Overcoming something I knew nothing about growing up. I knew I was different somehow by the response of others after I spoke. To me, I sounded normal but lunchtime at school was a different story. I remember once when my milk came out my nose at age five. Embarrassing it was, kids were so mean and they just didn’t understand. From this point on, I had special classes at my middle school, speech therapy was the name of it. I couldn’t understand why I was in it, but I had no choice. Then after my school activities, I had speech therapy where I was dragged by my mom to be put in this special room for the hearing test. Somehow all this only made me stronger mentally and physically. It was a routine every day and I just became used to it.
By the age of eight, I had my first surgery. “Alright, guys, this is it, this will fix her cleft.” I remember hearing that from the Doctor. We did it one summer so I wouldn’t be affected at school. Stitches all down my throat, I couldn’t speak so I had no voice for a while. That didn’t matter because I knew during the next school year, things we’re going to change for me. Well, that’s what I thought. I remember swallowing something that didn’t seem right. The surgery was a failure, my palate collapsed. I was beyond disappointed and embarrassed to return to school knowing I sounded the same. With amazing support from friends and family, I only would stand taller than before. I accepted it and knew I was meant to have this. From this point, I would just share information about my cleft to others and now I did know how to overcome obstacles in my life.
It was time for high school and oh I was beyond afraid because everyone was different. Did they know about me? Would they make fun of me? I just embraced it and carried on. Another choice I had would be braces with a palate separator. I agreed because everyone had braces and maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal. Until one day I read about a beauty pageant coming up in a small town close by. I told my parents I wanted to do it! I would share my story and maybe everyone would finally understand. I stood on stage one November night in front about 300 people and told them I was born with a cleft palate, and I was not going to ever let that stop me from being successful. Then just like that, I was named Miss Jr. Teen of Baton Rouge! I was on top of the world! I overcame my shyness and spoke for the first time in front of a large crowd. It didn’t matter after this moment that I was different. I was proud! CleftProud as I would call it! Any child who is afraid because of a Cleft Lip and Palate or another birth defect has no reason to be! We were all made special and I hope everyone can remember that!
Author: Randi Attuso