What if you were challenged by the very thing you despised most about yourself? The one thing that unnerved you, you’ve tried to escape, tried to push away and distance yourself from? The reason you’ve felt rejected, lonely, isolated & unloved during childhood & adolescence? A flaw which holds so much bitterness & resentment, it’s ugliness bubbled to the surface, and forced you to finally acknowledge it. I have. And this is my story.
I’m Helenka, the first born child to middle-class, country parents. I was born with a unilateral cleft lip & palate. My mother will unashamedly tell you that I was sent to destroy her vision for a perfect family. My father would blame my mother’s exposure to radiation whilst working as a dental nurse. Regardless, I’m sure my birth defect was confronting and frightening for two people ill-prepared for the facial deformity which would afflict their baby girl
Growing up, life was pretty confusing and lonely at times. I didn’t have a single friend to sit with at primary school until year 3. Kids knew I was different and avoided me at all costs. I was relentlessly bullied and teased and would often go home crying, or worse, emotionally shut-down. My mother would put the fear of God into anyone who mistreated me. I’d often hear her screaming into the phone receiver to a parent who’s child called me names that day. Yet in the same breath my mother would often delight in recalling the times strangers would peer into my pram and ‘recoil in horror’ as they looked at my face. Or the times she’d tell me that she was cheated in life because she ‘never got to have the perfect girl.’ As a 5 year old child I remember being told these stories and apologising to her for the person I was. Can you imagine, being a child & apologising for being born less than perfect? Can you imagine being punished by the one person who’s meant to love you unconditionally, for something you had no control over? My mother- my greatest defender and yet paradoxically, my biggest bully.
Despite my challenging childhood & adolescence I think my greatest attribute is my resilience. I often joke that I have the resilience of a cockroach escaping nuclear war. As much as words hurt, I’ve never let anyone’s opinion prevent me from creating the life I wanted or deserved. I moved away from that little country town the day finished high school. At 21 I decided to get plastic surgery to correct the shape of my nose. I dyed my hair, lost weight, tanned my skin & bought pretty clothes. I even joined a Sydney promotions company which paid promo-girls to attend parties & mingle with all the beautiful people. I’ve lived in big cities, I’ve travelled the world. I graduated from university and became a Registered Nurse. I dedicated myself to my craft, specialised in cardiothoracic anaesthetic nursing and even appeared on TV! Yet I consider my greatest accomplishment in life is marrying my soul mate & creating a family. I was so far removed from the isolated, lonely little country girl as I could possibly get.
Before starting a family my husband and I decided to undertake genetic counselling to determine the probability of passing on a cleft to our children. We learnt that while my genes made it more of a possibility than the non-affected population, the chances were still relatively small. So with that in mind we went full-steam ahead with making babies! Our precious little girl Isla was born the following year, unaffected by the cleft gene. Fourteen months after Isla was born we decided to try again for another baby. We fell pregnant relatively easy, but the pregnancy was fraught with complications from the beginning. We enjoyed 2 short weeks of sharing the special news with close family. However I started bleeding on Christmas Day and miscarried shortly afterward. But with my betaHCG still rising it was discovered I’d conceived twins, with twin A implanting in my uterus & twin B implanting at the base of my ovary/ top of my Fallopian tube. I was rushed to theatre for an emergency salpingectomy (removal of Fallopian tube) dilatation and curettage. My specialist performed tests on my remaining Fallopian tube & found that it was irreparably blocked. He told us the devastating news that we’d never conceive again naturally, and we’d require IVF assistance to complete our family. Imagine my surprise when we fell pregnant naturally, the very next month…
We were so delighted at the impending arrival of our ‘miracle baby’ that the ‘cleft issue’ was the last thing on my mind. And yet at 19 weeks we found ourselves in the sonographer’s suite staring at the black and white image in front of us when I noticed your cleft. I’m ashamed to admit, I cried. I cried, sobbed, and grieved. Every single of memory of loneliness, isolation, bullying, teasing, rejection, and lovelessness came bubbling to the surface. I never wanted any of my children to have the childhood I had- as a mother I think it’s quite natural to want to give your children better in life. And here I was, unable to escape my past any longer by trying to change the person I was. No amount of tanning, pretty clothes, blonde hair, education or travel was going to change the fact that I was hurt, and needed healing. Your birth would challenge me, shake me to my very core, and force me to face every fear I’ve ever had about myself.
You came kicking and screaming into this world on Monday 05/12/16 at 12pm (on the dot). A perfectly healthy, robust, precious little boy. A little boy born with a unilateral cleft lip & partial palate. You were the final piece of the puzzle in what was an incredibly long journey fraught with loss, infertility and grief. And yet here you were, in my arms and in my heart, and part of our family- just the way God intended. My miracle baby was exactly that, a miracle. Ive come to accept that your cleft diagnosis had nothing to do with the way I felt about you, and everything to do with the way I felt about myself. God had seen the hurt and rejection in my heart & sent you to me, to learn to grieve, reflect, accept, and let the past go. Today was a new day and your life will have a new story.
To my precious darling boy, Flynn. You are everything I ever hoped for and more. You are the image of perfection. From the minute you drew breath you were heaven sent. A calm, happy, ‘zen’ little baby. You’ve enriched my life in more ways than you could ever imagine, given me purpose in life, and filled every inch of my heart. As a flawed human being I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know as long as I walk this earth I’ll always hold your hand & guide you through this life. You’ll never be alone in this journey. And in loving you, I hope to learn to love me too…
‘Love the Perfectly Imperfect You.’ – Nick Vujicic.