I am the youngest of 3 girls. I was born in 1984 with a cleft palate; a rare birth defect caused by genetics or chemical poisoning or as google says: ‘a congenital split in the roof of the mouth’. In my home town of Coffs Harbour there are many Banana plantations that continually spray pesticides and fertiliser, unfortunately when my mum was pregnant with me these chemicals got into the town water supply and are what most likely caused my cleft palate.
Growing up was tough with this condition. By the time I was 12, I had experienced over 25 surgeries...
Coming from a small town this meant flying to Sydney for all surgeries and taking my mum away from my sisters, something that caused a great break in the family around my sister’s perception of ‘fairness’. Now 32 years, later this defect can be completely fixed 6 -12 months after birth. I am so happy that science and medicine has come this far and for all those little cleft babies being able to live beautiful lives but for me, it was a long process back then.
Growing up visually different from others and having to miss so much school with surgery, made my school years harder for me. I was bullied from an early age in primary school, my mum ensured my sisters and I all stayed together as much as we could so I would always have someone to sit with. This was a huge help until the day my sisters joined in on the bullying and they stopped protecting me.
In year 9, I was preparing for my final surgery. I was having reconstruction of my nose and was worried. My Grandfather was trying to console and support me and began to tell me of the night I was born. He said that he had arrived at the hospital with my Dad sitting outside the room crying saying that there was something terribly wrong and that “he never wanted this, didn’t want me’. My grandfather told me that at this point he had walked into the room, picked me up and vowed to be there for me no matter what. I’m sure my grandfather meant well, trying to communicate in his way that he had always been there for me, but as you can imagine, as a 13-year old girl hearing this, all I heard and tried to process was that my Dad had never wanted me – that I was not valuable as a human being. This conversation added to my walls and amour being built around trust.
Life got better in year 10. I had friends, I didn’t need any more surgeries, my sisters had left school and I was able to feel as if I could be myself without feeling so watched and controlled. I had broken contact with my father and felt that I was moving on with my life. Very mature and responsible for a 15 year old!
It wasn’t until I left school and started life as an adult that I started to realise how much I had been carrying internally. I had so many walls and guards up, I had trust issues and father issues and unrealistic expectations of myself to not fail anyone. I had relationships that were unhealthy and toxic, I let people take advantage of me and keep me in the place I thought I deserved to be. The statement my grandfather had made about my father became a statement I made mean something so much more than it ever should have, it deeply affected my self worth.
My late teens and early 20’s were filled with partying and hanging out with the wrong crowd looking for validation. By my mid 20’s I was realising this wasn’t right and I was worth more. I threw myself into my career and a better crowd. My career starting taking leaps and bounds, I became a National Training Manager, than worked my way into Operations where I was reaching goals and helping people and my career to go further. I was seen as an asset, I was needed! Being needed felt good and helped me soothe that old wound of thinking I was not valuable or worthy of being.
I was so focused and driven around providing proof of my value in the workplace that I did not manage the total unrealistic expectations I had put on myself. I was deeply fearful of letting anyone down. I refused to let these people, my colleagues ever think of me like my father or my sisters had. I wouldn’t fail or be seen as ‘less than’ at work and I pushed myself into near burn-out.
I met my husband when I was 28 years old. We met online and chatted for a month or two and finally met in person after many failed attempts. I told my sister about this man I had met and she realised she actually knew him; she told me to steer clear. At this stage my sister and nephew were my world, they were my number one priority, our eldest sister had left the family and now they were all I had left. I took this hard and almost broke things off with James. But he continued to ask that I give him a chance, I did and we went to my nephew’s birthday party together where I saw that he was a lovely person.
We continued our relationship and although I tried several times to break things off as I would get more and more scared the closer he got, James pushed me to talk to him about my feelings and what I was thinking and piece by piece took away my walls and fears of not being good enough to be loved. Day by day he wanted to show me that he wasn’t going to leave like the other men in my life.
Six months later we were living together. With the help of James and allowing myself to recognise and feel the feelings I had been holding inside, I realised I needed some help. I was diagnosed with anxiety in January 2014 and began the journey of healing it.
After seeing my mum suffer through a breakdown and depression I refused to go on daily medication, I went to psychologists instead and learned to understand the triggers that could bring on my anxiety; I was given tools and tips on how to identify these early and how to manage them in a way that medication wasn’t always needed. I had the support of my boyfriend, family and my boss and work place. I was getting my fears under control!
In late January 2014, James proposed and I said yes! This guy is the most amazing human I know. There I was, all shades of broken and he still wanted to hang around, be with me and love me for good. Over the next 14 months of planning a wedding and managing my anxiety some things got out of control. My sister and I had a falling out a few months before the wedding and we have not spoken since. Sadly, this has meant that I no longer get to see my nephew and have lost both of my sisters from my life.
The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster of so many highs and lows. I have married my soul mate, we have a home of our own, our fur family has grown, I have new in-laws that are lovely, my relationship with my mum is stronger, I have been promoted at work but I have lost contact with my sisters and nieces and nephews.
After realising I needed more help I started to look into other avenues for healing - yoga and meditation. I knew I needed a way to turn my overactive mind down and find some peace. After my first Yoga Practice I felt instantly good. Powerful even. It was tough but something amazing happened in that hot room.
At my first meditation class with Veronica I cried. It was overwhelming to be with my mind when it was calm – a mind free of self -judgement overthinking or planning. I got to experience real stillness and for the first time, I had clarity, I was able to put things in boxes and open them when I was ready, I didn’t have to bury things and jump on them to keep them down. I am now a Yogi! That’s a really cool thing to say! I practice 3-4 times a week and try to meditate every single day. I also now do not need any medication for my anxiety and can identify and manage my triggers better than ever before.
The biggest thing I have learnt is that what people in society say isn’t always true. Not every story you hear even from those closest to you is true either. People have a perception of situations from their own viewpoint and these perceptions are theirs – not for you to take on as gospel! It is important to know how you feel about life situations yourself – have your own view. Have your own journey.
What I always saw as my biggest failing is that somehow because of how I had been born I had created a family rift. My condition had scared my father, meant that most of the attention came off my older sisters and created an explosion of jealousy and neediness in those around me that I couldn’t do anything about. It saddened me that there hadn’t been a normal loving connection between us.
It has taken me a long time to be okay with that experience and accept the fact that my family unit has dissolved into having healthy space from each other. The family I grew up with has fallen apart and that’s okay, I have made a new family of my own. I understand that not all people are meant to be in your life forever. Family is not always blood, family is your tribe, your support, those who will lift you and celebrate you no matter your imperfections.
My experience of having a cleft palate has taught me a huge amount about genuine friendships and genuine love. I have learned that my value comes from being a kind warm real human being – not from proving anything, ticking off a list of tasks or what I can provide. Living with this condition has also taught me a lot about beauty. I think I am a great judge of what is truly beautiful in this world, because I always look for the deeper beauty that is so much richer than skin deep.
I look back on my 32 years and am glad for each and every scar, without them I would not be here today as I am. Each scar has added to my strength, determination and peace of being Me in all my glory – scars and all!
I have been gifted an amazing husband who sees me fully. He has helped me see and demolish my walls, with his bare hands he has helped me take down every brick one by one and helped the person inside those walls stand in her own beauty. I am immensely glad that I have him walking with me with so much gentle kindness and love. In order to keep a love like that though, you have to do the work within yourself. Accepting yourself helps you truly accept love. Love comes from a well within and sometimes you have to stir up that water - see all the sludge and loneliness beneath and wrap that sad You in your own arms so she can finally heal for good!
I am grateful for my life and am excited about where it is leading me next.