I wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who came to my Family Fun Day at Color Me Mine and supported my efforts to raise funds and awareness for Operation Smile. It meant so much to me to see our community come together and support such a deserving cause. I did not have a chance to total up the donations until today, only to find that we were able to raise a whopping $4331.10 for the cause! It’s amazing what can happen when a community gets together to make a difference. And I am grateful for every person who walked through the door and supported Operation Smile
One family that came out to support the cause specifically because cleft palates and cleft lips have left an imprint on their lives, left an imprint on me and I am especially grateful for their presence. In all my years in fundraising for Operation Smile, I had never had an attendee be affected by the cause, until now. Natasha Meller and her sweet oldest daughter joined me to paint on the Family Fun Day and shared with me what it is like to be a child who grew up with a cleft, the daughter of a parent with a cleft and now the parent to a daughter with a cleft.
We were lucky to have a chance to chat when the event was slowing down and her and I were the only two participants left in the studio. I was so ecstatic to speak directly with someone so affected. To sympathize with a patient is one thing, but to finally connect emotion with my passion to help others took my devotion to the cause to another level that day. I and Natasha would like to share and educate about what it is like being born and being a mother to a child with a cleft.
She told me about her father first, who has had a total of 21 surgeries to date. How difficult it was, children teasing him about his obvious facial differences. The amount of time spent with doctors, in appointments and travelling back and forth to make sure he had the proper care to live as normal as possible. Science and medicine had not come so far in his time and there wasn’t a sufficient amount of information to help him adequately and efficiently the way we do now.
I was very curious about Natasha and how she felt growing up. You would look at Natasha and never think that she was born with a cleft. Not only because her soft eyes and beautiful blonde hair take your eyes to her beauty, but also because her personality is what shines the most. She described growing up some what as a difficulty. Parents don’t often inform their children of what others are possibly born with. Or that children born with deformities are still absolutely normal and should not be bullied or looked at as though they are different in a negative way. But Natasha never allowed herself to be phased by other people’s views. She felt as though she grew up with an extra boost of resilience. And you can tell when you sit with her. She is confident, bright and kind!
After chatting for quite sometime she revealed that her husband and her believe it is very imperative to come out and support events that speak about clefts. Letting people know that there is nothing necessarily that you did wrong if your child is born with a deformity. 1 in 2500 children will be born with a cleft. Sometimes it is genetically predisposed if you were born with a cleft, and other times it is a rare occurrence without much reasoning. But Natasha and I both clicked on one very specific notion, people need to speak about it more. And not just about how it is affecting countries around the world and their youth, but how it is affect us right here in North America.
Finding out that your baby has a cleft lip and/or palate can be a shock for parents and the ongoing experience may be emotional. There can be many challenges for new parents in this situation including feelings of guilt, post-natal depression, getting used to the way your baby looks, and issues with feeding and treatment for the cleft. For Natasha, she said that she is certain that she went through post-natal depression. Not only having her daughter during the wildfire evacuation, but also travelling down for multiple trips to Calgary for checkups and appointments. The stress of a newborn is often a blissful storm but for a parent with a child born with a cleft, they face many obstacles. Infants are not as likely to eat regularly or enough, infections are more likely and immune systems of the little ones are sometimes compromised.
Natasha had to bandage up her baby girl’s sweet face to ensure that it would form correctly multiple times a day. The photos of her daughter smiling even through the bandages are something to melt the coldest of hearts. You can only imagine how difficult it must have been to repeatedly wrap up your perfect little new being. Only to make them cry every time you are trying to aid them in the long run.
Natasha shared that she feels like an incredibly strong mom, and that she wishes parents would be more open and speak up when they are curious and include their children in the conversation. Myself, a person who is an advocate for inclusion in our youth these days, I couldn’t agree more. It can only make our youth more compassionate and educated overall.
The one thing that Natasha wants for her daughter to grow up with is tenacity. She doesn’t want her daughter to ever limit herself because of a cleft. If anything, she wants her to grow up to be like her. Confident and strong in her values.
Walking Natasha and her oldest daughter out of the studio, I knew that I was in the right place in my life. We need to be open with our youth and show them that in their own right, every one is normal. Whatever that normal truly means, but eventually I would like normal to mean compassionate, kind and confident in treating one another with respect and support. Operation Smile has made such a impact on not only the lives of children around the world, but now myself and the Meller family.
If you would like to donate to Operation Smile, you can click the link below: