A Broken and Beautiful Smile

July is Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month...I only missed but a few weeks

Sometimes in the business of life, I forget about the marvelous adventure my family is taking, I find it comforting to take a chance to reflect on the amazing progress that has already been completed. But the adventure continues and it is beautiful but it is  also hard…no, it’s excruciatingly hard…to contemplate what will be happening in the future-but it’s part of the journey…hers and ours. We are grateful for that.

Sometime, in the early stages of our adoption journey, my husband and I had to make the difficult decision as to what special need child files we would be open to review. With the average wait of 6 years and climbing for  “healthy” girls from China, the special needs program offered a shorter wait and often included very minor or correctable needs.

After much prayer we listed the needs we felt we could manage and waited for God to put his plan into action. Flash forward about 6 months and we received that highly anticipated phone call and email file! As I gazed at that beautiful face I noticed her big brown eyes and smooth skin, her adorable ears and her gentle hands…I did not even notice her unrepaired unilateral complete cleft…it just did not matter, she was our baby.

Our Princess was 20 months old and living in the remote mountains of Northern China.

But what is a cleft palate/lip?  A cleft is a gap in the mouth that didn’t close during the early stages of pregnancy, and this kind of birth defect happens more often than you may realize. It is estimated that, worldwide, a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft — about one in 500-750 births. Sometimes a cleft condition can be easy to see because it’s an opening in the lip. Sometimes it’s harder to tell if someone has a cleft because it’s an opening in the roof of their mouth (called the palate.)


There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of birth defects. While some causes are still unknown, genetics and family history, pre-existing medical conditions, poor nutrition and exposure to harmful environmental substances can affect the healthy development of a baby. As a result, these factors could also be the cause of a baby born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. We will never know why it happened, but we will never know where her outstanding fine motor skills and dimples came from either…and that’s OK.

Our Princess after we met her in China, already charming her Mama and Baba

Cleft lip and cleft palate can be repaired through a series of surgeries and orthondontics.  While it can be corrected, it really is not an “easy fix”…despite what you may see in Operation Smile advertising.   Our brave girl has had 3 major surgeries and some pretty extensive speech therapy with quite a few more surgeries in her future…continuing into her young adulthood.


Her first surgery at Johns Hopkins

She is a spunky bright little girl who charms everyone she meets. She is opinionated and sassy with a flair for the dramatic. Her empathy has no limits. She is our joy and we are humbled and honored that God has entrusted her into our care. It really is a miracle.

Our sweet is 7 already and very ready for school to start!

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22 thoughts on “A Broken and Beautiful Smile

  1. Our daughter also had a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate. She’s now 41, with 2 girls of her own. We have 5 grandchildren, no more clefts! We joined a parent support group for Cleft lip and palate and found it helped SO much. I still have Christmas lunch with 3 of the other Mums, we met more than 40 years ago! We have 13 grandchildren between us.

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    1. I love my support and adoption groups. I especially love to see the beautiful pictures of the teens in our groups, near the end of their journey. It is difficult at times but so worth it.

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  2. Thank you and your family for sharing so much good information about cleft lip and palate. Your daughter is beautiful inside and out. Wishing you joy as your journey continues.

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  3. I saw your link on the Oh My Heartsie Girls link up. Your daughter is a beautiful girl! I recently had a loved one born with cleft lip. We are grateful for medical science, but beyond that so grateful he is in the family!

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    1. It is a beautiful journey. I do worry about the surgeries and related care but we would do anything for our Princess. Cleft moms soon find out their sweet kiddos are blessed with an abundance of courage, grace and gumption.

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  4. Thank you for sharing a beautiful story. My husband was born with a cleft lip and thanks to surgery most people don’t even realize he ever had one. Your daughter is a blessing and I hope she enjoys the new school year.

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    1. It is almost magical what can be done now, we start orthodontics this year but most of her classmates will have braces eventually so it will be so normal for her. She is a true beauty inside and outside.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your family’s story, and the journey you and your little one are going through. Your post will really help others to understand what cleft palate actually is and how it can be corrected, and I know it will encourage others undertaking a similar journey. I am so happy that God brought you all together into a wonderful happy family. Blessings to you all, and thank you for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party community!

    Liked by 1 person

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