Tears well up in my eyes every time I mention anything related to my cleft lip and palate. It’s too personal as it’s my biggest insecurity and, what I believe to be, the cause of my social anxiety.
When I was born and the doctors explained to my mother about my condition, she barely had a reaction.
“Oh” was her response.
In fact, she was so chill about the whole situation that the doctor ‘took his hat off’ to her for handling it so well. To top it off, I also inherited her droopy eyelids (and later on my father’s poor eyesight!).
Despite my appearance, I was completely adored by my maternal grandparents and aunts/uncles as I was the first niece/grandchild within that household of seven people. At that point, my father hadn’t met me yet as he was in another country but until then, I received plenty of love!
Growing up I was never made to feel different regardless of all the operations and constant hospital appointments – that was just my reality and I dealt with it. I genuinely believed that people had one big nostril and one smaller one! It never occurred to me that I looked or sounded different.
In secondary school when all the other girls would complain about their insecurities I would be the one who’d remain quiet. I didn’t want to broadcast my hatred for my raised upper lip and ugly nose nor did I want people to feel sympathetic for me or think to themselves, ‘she’s right to feel insecure about that’. So therefore, I never had the courage to ever talk about my cleft to anyone. I’m hoping to change that, though.
My speech was one of the biggest hurdles. I still have troubles pronouncing the letter ‘S’ which means it can be difficult pronouncing my own name; even after years of speech therapy, it’s still a little tricky. I’ve developed severe anxiety when it comes to introductions. It can be a humiliating experience when you can’t even say your own name right. I remember the days where I would sit in my room, repeating my name over and over, practicing different ways of saying it. Sometimes I give up completely – “Naheema?” “Natheema” “Nashima” Uh, yeah that’ll do. Though there are those rare moments when someone actually does get it right and it’s a pleasant surprise.
I had the all famous jaw reconstructive surgery at age 12. It was the worst experience ever and it changed my life. Before that I never once questioned ‘why’ regarding my defect, but when I was lying in my bed in pain I mentally cried out, “WHY was I born with this??’ – It was the first time and the last.
My last surgery was a cosmetic one, having rhinoplasty and redoing my lip. Initially I put a lot of hope into this surgery, I believed that, in a way, all my hopes of looking ‘normal’ would come true. Even though my cleft features are still visible, I look much better than before and it has made me more confident. I’m not afraid to wear bold lipsticks, I even ventured into the purple shades and now I’m toying with the idea of a nose ring to help even out my nose. I was never as daring before.
Sometimes I do wonder what my life would have been like without it. Would I look that much different, would I have been a more confident person? Either way, I have been fortunate enough to have had a wonderful childhood and been given opportunities that so many people in this world do not have. I believe it’s far more important to focus on the blessings in your life and to not be weighed down by negativity. We all have bad days in terms of self-confidence but sometimes there can be good days too.
I’ll always be a little different and so what? My scar adds some quirkiness to my face, I own it with pride and so should you.
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