self-conscious about my scar. And my dating life in high school was practically non-existent.
My main regret is that I never talked to anyone at the time about what was bothering me. As I look back, I wish I had talked more to my parents about it instead of pretending things were fine so I would not worry them. I also wish that instead of ignoring the kids who teased me, I could have educated them about what the scar was. There was no reason for me to be so embarrassed about my scar!
My main advice is to value your family and friends very much. They are the most important people in your life, and they will help you get through anything. Talk to them about what is bothering you, no matter if it happened ten years ago or just today. That approach helps me in every aspect of my life.
I think being born with a cleft and having to deal with a scar on my face has given me character. As I said, it has shaped who I am and how I go about solving issues in my professional and personal life. Everyone goes through tough times, and each person’s struggles are a little different. As someone once told me, “God hands each person different challenges. The most difficult ones are left for the special few, so consider yourself lucky.”
In elementary school I was teased quite a bit. It hurt just thinking about getting ready for school sometimes, and it was really hard trying to handle all of this before the age of 12. When it got to be too much, I finally asked my mom what exactly I was born with and why I was “different.” She and I talked for a long time, and she made sure that I understood everything about my cleft lip and palate.
I really wanted to know how to make the teasing stop, so this is what she told me. “Every time someone starts to make fun of your cleft lip and palate, ask them if they have a question about it.” Well, the next day, the kids made their usual comments, but this time I was ready. I turned around and confronted them, and I asked, “Do you have a question about my lip?” They didn’t expect me (quiet and shy as I was) to say anything back to them at all. So, to my surprise, they started to ask questions about what happened and why I looked different.
They were not expecting me to be able to answer them, but I did, and gradually the teasing stopped. By the time all of my surgeries were done, no one in high school could even tell that I was born with a defect. I am so thankful for all the amazing doctors and nurses who helped me!
People will judge you if they want to, but they are the ones with the problem. If you have a talent for something, people will notice you positively. They will realize that there is no reason to judge or tease at all.
When I think of myself, I see the gifts that I have been given: my talents for singing and dancing, my patience, the physical features that I like about myself, and the life that I have been blessed with. I also see the not-so-great things about myself, like the less-than-desirable personality traits I sometimes have and the physical traits I really believe I could do without. Somewhere in between the good and the bad things is the fact that I was born with a cleft lip and palate. To be honest, I don’t know if I should include it with the good, the bad, or both! It’s a part of what defines me…but only a part.
The people most important to me in my life, like my friends and family, are the people I’ve allowed to know all of me. I have learned how important it is not to worry about what people see and don’t see, or even what they think of what they see. This is who I am, and there are obviously people who like me this way!
Being born with a cleft lip and palate has actually been a positive experience in some ways, even though it didn’t always seem like it. I like to live by the quote that says, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” This attitude has slowly helped me to see the positive qualities I’ve developed as a result of my experiences. It isn’t always easy, wondering what decisions to make and having all sorts of weird dental appliances and facial surgeries that most people don’t have to endure. But if you stop to think about the positive things that have come out of it—and you will find some—then the experience becomes a lot easier to accept.
I think one of the biggest things that has helped me is the age-old, simple yet effective method of talking to others about it. I have been very fortunate to know people of many ages who were born with cleft lip and palate. The adults have eased my fears about the future, serving as role models for me. The kids have given me a chance to be a role model myself, which is another positive result of having this condition. Fears and worries and concerns will inevitably creep up, but they can be overcome with a positive outlook and by talking it out.
It’s funny how even though doctors fix our clefts before we are even two years old, the effects stay with us for the rest of our lives. I, for one, am always consciously aware of what I was born with. But I think that’s OK! I see it as something that has sometimes been a big pain, sometimes isn’t so bad, and sometimes is even sort of positive. Like I said, it’s a part of me, and that’s that!
Last Updated: Jul 24, 2006