Glancing around the whitewashed room, I attempted to gather my bearings while my stomach started to twist and churn into malicious knots. I was sitting on my mother’s lap as she talked to my nurse. They didn’t notice I was awake, however, until I managed to throw up all over the nurse’s blue scrubs. This wasn’t my first surgery, but it is one of my first memories of a surgery. I was five.
I would have several more surgeries over the course of my life. Other than the inconvenience of not being able to run around and play, having surgeries when I was small was not very burdensome. The most significant of my procedures occurred before I turned a year old; thus I have no recollection of the pain. From those I can remember, I cannot recollect the severity of the pain, or any pain at all. Quite frankly, I recall liking the process: what more could a little girl ask for than presents and attention? Plus, being pushed in a wheelchair around the hospital was simply exhilarating.
It was not until I got older that the toll of being born with a cleft lip and palate started to tax me. By fifth grade, I started to become insecure about my looks. My classmates started to care about their appearances, and I just felt disappointed when I looked in the mirror: a crooked, unaligned nose, unusual teeth, and a scar that seemed to stand out above everything else.
Part of this insecurity came from realizing that I did not look like everyone else: no TV ads or highway billboards used people with even the most minor of facial deformities. More so, though, it came from nonchalant comments, questioning why my nose or lip looked different.
The worst thing anyone ever said to me about my facial difference came from an anonymous note. It read, “your face is fat and demented.” To this day, I can still see the note plainly in my head. This mean comment was left without warning, and to this day makes me question if I can ever truly be pretty. I came of age with my biggest insecurity displayed plainly across my face. I hated it.
My sixth grade teacher was one of my favorites throughout all of my schooling. He encouraged my passion for writing, often talked to my class about real world issues and told me I was capable of success as a student. Out of all the thought-provoking talks he gave us, I remember this one the most: when God finished creating us, he pressed his thumb to create the philtrum, or small divot in the center of the upper lip, to give us life. I still can feel the hot tears I tried desperately to blink away that day. I remember thinking to myself that I was not complete and unlovable. I was not even sure if I believed in a greater power, but I questioned myself nonetheless: “Why did God mess me up?”