on having a child with a cleft lip

Today I’m going to write about cleft lips.

This is a difficult post to write. Things I’ve been wrestling with for months. Each time I’ve sat down before to write this, I end up closing my computer. This post, these thoughts are from a mother’s perspective. I don’t know how my daughter will feel as she grows regarding being born with a cleft lip and palate. I’ve watched tons and tons of YouTube videos and read blogs of teenagers that share about their experience with clefts. So much insight for me. I am so grateful for all those teenagers that are bravely sharing their struggles, pains and joys. Their words are a gift to me.

But this post isn’t about what it is like to be born with a cleft. I don’t know what that is like.

This post is about what it is like to have a child with a cleft. What the eyes of a mom sees. What the heart of a mom feels.
Me and my girl a couple days after we met.  I was in total bliss and a bit in shock that she was actually in my arms.


It wasn’t long before I felt the stares of others. Everywhere we went. Stares. Whispers. Pointing. Some physically using their finger to push up on their own upper lip so as to mimic my sweet baby’s lips. The streets were crowded and at times the stares were suffocating.  I don’t like attention (a minor problem when you are a blond American in China!). I prefer to blend in with the crowds. I tried to focus on the joy of my girl in my arms instead of letting anger build over how others responded to her. To us.

Our oldest two boys were with us in China and I knew they were watching it all. Taking it all in. My oldest still vividly remembers sitting at a restaurant for dinner. Little One got upset so I took her outside. After I left, he looked up to see a couple of waitresses making fun of his little sister. That experience marked him.

The boys were learning from us how to handle the attention and the unkind responses. I was so aware of the boys watching and my girl picking up on my emotions. I remember often whispering in her ear that we would be brave together. We would walk with our heads held high despite the stares and whispers. Despite the gasps. No matter how much we wanted to hide ourselves away, we would not let others rob our joy. Though I whispered in her ear, really the words were for me.

Eventually we arrived back in the US. I remember when the plane touched down in Chicago, hoping things would be different. Hoping for less stares. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. My heart was sick. It was hard. The stares, the comments, the whispers all remained. I will always be thankful for the incredible friends and family we had greeting us at the airport when finally arrived home. They became our support and our safe places. They saw our daughter, not her cleft. They celebrated her and us. They are beautiful people. I am also so thankful for all of you – this online community – that showered us with excitement and support, that loved my daughter and were captivated by her too.

However, when we weren’t in our ‘safe places’ the stares remained.

Those first couple of months home were very hard in regards to watching how others responded to my girl. I would waver between anger and sadness. I just wanted everyone to see my beautiful daughter and it felt like so many could not get past that her lip looked different than theirs. Sometimes I wanted to scream. Sometimes I wanted to cry. Sometimes I wanted to say something I shouldn’t. I wrote about all those emotions in an earlier post.

Eventually I just moved on. I still felt the stares and heard the whispers, but I just didn’t dwell on it. I moved on and we had a new normal. I could predict the places we’d go and get more stares than normal. I learned that there were those that were just downright terrible regarding how they viewed my daughter’s cleft. I also learned that there were those that weren’t sure how to respond or how to talk to us. They would kindly comment on how cute Little One’s shoes were or how her headband was adorable, but not how cute SHE was or how adorable SHE was. It was a big change. I’ve been through motherhood four times before and usually people comment about how cute the baby is and then maybe how cute an accessory is. I soon realized the most people just didn’t know what to say. After all, we life in a world that defines beauty in certain ways and sometimes it is hard to see beauty where the masses do not.

But I saw beauty. Just like her four older siblings, she captivated me. Her big cleft smile completely changed me.

We had four months together before her lip repair surgery. I adored her face, her lips, her smile, the funny way she’d stick her tongue in and out of her cleft. Going into surgery I knew the face I saw when I closed my eyes would soon be very different. Despite all the heartache involving how others viewed her, I just ached and mourned the loss of the beautiful face I knew. Don’t get me wrong, we wanted the surgery for a million reasons and knew it was in her best interest. But that doesn’t change the sense of loss I felt that day.

Post-op was horrible. My sweet, happy girl looked so very different. She was in pain. Swollen. Hurting. Others would comment on what a transformation took place and how amazing she looked. Her surgeon did do an incredible job, but my girl was hurting. It is hard to rejoice and smile when your child is enduring pain. So very hard.

About 6 weeks later she was back to herself and rocking a gorgeous new smile. I love her smile now as much as I did prior to surgery.

Going out and about after she was healed has been so much harder than I could have ever imagined. There are no stares. No whispers. No mean looks or harsh comments. People often stop me to tell me what a beautiful daughter I have and then they might mention they like her outfit too. I am so thankful for that for her. The hard part for me is coming face to face with the harsh reality of the world we live in.

We live in a world where appearance matters tremendously.

A world that defines beauty in certain ways.

A world that can be harsh and mean if you don’t fit inside certain parameters regarding what is on the outside.

A world all too often blinded to beauty.

Goodness my girl is gorgeous – since the day she was born. My daughter will always have a scar from being born with a cleft lip and palate. I pray her scar fades. We chose a surgeon we believed could make her lip look as much like everyone else’s as possible. I want that for her. I don’t want her to feel the stares. To hear the whispers. To see the pointing that others must face. I want her scar to fade.

As thankful as I am for an incredible surgeon and a successful surgery, selfishly at times I miss her cleft lip. It makes me sad that not everyone got to know my girl prior to surgery. I feel like they missed out by not seeing her first beautiful smile. Not many people get to have two completely different but similar smiles in life. But, I do feel like I’ve turned a corner finally. I no longer feel like her smile is ‘new’. It is finally just her smile again.  We have both healed, I guess you could say.

I have a bunch of scars. One from roller blading down a huge hill, one from a hot glue gun, one from chicken pox, and many more. They all tell a story.

Having a child with a cleft lip and watching how the world responds to her pre and post surgery has scarred me in a most wonderful way.  A scar takes place after healing. I am thankful for pain, for the need to be healed and the scar that marks that healing. I hope and pray my scar is big, nasty and gnarly. I hope it never fades. I needed to be changed in this way. My daughter taught me about beauty. I hope in some way I am reminded of this scar everyday. I don’t want this experience to be another thing I forget as time passes. I want this change in me – the one that sees beauty in new and unexpected faces – to last a lifetime.

I want my scar to mark the rest of my life.


UPDATE: Sorry for not clarifying that I do recognize a lot of the stares were from a place of curiosity.  I don’t believe all the world is horrible or responds terribly to those that are different. We have been showed tremendous kindness and met incredible people that have embraced our daughter and her differences. This post was more about the struggles with those that didn’t. I should have done a better job explaining that!  I think it is 100% okay to comment on the headbands, shoes, etc. when you don’t know what to say. I appreciated those comments because I knew they came from a place of kindness. I also recognized that they probably didn’t know what to say, but wanted to say something. Those comments weren’t ‘wrong’. They didn’t make me upset, it made me more just sad that it wasn’t as natural to comment on her beauty. I never took those comments at rude or wrong. I understood the grace in which they were spoken. I apologize for not being more clear on that on this post. Goodness this is a hard post to cover it all!

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  • Lachalle - So beautiful wrote and for whatever reason you were given the courage , strength and the peace to write this now in your words . Well done. I found little one beautiful on both smiles she wore in her life. Some say words hurt yes that maybe true but I also find that sometime no words need to be said to hear what has been felt. You are amazing woman and inspiring me in so many ways. I salute you . ~L~

  • Kate - It has been such a gift to watch your journey. Little One is BEAUTIFUL, and she always has been. I’m thankful to know that God doesn’t ever make mistakes. Everything is by his perfect design.
    Thanks for sharing your scars and teaching so many others along the way.

  • Katie T - Wow! Just…wow! Thank you for being so honest. Your daughter was/is beautiful and I envy your big, gnarly, scar because it comes from such a beautiful place!

  • amy cornwell - Your post makes me tear up today. If I’m completely honest, I don’t know how to react if I were to encounter someone like you when I’m out and about. I’ve never seen a cleft lip in person. I hope that I would be kind and say “SHE is so beautiful” but it’s a hard thing to remember in the world that we live in. You’re right about that. America is all about perfection. She’s always had a beautiful, joyful smile. You can tell that she’s extremely happy and blessed to be in your family. Thank you for being vulnerable today and reminding us all what our words, looks and whispers can do. She’s always been beautiful.

  • Lisa - I’m reading this with my 4 year old looking on. We got to the last photo and she asked me what Little One’s name is. I told her I didn’t know so she decided to name her Trixie LuLu. So Little One has a new nickname! Thanks for sharing your heart. That’s one reason I come back every day…to read what a real mom is feeling and thinking.

  • Cathy S - Beautifully spoken! Your daughter is gorgeous and has always been.

  • Debbie C - Ashley, thanks for sharing this, for opening up our eyes to true beauty. I think we’ve all been touched and changed by following your adoption journey with you.

  • Theresa - I’ve never commented before until now, though I read your blog often and your insights are so keen, yet worded with thoughtfulness, gentleness and conviction. I have a daughter who has partial facial palsy. Her smile is crooked and not obvious to strangers. I too pray that they see my beautiful daughter when they look at her and not judge her by the artificial beauty standards of our culture. Thanks for sharing!

  • Amanda - Love this post, Ashley. So well written… You’re so right, your daughter has always been beautiful! Unfortunately, sometimes people can be ugly – in their reactions and responses. Her smile, whether before or after the surgery – has always come from a place of joy. And that’s the most beautiful part of all! Seeing that joy is a true gift from God. 🙂 Hugs to you!

  • Beatrice Killam - It makes me incredibly sad that we live in a world where people don’t think twice about staring at an innocent little baby and whispering/staring, etc. Your daughter is beautiful and she was just as beautiful when she had her cleft lip as she is now. Anyone who couldn’t see that is completely ignorant! My 4 1/2 year old was born with a birth mark on her nose and had to have it removed and replaced with a skin graft when she was a baby. I know she will always have that scar on her face. Sometimes, I try to see her with someone else’s eyes and realize just how noticeable that scar is. My mama heart doesn’t see it at all, it’s just part of her and she is perfect to me in every single way. But it’s true, we do live in a world that is all about outward appearance and I worry about her encountering cruelty as she goes through life. So many kids nowadays can be so very mean and I don’t know how she will cope with that (I know I won’t be able to cope with it well at all!).

  • Megan - I was born with cleft lip and it wasn’t until I found you that I found any beauty in it.

    Little one has always been beautiful. You are beautiful, inside and out. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

  • Kim - My niece was put up for adoption after her birth mother’s family saw her cleft palate. The parents were teenagers and the parents were assuming custody. Within hours, my uncle and aunt were contacted to “claim” little Elizabeth. It was Christmas Day that we were all told she was coming home. Let me tell you- that child has been claimed ever since by our family. There were times she was teased. Times were the corrective surgeries made her miss school and caused her pain as she recovered. HOWEVER, I am writing you to tell you about her TODAY. She just got engaged at 24 years old to a young man who she has known since high school. She is gorgeous! She is happy! She is so excited about her future. I pity that family who couldn’t see beyond the little blemish. Silly people who didn’t know it didn’t define who she was. Lucky us for having her in our lives.
    Good luck. Your daughter is lucky to have you.

  • Diana - Just discovered your blog. I’m in tears with your post. Your daughter and you are so beautiful in all the sense of the word…inside and outside…thanks for sharing your experience, really thanks!! Muchos besos desde Madrid!!

  • Candy Foster - You have been blessed with a way with words. Jesus showed his wounds/scars and said, “I am who I said I am. Believe in me.” Thanks for using your wounds/scars to point to Him. I don’t believe our wounds/scars were meant to be hid . . . they were meant to show who Jesus is and what He can do.

  • barny - so beautiful, i thank you for sharing this with us.

    I should stop reading your posts on my break at work as they always tear me up. such a raw honest insight. I find your words so very inspiring in their honestly.


  • Tracy - As a mom of a cleft kid myself, I can so relate to your words. Beautiful post!! Thanks for putting into words something I have experienced as well.

  • karen - that’s so beautiful ashley.

  • tinajo - So glad I found you today via A beautiful mess, because this is a truly beautiful post. I think you´ve described the feelings of a mother perfectly; it IS sad that there´s such need to “fit in” when there´s already such beauty.

    I loved both her smiles, seeing them here in the photos – and I think that is what will truly matter for her, that you know and love her for everything that she is.

  • Danielle - I am so sorry that you felt the incredible emotions with this experience with your little one. I certainly hope that the world is not always as harsh as you seemingly describe your experience. No doubt, there were “those” people who you certainly had to face, whose hearts came from an ugly place, and as a person who does not have a child with any obvious physical difference, maybe I have the luxury of feeling the way I do, but I hope that most people stared out of curiousness, because your daughter’s lip was different, not to be mean, but curious. As human being’s we notice obvious differences, but sometimes we don’t know what to do when we see them. As a child, I would stare at things or people that were different, but there was no meanness intended, and I can’t help but think that is what most human beings do. Plus, you’re sort of famous. 🙂 Maybe they recognized you, knew your story, maybe they were starstruck? I can’t possibly know what your experience was as an individual, but I have so much faith in humankind, that I’d like to believe that most people come from a good place, or a place that may be sometimes clouded by a lack of knowledge. Your daughter is beautiful, as our most people, inside and out. I’m hopeful that you take away from this experience the beauty of it all, with faith that most people are inherently good and that stares are just often something humans do, not out of meanness, but out of human nature. Thank you for sharing your story, as it touches me deeply. I look forward to reading it all the time. 🙂 You are a great mom, that much is clear. Keep your chin up and know that you have love from far away places for the stories you share and the person you are.

  • Becky - I feel like you are a kindred spirit, which is silly sometimes since we’ve never met or spoken. I agree that beauty is distorted concept in the world, and it can be hard for a mother to face. When my twins were born, they were really premature- they were bruised, swollen, slightly misshapen from the trauma of birth – I remember some part of my mind registering that they did not look as perfect and beautiful as they should – and then that thought was immediately shoved out. Because they were perfect, beautiful, and I loved them completely.
    My husband and I are still young and poor, with just two boys of our own and a rental home, but I love to read your blog and think it may be a glimpse into our own future.
    Someday we’ll have a bundle more kids, and at least one will be adopted. I know it.
    So it is a joy to watch your journey from afar and imagine the future. Thank you.

  • Leigh Ann King - I started following your blog while you were in China getting Little One. I have thought from the first picture that I saw that she was beautiful! Sure she is different, but that is part of her and part of what makes her beautiful! Your post today, especially the last part, made me think of the song, “Heal the Wound”. It is a great song about God’s grace and mercy. I enjoy watching your family grow!

  • Sophie - Ashley Ann your post reduced me to tears. No mother ever wants her child to hurt physically and or emotionally and as mothers/parents we’d do ANYTHING in this world to shelter our babies from that. Your baby girl has the most beautiful smile and not because of her lip but because she radiates love and the goodness you (her mamma) and the rest of her family shower her with. She is loved and she loves and I know in my heart she’ll grow up not only knowing that but feeling that.

    Unfortunately society doesn’t react all that kindly to anything or anyone that presents a difference and that is extremely sad. My daughter is at an age where she notices differences in people. As a mamma it is my job to teach her of kindness and love towards others – regardless of who they are, what they look like or their ability. God loves us all.

    You are a very brave mamma that has had to learn some very harsh lessons which have undoubtedly made you even stronger. Your family is very lucky to have such a strong and positive soul to guide them in their lives.

    Love to you and to your beautiful family xo

  • Ashley T. - Thank you.

  • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse - Thank you so much for writing this. I often think about children born with cleft palates in countries where the surgery is too expensive. There is a not-for-profit organizations that collects money for this and it is on my 30before30 list to “buy a smile”. I struggle with societal norms for beauty – how limited they are – but as I understand, a surgery like this improves function as well, making it easier to eat, etc. I’m not sure why this issue is so important to me because I know no one who was born with a cleft palate but for some reason it has always been something I think about. I am so sorry your daughter had to suffer through a surgery. She is so beautiful both before and after. And, most importantly, lucky to have such an amazing family like yours.

  • AshleyAnn - Danielle – you are absolutely right. There are so many beautiful people whose stares I am sure came from places of curiosity, like you described. I did not do a good job pointing that out in this post…hard to write it all out. You are so very right though. Thank you for that comment.

  • katie - This was the most beautiful post! I admire you so much! Thank you for being so transparent with your life and your love. I just adore your family and have never even seen you in “real life”. But know I pray for you and I’m giving you a big squeeze! Thank you for sharing your life and your most precious blessings with us! Kisses to your kids!!!

  • Some Chick - Hi ya, I love your blog and you’re so talented.
    I have a child with a disability, I don’t think 4 months was enough time for you to get used to the stares and whispers, but given enough time you would off and learnt not all of them had bad intensions and it’s normal and ok for people to look and yes sometimes react, it takes time to get the skills needed to deal with the true rude ones, if you are having this much heartache still you may need some help or suppoet for yourself, you may have something offered in your area to support carers.
    God bless and take care.

  • Tasha - I have to share this post with my sister in law. Her son, my nephew, was born with holoprosencephaly, which involves a lot of things, a cleft lip among them. It was hard to fall in love with that smile and simultaneously watch others have an opposite reaction to it. Other family members, even. And then, when he had surgery to repair it, he was still gorgeous, just in a different way. We had to mourn his old smile before we could embrace the new one.

  • Sadie - Ashley, I have been following your blog for quite some time. The first time I laid eyes upon Little One, I was in love. Her smile was the true definition of beauty. Not her headband, but her precious smile. Her smile is one that brings true joy to my heart. I hate that you had to deal with people seeing her smile through the worldly ways. I am sure it hurt worse to watch your boys see it too. Her smile is contagious and I simply adore it.

  • Jen Q - Your Little One radiates beauty and love, and she always has. I miss her first smile, too.
    The recovery picture is stunning. In her pain she contorts to you, her love and peace. Such raw emotion and so pure. I am so happy for you all that she is home.

  • Ryan - I still remember the first time I saw Little One’s picture.

    My first thought (and I think I said this to you) was how in the world are you every going to be able to say “no” to those big, beautiful brown eyes!? LOL! I would be powerless over those beautiful brown eyes.

    And then I kept thinking what a lucky girl – to have a family who loves her so much, literally counting the days until she came home.

    LO will have struggles, as every child does. She may have more, or different, struggles than most kids in the US. But how lucky is she to have the warriors around her, taking care of her heart every step?

    Way lucky.

  • Katrina Amstutz - I don’t know how you feel as a mother with a daughter with a cleft lip, but one of my oldest friends was adopted from India with a cleft lip as well. She’s now 21. She has had many surgeries in her lifetime to fix her mouth and nose. But she has always been full of life and has always had lots of friends. (We’ve been friends since babies :).) As far as I know, people haven’t made fun of her so much for having a cleft lip, she actually gets more stares about being adopted. Don’t worry, it will get better and your daughter will definitely grow up a happy girl (it’s clear you obviously love her the way she is).

  • Lynn - Thank you for sharing these thoughts today. The courage and strength you have shown during the entire process of adoption and bringing your adorable daughter home is an inspiration too so many. Little One is a beauty inside and out just like her Mommy !!!

  • Melanie - What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing! <3

  • Laura@Ms Smartie Pants - What beauty you have shared from your heart. You have opened my eyes to things I had not thought about before. My mom was born with a cleft lip and pallet and a club foot. I never thought about what that must have been like for her as a child or how my grandmother or my mom’s siblings must have gone thru. I had always only thought about the surgery, not the rest of the world. when my mom was a child and had her surgeries her mom would have to leave her at the hospital and was only able to come on Saturday’s to see her, can you imagine that? I’m so glad healing has taken place for both of you and I’m saddened by people’s responses.

  • Evie - This is so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. I have often disliked how I might stare at someone who appears different. I am certainly not making excuses, but sometimes my eyes take me there before I know what has happened. In an attempt to make that person feel valued rather than objectified, I always look at them in the eye and give a brief smile. Your post gives me reason to be more careful of my actions. Your daughter is such a doll.

  • Sarah - As always, thank you for your beautiful words. You have a way of wording your life that just makes me want to be a part of it.

    But the question, for me, that you didn’t answer- is what SHOULD people say? Of course, your daughter is beautiful- all of us following you for the past several years knows that. That’s undisputed. And yes, people shouldn’t have stared, pointed, etc. But perhaps they were just wondering what was ‘wrong’ with her. The same way you see someone with a cast- you think, “I wonder what happened?” Not in a mean way. Not in a cruel way. But when anyone has any physical ailment, that’s noticeable, as a compassionate human being, you wonder and therefore care about them.

    I probably have been the person to comment on the flower headband or bald cancer patient’s pretty scarf, but should I say, “I see that you are sick…” “I see that you have ______ ?” That seems rude. So I stick to the clothing, scarf, etc. Keeping it neutral.

    So I’ve honestly wondered, because I do hear people make comments, like you just did, but I’m not staring, I’m not being mean, I am honestly, and completely just being compassionate. But I want to do that without being rude.

    So what should I say? Was there any example of someone who said “just the right thing?” I’m curious because it is a hard situation and it seems that no matter what people do, we always get it wrong.

  • emily - I don’t understand how anyone ever looked at this baby girl seeing anything other than beauty. Her story and her family is amazing. Thank you for sharing your heart. You are so inspiring.

  • Kelley M - That is so beautifully written. We are a week into our travel approval wait, and on the other side of the world, a beautiful 3 year old little girl waits. She too is CL/CP, but already repaired (not sure about her palate, though). I won’t get to know that smile from our daughter. In a way I’m happy for her because we do live in such a cruel world that assesses beauty levels from an exterior point of view, not from the beautiful personality that comes from within. However, I’m sad to have missed that part of my daughter’s childhood.

  • Wendy - I just read this post with my 19 month old daughter on my lap and she squealed and laughed the whole time saying “Baby! Baby!’
    What a lovely girl you have.

  • Katie M - You bring me to tears. Thank you. I have a daughter with congenital facial differences…after 9 years and numerous surgeries we are still surprised when others notice her differences, because they have become part of the beautiful normal for her and our family.

  • Katka - Hi, I´m from Czech Republic and sometimes I read your blog – and admire your little girl. You´re right, she was beautiful, and she is, and will be… People don´t like what they don´t understand, or what they´re scared of.. I wish her a lot of joy in her life.

  • Sarah - I am with you. I want to believe in a world where people are not judged by what they look like, but for who they are. How could people not see her beautiful, silky hair or the depths of her eyes? But the world is not that way. My heart aches for you, with you, at how inconsiderate, uncompassionate, and unloving people can be. It amazes me that God chooses to love us even though we don’t deserve it.

  • Michelle - I loved reading about your experience being a mom of a child with a cleft. My son was born with a cleft as well. However, my experience was different than yours. You talked about the stares and whispers; I don’t know if maybe I was just oblivious to that, but what I remember most was the number of people that would stop us where ever we were to share their own experiences with a cleft. Hearing mothers and fathers share their fears and hopes was so very uplifting.

    That being said, today, now more than a year since my son’s surgery, I still have fears of what the future will hold. Will he need more surgeries as he grows? Once he begins school, what will children at school say or will they even pay attention? What will my husband and I tell him about his cleft? All of these questions and so many more weigh on my heart.

    I pray that your experiences from this point forward are so much more positive and full of encouragement and hope. God bless.

  • Debbie - I remember when I first started reading, Firecracker was in the hospital with her broken leg. How long ago was that? I guess I have been reading at least 2 years. I remember reading your posts about adoption and rooting for you and even through my computer screen, I had a hard time at first when you posted the photos of your darling girl after you adopted her. I knew she had a cleft lip but I just didn’t know how to prepare my heart for how I would feel when I first saw it. I felt guilty instantly for not seeing the beauty in her. And I don’t even know you and I didn’t see her in person! But I found myself staring through the computer at the first photo you posted. But somehow, through seeing her photo many many more times, and through reading your words, I grew to see her beauty beyond the cleft lip. And then she had her surgery, and I missed her old smile too. I wanted to tell you that your blog and your words and your message is a blessing to me. You have helped me to become more accepting of cleft lips! I haven’t seen anyone in person born that way, but I know now that if I did, it would make me think of your story instantly, and I would look at them with love and compassion and not with disgust. God is working through your story and your daughter to change hearts. 🙂 Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • maggie - Beautiful. Made me teary. 🙂 in a good way.

  • Erin A - Very beautifully written; I could really feel the love you have for your daughter. You have amazing strength and courage. Your Little One was and will continue to be a gorgeous girl.

  • Ashley - You wrote this journey so beautifully. Little One is so blessed to have you as a mom!

  • Jenni - Thank you Ashley! I thought you might enjoy this is a poem, written by Missionary to India in 1900’s, Amy Carmichael:

    Hast thou no scar?

    No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
    I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
    I hear them hail they bright ascendant star:
    Hast thou no scar?

    Hast thou no wound?
    Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
    Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
    By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
    Hast thou no wound?

    No wound? No scar?
    Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
    And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
    But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
    Who has no wound? No scar?

    -Amy Carmichael-

  • Kelli Bryan - This was beautiful to read. I am a mom of 2 little girls living just down the road in Norman. We also have always known that adoption would be a part of our family. We have pursued mostly domestic adoption, until I suppose not unlike you I saw a picture of your beautiful girl several months ago, before her surgery. And I knew that was where God was calling us. I know you’re crazy busy, but if you have a chance I would love to hear any info about where you researched, support groups, etc. thank you so much, this blog is such a blessing to so many!

  • Seamingly Sarah - How could someone make fun of her cleft lip or even stare? I understand a child staring if they haven’t seen it before, but adults? I know several people born with cleft lips and even though you can still see the scar I don’t stare at it anymore than I would a freckle on their face. When will the entire world see the beauty that God put on Earth? It’s beautiful simply because God made it, not because we have standards and definitions for beauty.

  • Heather L. - Oh Ashley, this is so beautifully written and echos so many of my feelings since bringing Nora home and since her surgery. This is a hard thing to write about, like you, I have tried, but I never thought I could adequately express what my heart is feeling (and I never want to minimize any of Nora’s story). As of yesterday Nora has been with us six months, and asI was looking back at photos from our time in China, the memories came back hard ~ the whispers, the stares, all of it. Thank you for this gift, this gift of putting into words what I, and I’m sure others, have felt.

  • Kari - I’ve followed your blog for years now, and even got to come to one of your snapshots classes. I’ve only left maybe 2-3 comments over the last few years but I can’t resist. Your words change my life almost every day. The way you live your life, the words you use, the example you set for me, I can never repay that sort of gift. I know you’ve changed a little girl’s life from China, but I want you to know that you’ve done the same for me. So thank you.

  • A - I am so sad to read the stories of the stares and jokes your daughter had to go through. I accidentaly cut my wrist with a china mug when I was two years old, and I have a “suicidal looking” scar now. Whenever people see it, they instantaneously look at me like “oh my god, she tried to commit suicide!!!”. No, man, I didn’t. And actually, I love that scar. It’s been with me my entire life! So I just let them stare and think whatever they want. I really hope your girl gets to that point where she thinks her scar is HERS, and that it is a huge part of who she is 🙂

  • Crystal - Wow, so beautifully written. You are such an inspiration. You and your family are beautiful….inside and out!

  • Alicia Millis - amazing post. thank you for your honesty, your heart. little one is beautiful and she is lucky to have you as a mama to guide her through this often hurtful, but beauty filled world.

  • tara // etsetara - beautiful. thank you for sharing.

    not sure if you’ve read “little bee” [hard, hard book!] but i love this quote:

    “On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
    ? Chris Cleave, Little Bee

  • Jen @ RamblingRenovators - I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but as a mother, I can identify with the desire to protect your daughter from the unkindness of others. That is the world we live in, where each and every one of us is judged by our appearance. Its a sad reality, but knowing that, I’m inspired by your reaction. Being aware that your sons and your daughters take their cues from you and how you react to the reaction of others… your example goes a long way in ensuring your children will be the ones with the kind spoken word and caring stares when they encounter someone a little bit different than the norm. I like to think too that most people have good intentions and they were just curious about your precious daughter.

  • Jessica - I wonder how many of those who were really unkind, actually see the beauty in themselves. I’d love to see someone saved them from the judgement and perimeters that they may have put on your daughter, but also that they put on themselves. Knowing they use those same judgements to decide whether they are beautiful and society is left with people who don’t see their own beauty or see it wrongly. And the pain that causes others and themselves is terrible. Not knowing that is our heavenly father ( we are all made in his image) who is beautiful. And we can’t help but be beautiful as he shows himself in us, in every way he made us. As a photographer I love to see photography coming from a place where true beauty is recognized. I love that you are a voice carrying Gods truth on this matter. How hopeful is that!?

  • Sheena Lack - a sweet story for you…a sweet memory for me
    My family went to church the Sunday Eve of Christmas Eve(12/23) and we let our son, Ryder, who at that time was 17 months old, sit with us in the worship center (which he never does). During the service he was getting antsy so I took him out of the worship center so he could walk around a bit. There were a few other parents out their with their little ones, that were antsy too :)I was following Ryder around when he saw two Daddy’s (one of them being your hubby, Chris, which at the time I didn’t know. I only know now from being a new reader of your blog) talking and a little girl running around like Ryder was. He loves kids, so naturally he walked right up to her. By the time I caught up to him he was standing face to face with the prettiest little girl with the sweetest face and a cute little red dress on. They were just staring, taking each other in as they do at that age. It was a precious moment. I know for my son, he didn’t see what the world looks at as weird or different, he saw a friend and someone that was his size 🙂 If only the world could see things as children do, natural and to them everything is “normal”. I hope this story makes you smile 🙂

  • AshleyAnn - Sarah – Sorry for not clarifying that. I think it is 100% okay to comment on the scarf, the headband, etc. I appreciated those comments because I knew they came from a place of kindness. I also recognized that they probably didn’t know what to say, but wanted to say something. Those comments weren’t ‘wrong’. They didn’t make me upset, it made me more just sad that it wasn’t as natural to comment on her beauty. I never took those comments at rude or wrong. I understood the grace in which they were spoken. I apologize for not being more clear in that on this post. Goodness this is a hard post to cover it all! Your kind comments on a scarf, headband or whatever it may be I am sure are received and welcomed. Thank you for that.

  • Kara M - Your girl is so beautiful! Pre & post. How joyous that we got to share a small part of this journey with you. I always love how her nose scrunches up when she smiles big! I can’t imagine the pain lil one has been through and your pain as you walking this road with her…teaching her to suffer well! My husband and I talk about that a lot as we eagerly await a referral!!

  • Keilah - Beautiful!

  • Amber - Hugs to you and your sweet and precious family! My kids and I check in with your family often and the first time after Little One’s surgery, my daughter gasped and said(with sadness on her face)”They fixed it?? Why?!” I then explained reasons for doing so, the last being cosmetic. It is sure a wonder how people can be so cruel, especially about something so obviously not her own doing! I am thankful that you are sharing with us your family life and your fun and not-so-fun happenings, we love our computer friends! Blessings and prayers for yall in the upcoming surgeries.

  • Roxana - Thank you for sharing from your heart. I have been following your family’s journey for some time now, and have been blessed (and very often been moved to tears 🙂 to see how God has worked in you and your family as He’s brought all of you together. I am so sorry to hear that you and Little One (and your other children) have endured mean stares and pointing. It’s so sad to hear. I’m from Chicago, so I’m especially sad to hear that people around here weren’t any nicer. Human nature, in general, doesn’t know how to confront pain; probably because our tendency is to avoid it at all costs. I learned this when we went through the trial of losing our first baby. I was hurt and disappointed when many friends and family pretended like nothing happened, or simply said insensitive and thoughtless things. Much like people would look at Little One and comment on her headband rather than on how beautiful she is! I love what you say about scars. I think it’s only through the Grace of Christ that we can be thankful for pain, and for the change that He works in us by it. And we can also be thankful for the beautiful evidence that’s left behind by our scars :). Thank you again for sharing!

  • Becky - I really appreciate your honesty and heart here. A quick question/comment 🙂 If my daughters (7,4,2) noticed a child with a cleft lip and asked about him or her, my immediate thought or reaction on what to say would be something along the lines of, “She has a cleft lip. See how God made her beautiful and special in their own way. Just like you have blonde hair and your sister has red hair, God made everyone different!” Is that something a mom of a child with a cleft lip would be encouraged to overhear? I feel like very often I want to say something that would be encouraging to moms of kids who are “different” but I don’t know how those kinds of comments would be received.

  • tara - That would be so hard! It kind of reminds me of that story where the bird bakes the bread and nobody helps but then eats it all. Like everyone before would stare and sometimes be rude, but now that she’s had surgery they’re more than willing to compliment her and it feels like they cheated kind of? Does that make sense? Anyway, your little girl was beautiful before and after the surgery!

  • Shelley C. - I really appreciate your vulnerability. I have read your blog for some time now and am always touched by how fully you live life. What an inspiration!

    I also am moved by thinking about the beauty behind God’s idea of scars. Your post made me think of the poem by Amy Charmichael HAST THOU NO SCAR?

    Hast Thou No Scar

    by Amy Carmichael

    Hast thou no scar?
    No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
    I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
    I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
    Hast thou no scar?

    Hast thou no wound?
    Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
    Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
    By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
    Hast thou no wound?

    No wound? No scar?
    Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
    And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
    But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
    Who has no wound nor scar?

  • Erika - When I was 6 years old I began loosing my hair in patches. A condition called Alopecia. By 6th grade all the hair on my head was gone. Your post about all the stares, hard comments, well meaning but hurtful people could not hit closer to home. I wept. As an adult I became a high school teacher and feel in love with all my students. And that love was even deeper for every child that experienced those stares and harsh words. The thing that struck me the most about your post is what an incredible mother little one has. That you have a fierce love and protection for her. How much you adore her with and w/o her cleft. What a heartbreaking amount of pain she has had to endure in her short life and I can already envision the compassionate, beautiful, strong woman she will become. Blessings on you and your family!

  • Sara - This is a beautiful post. I especially appreciate where you discuss the agony of seeing your child in pain, even when you know that pain will lead to a result that will make life easier for your child. It’s still pain, and it is enormously difficult to watch your child suffer.

  • Kaelee - That little girls smile is, and always has been, beautiful. She had my heart wrapped around her finger from the very first picture you posted about her. People with apparent differences, in appearance or actions, bring out both the best and the worst in people. I guess they bring out the truth in others, be it ignorance which results in fear or rudeness, or curiosity, kindness, understanding, and empathy. I do think it is sad that so much of humanity is focused on the differences in appearance, and haven’t been taught that a cleft lip, or any other difference in appearance, makes someone no less human than everyone else. I am glad that i have an even better understanding of how to teach my children about people who look a little different then themselves from reading your story.

  • Emily - This post warms my heart.

  • Sally - Beautiful post. Beautiful family. Thanks for sharing! Wow.

  • Dawn Namiotka - Hello,
    Hi, my name is Dawn and I am from the Philadelphia area.
    I am just finishing up my paperwork for a china adoption with cleft lip/palate. I am excited but fearful at the same time. Thank you for sharing your experience. She is beautiful!!

  • katie - my oldest daughter lost most of 3 fingers on her right hand 2 years ago in an accident when she was 5. the Lord has told me over and over again that this “hand difference” will only make her more beautiful, and i believe Him, but you are SO right on about hurting for the way our world see beauty. one of the first things she said to us the morning after the accident was that people were going to make fun of her. i was pretty much speechless because i knew that she was right…and how SAD was it that this knowing statement was made by a kid who hadn’t even started Kindergarten yet?! i am so thankful that i am privileged to be able to teach my children of a Beauty that the world knows not. and that the One who created that beauty is One who can teach us to embrace – or even to cherish – our scars. (ps. God is using you in such a powerful way!!!!!)

  • kate - Dear Ashley,

    I stumbled on your blog one day, pre-surgery. I’m not sure how. And what captivated me, stole my heart, and made me keep coming back, was your sweet, sweet, daughter (little one). I totally fell in love with her the moment i saw her – especially that smile. she is (and was) just beauty-filled. The photos you take of her, fill me with love, inspiration, courage, heart, joy, and life.

    Thank-you so much for sharing her with us.
    much love

  • Jenni - You inspire me. Every day that you chose to post something. I don’t think I would be as good as you in that situation. The way you look at things has changed me:)

  • Amanda - I really loved this post. Its so interesting to me to hear it all from your perspective. I will never understand how adults could ever do anything to put down a childs appearance or anything else. And it pains me to think you would ever have to endure that, for any reason, with any child. I know for a fact I’ve done a double take before or let my eyes linger a bit longer at someone who may look or act different than “normal”, whatever that is, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Its not ever in a hateful way, just more out of curiosity I guess. But I try really hard to be conscious of it. Because I know how people can be, I find myself wanting to go out of my way to be even nicer to that person than I normally would to anyone else. But then I kind of feel like that might be just as bad, or obvious. I don’t know really. But its good to hear your perspective because I just always wonder what someone on the other side of an exchange like that really wants to hear or do they just want to be left alone? Wow this comment is a bit long and rambly but hopefully you get where I’m coming from. I guess my main question is how can people best love and support you, or anyone else in a similar situation, in a genuine way? I’d love to know how to do that better.

    I think of and pray for your family often, and am genuinely rooting for Little One to continue to make huge strides in every possible way. You are all so blessed, and we are all blessed to know you.

  • Heather - I think we are kindred spirits. I have three children. They are all adopted from China, and they all have cl/cp. My middle child is a boy. His cleft was bilateral, no floor to his nose, over growth of the premaxilla, and he had front teeth in the pre maxilla. He also had exotropia of the left eye and his left eye is smaller. Talk about stares! I had already been through it once, but I was heart broken with the horrible comments and stares. I actually left from a child’s birthday party at church and cried for days. The thing is, like you, I loved that face. I loved the faces of all three of mine before being repaired. I love their faces now also, but there is something special about a cleft lip. I just think it is beautiful! I feel sorry for those that can’t see that.

  • Connie - Thank you for sharing your story! My “Little One” is now 19 years and just finishing her 1st year of college. 🙂 We have found that the “scars” are what have made her the amazing young lady she is!

  • Katie - Not to sound flip or naive (as in I NEVER look at anyone else differently…because, as humans, we take in those differences on everyone and anyone…they are what make up uniquely HIS). That being said, unless you have a post such as this one that specifically calls out Little One’s physical uniqueness, I don’t even notice anything different in photos of her. When reading this post, I had to go through the photos several times to really notice the difference in her appearance.

    Since you first showed her face in photos, and ever since, I have always been drawn to her eyes. They show her true spirit and faith!

    (All of this may be easier for me, as well, having grown up with an aunt who had a severe cleft scar as a result of faulty surgeries when she was younger and also growing up with my best friend (also adopted) as she went through all the surgeries during her childhood and teen years. So, from a young age, I had an understanding of the medical condition involved)

  • Kerri - Thanks for this post Ashley. Our whole family have been following little ones journey with you and your transparency has taught us so much. I think dinner time conversation tonight will be about your words here. So many times our curious stares or hesitation highlights difference instead of celebrating beauty. Thanks for pushing me to cebrate beauty without hesitation. Keep being you, it is such a gorgeous journey to witness. Thank you.

  • Manon - What a gorgeous little girl you have! You are a lucky mother! My daughter is deaf, I know in a certain kind of way what you are going thru… These differences make us be so proud of them, of their strenght, their courage… Thanks for your great post, I wish everyone could read it!

  • Renee - I haven’t commented before but just wanted to say, I can relate somewhat to this post. My baby was born with craniosynostosis (skull deformity) At 10 months old he had a major skull & forehead reconstruction. It did open my eyes and make me a lot more accepting, and see beauty where other’s don’t. Thanks for sharing your feelings!

  • AMy - Oh how I have enjoyed reading your journey! Little One is a beautiful child of GOd, I’ve never glimpsed anything different. A gorgeous child.

    I grew up with a sister with a cleft lip and palate. She is now 47 and most people wouldn’t even know it. Her nose (in her words…is misshapen) but I see character. I’d like to think it doesn’t define her… that she defines it.

    My Mom only spoke to me about the process once… but told me that when E was a newborn, they drove to Minneapolis, left her at the hospital, and they were called when she was ready to come home. I can’t even imagine leaving my child for 2 weeks. Again at 18 months and 28 months. I think it speaks strongly about who E is now… not much for warmth and snuggles (probably didn’t get any in 1965 hospital)

    It is pretty obvious to your readers, you are creating children who will define their journey. Keep on with your incredible job!!

  • Bethany - This is beautiful and true. Thank you for sharing your beautiful baby girl with us and your beautiful mother-heart. This is what all of our daughters need to know about beauty. You and your family surely are just that.

  • Debbie C - This is a bit off topic, but I just wanted to say that your home is featured on A Beautiful Mess today, and it was so interesting to learn the back story of your home! Beautiful photos, as always.

  • Amanda - We came home with our Chinese daughter three months ago. She has a large ‘birthmark’ covering half of her face. We get the stares and the comments, and there are few people here in Oklahoma who have adopted SN chinese orphans. I dont personally know anyone else locally (and reading bogs doesn’t count as personal). 🙂 It’s a hard road because people who have adopted ‘get’ each other. We ‘get’ the beauty of our children, and I loved that when we were in GZ. We didn’t have to ask about the SN of the child because the SN whether it was a cleft, HIV +, a birthmark, etc., didn’t matter. The only thing we saw were kids who were beautiful. True, people don’t know what to say, but if they would look at the child, not the SN, there wouldn’t be confusion on what to say. Does that make sense? Since we’ve been home, people have said, ‘she will be so beautiful after her surgery!’ my heart breaks because my daughter is stunning now. Next year, she will have a series of surgeries to remove her birthmark because of the risk of melanoma, but I will mourn the loss of it. I’m already dreading the surgeries. And I’m dreading the responses we will receive once she looks more like society’s standard of ‘normal’.

  • jeannett - I so get this. In a different way. My girl looks “normal” and perfect…until she uses her walker to get around. And then there are stares. Some downright rude, some out of curiosity, and many with pity in their eyes. Somedays it’s easier to just use a stroller to get around. Somedays my heart can’t be brave. Somedays my tongue bleeds from biting it. Somdays I get home, send the kids out to play and have a meeting with Ugly Cry. Heaven will be amazing. I can’t wait.

  • MeganMR - Thank you for writing and sharing your story. I am also a cleft Mom in the Chicagoland area. Your daughter is beautiful. They do change the way we see beauty.

  • Clare - I have not commented on your blog until today, but I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your honesty and courage. I have always thought your daughter is beautiful and you are so brave! Your blog is inspiring to me and you were especially inspiring today. Thank you for sharing!

  • Erin P. - Thank you for this post. This truly hits home as my daughter was also born with a cleft lip and palate. She is the light of my life and wouldnt trade her or our experience for anything.

  • Kristin S - Beautifully put.

  • charla - I have never been a person who is attracted to conventional beauty. I just think God is so clever to tuck it away, and how boring people lives must be to never take the time to uncover it. I am happy I bumped into you at a kids football game this fall and after I babbled and gushed about how great I think you are! I caught your hubby carrying little one out of the corner of my eye and was able to call back shes so adorable! I am not sure what to say all of the time.. but for people asking what to say. I never think something sweet fom your heart is a bad thing. Xo

  • vickie - Your daughter is beautiful and a very lucky girl to have a caring and loving mother. I too have a daugther with cleft lip, only difference is that i was also born with a cleft lip. My only advice is to be strong for you both, she will be fine.especially having lots of love and support <3

  • Kyla - This is my first time visiting your blog and I am really touched! I will never forget this beautifully written post, the enormity of your love for your daughter is overwhelming and inspiring. Your little one is beautiful and radiant–I’m rethinking my boyfriend’s appeal to adopt.

  • Kerri - Thank you for letting yourself be vulnerable and sharing your experience. I love the story God is writing with your family!

  • Jen - What a wonderful post, thank you for your honesty! My nephew was born with a cleft lip/pallet almost eight years ago. You can hardly tell now, his surgeons did such a good job. I know my sister-in-law felt the same way you did and I think I understand. We loved the face he was born with, he was adorable with the cutest smile before his surgery! We didn’t see the cleft lip and pallet, we just saw his beautiful little self.

  • Lubka - Hi Ashley, I just want to say that there was a reason why you got that daughter. God knew you are strong enought to deal with it all. I dont know you but I feel so proud of you.

    Lubka, Slovakia

  • becky @ farmgirl paints - i love your mother’s heart. oh the sweet filter of love. she was beautiful before…i had the privilege of meeting her;) and she just beams now. that smile is perfect.

  • Katie @ Pintertesting - A few weeks ago, I found your blog and read through your adoption story from start to present. I’m not married and I don’t have any children, but I was just captivated by how adorable she was in your posts about your time in China. Her eyes! Her smile! What a personality! It was like you were all born to be together.

  • nicole - Just came across your blog for the first time, and I just wanted to comment to say that your daughter was beautiful before and is beautiful now, and it sounds like she is being raised by a person who is beautiful inside and out. Thank you for the well written post!

  • sophibelle - Beautiful before and beautiful now. ?

  • Jen Mac - Bless you and your scarred heart.

  • Kelsey - I loved this. You have always done such a wonderful job at giving us eyes to see Little One the way you see her and to see the beauty of the “imperfect.” We just adopted a Chinese baby with Down’s syndrome and I’m still not sure how to help people know how to talk about our girl. It’s a little challenging because her asian features sometimes mask the DS features so I often catch people studying her trying to figure out if she is “just” asian or if something is “wrong.” Of course nothing is wrong. She was perfectly and wonderfully made. Her extra chromosome is a gift – without it she wouldn’t be our girl! I want people to know that, while we will grieve the challenges of that she will face in her life because of DS, we will never grieve the way she was created. I would never wish away the very thing that makes her who she is.

    When we first began our adoption journey, a dear friend told me she kept thinking of the word “educator” whenever she would pray for us. That word has become a true prophetic word over us as we have navigated the questions and comments about adoption in general, in addition to special needs adoption. I think it is easy for those of us in the adoptive community to fall into being DEFENSIVE in an effort to DEFEND our families’ choices and our children. But every time I feel myself getting defensive at a question or stare or comment, I think about that word – EDUCATOR – and remind myself that most questions come from a place of ignorance and innocence and that I have an opportunity to inform and educate. I think you do that so well. You are an educator. You let others into the truth of who your girl is and you teach them how to see her. I am thankful for your blog and for the top-notch education you give us. Thank you for sharing your heart and for writing the hard posts.

  • Samantha Lee - What a brave and beautiful little girl and mama. Such a heart-warming story. Thanks for sharing your pain and more importantly healing. You are incredibly strong, even in a moment of weakness. A true mama-hero. =)

  • Sarah{Handbags*N*Pigtails} - Hi Ashley. Don’t get me wrong, I think that your Little One is an incredibly brave and beautiful little lady now. But the day you posted her post op pics I actually cried. I think I felt that loss you describe above, and yet I’ve never even experienced this myself. I didn’t even understand what I was doing at the time. But I do “get it.” I missed her BEFORE look. And now Im getting used to her new look=)
    She is such a sweet addition to your beautiful family and my heart swells with the thought of you and Chris. May the Lord bless you as you raise her as your own.

  • Kara Racine - She’s BEAUTIFUL! I want to squish her cheeks and snuggle with her!

  • Victoria / Justice Pirate - She’s always been beautiful. She’ll always be beautiful. I know a little girl who was born with a cleft lip. I saw her with it and after her surgery, but she also had many other physical problems and will never grow taller than about 4 foot 5 and will always act like a little girl even though now she is nearly 12 years old but she acts and thinks like a 5 year old. I guess because I have known her for her entire life and it never bothered me, and because I was born partially deaf (but Jesus healed my awful hearing and awful speech in a dream when I was 5), I have always found beauty in everyone and their differences. I wonder now how my mom dealt with people questioning why I talked funny or why I didn’t respond well to sounds when I was a child. I never asked her about that. . .hmm. I just remember the looks on people’s faces and realizing that many laughed and mocked me, when I thought they were just being smiley and nice. . .but it wasn’t that way at all.

    You’ve shared stuff like what is mentioned in this post before (about how hard it was to deal with her having a cleft and how you miss it sometimes). It was great though to read again and reflect on all of it.

  • Crystal Moser - Thank-you, so much for sharing this, Ashley! I am one year behind you….my husband & I are in the waiting for our LOA to adopt a cute Chinese boy with a cleft lip & palate. Your blog has been a huge inspiration & encouragement to me. My husband & I both love your stories about Little One’s lips. 🙂 In fact I caught him telling one of them to his friends the other day because he thought it was so cute! And we think cleft kids are beautiful too!

  • Mignon - I want to thank you for the bravery and love I have seen in your posts. I have laughed, smiled, cried, and rejoiced with you, as well as prayed as little one joined your family.
    I would like to ask if I may how one might appropriately respond when meeting a family in a situation like yours. Little one is and has been beautiful in my eyes. I would never want to give an incorrect impression or seem rude or unthinking. Could you help those of us who are not in your shoes?

  • Cass - I love this post. Love your honesty. Your girl has always been beautiful and she’s had my heart since I first saw her. What a gift she is.

  • RaD - I am sorry, dear friend, that I never shared what my son (then 10 years old) said about your beautiful babe. A few months just before her surgery, or even maybe soon after you were able to share that gorgeous face with the rest of us, I was reading your blog post. He happened to walk up behind me and notice your girl. His first response was “Awww… That’s a cute little girl! Who’s that?” (He always wants to know the stories behind the pictures). After explaining who she was, he remembered parts of her story, because we prayed for her to be able to come home quickly during our family prayers. Even now, if he sees me on your blog, will ask for updates on the “cute little girl from China with all the brothers”.

  • Aurora - Absoultely beautifully said! Your girl is and always was gorgeous. And while I note you feel you stumbled across your first response and posted an update, I for one appreciate that you expressed your dismay and the comments on the headband and shoes. I think I would have been someone to make such a comment, but because of you I will now be bold enough to tell a parent their child is beautiful. Thankyou again.

  • Holly - Thanks for such a hearfelt post. Some of us wear our scars on the outside and some of us wear them on the inside. I grew up as one of the stare-rs and pointers. My family wan’t that great about telling us how blessed we were to be typical. When I was a teacher i tried to empathize, but I’m not sure how genuine I really was. It took my best friend having a special needs child before I really got it. My mother was talking about her as though she were an imperfect object. Not a perfect baby made by our own Creator. Once I corrected my mom–out loud, in front of my other siblings–it made it so real to me.
    Now when i see a special needs baby or child I always make myself go speak with them. Not because i am so awesome, but because i know that for every nice comment they get,there are 10,000 other people who make them feel uncomfortable.
    As I have learned…be kind and be genuine.

  • Sarah - Thank you for your reply. I hope you didn’t think I was being mean, I really, genuinely just wondered what to say to someone. But I always tend to say the wrong thing, I’m not as skilled with words as you are. 🙂 This post was a good reminder to me that I need to also look into someone’s soul and not just their accessory. They probably have beautiful eyes, as well as a beautiful scarf. 🙂 It definitely WAS a hard post to write, and I’m so glad you did. You guys are so awesome. Thank you for sharing your life with us. And thanks for replying, I feel like a rock star just replied to me- that’s freaking awesome. hahaha. 🙂

  • Abbie - Hi Ashley!

    I love your informative posts. I went to school with a kid with a repaired cleft lip and always wanted to know more. I have a question, I see a lot of children from China with a cleft lip/palette (your incubator posts for example). Is it more common among that ethnicity? Also, what are Little One’s challenges with solids? I know she is overcoming that but is it because of her palette or because she wasn’t introduced to them sooner? Annnnnd, because I’m super nosey, will you ever share her name? I’ve caught the boy’s names in various posts and I remember Firecracker’s announcement had her given name, I’d love to know Little One’s but of course I understand why you withhold it.

    Thank you for sharing your courageous journey. I’ve been reading since just before Firecracker was born! Sending love and prayers always from Maine.

  • Isabella Kiss - what an absolutely beautiful post and a stunning little girl. she radiates joy. and that picture of you with her wearing the pink stripes? so beautiful!!! love that smile! Also, I really admire you for writing up this post. I have 7 adopted siblings myself and I always love when people share their experiences.

  • Nancy - I’m not sure if I commented on her beauty but I think what I have notice & been so thankful for was to see that sweet precious child learn & respond to love & care. My heart breaks for those in the world that do not feel loved. When I see those sweet little arms around your neck & can see the security & love she feels. That, sweet lady is absolutely beautiful to me. I’m so thankful she has all of you as her family and that you have her as family.

  • Brooke Peterson - I’m not sure what to say, but wanted you to know that although this is your life, sharing it this way is very educating and the more educated we become as a society on how people are different, the more accepting we become as well. It wasn’t long ago that a child with Down Syndrome was called horrible things, misunderstood and underestimated, now we only see beauty of the person and just a child. It takes awhile for these differences to become normal, but with brave people like you, your family and Little One the difference will soon become, well…not different. With your beautiful words describing your journey all I have ever seen is a beautiful child, never her cleft lip. And that is because you being honest and raw helped to point out the beauty of someone beyond what they look like. It may not get better today, or in a few years, but it WILL get better with the help of brave people like you, people willing to put themselves out there and teach the rest of us.

  • danielle - My 5 and 6yr old saw me reading an earlier post with little one. My 6yr old has such a tender heart and loves babies so much that he wanted to know all about her and was so happy that she was not hurt. I always worry about having these conversations in public because I do not want the person to feel bad at my sons questions. Thank you for giving me this oppertunity at home to discuss cleft lips with my boys. They were able to ask questions and I did not feel the need to hush them. They saw a post surgery picture and did not know who she was. My 6yr old is completely taken with her though and thinks she is very beauitful.

  • Anna@agoodhome - It hurts my heart that anyone could have missed the beauty of your sweet girl’s face by being distracted by her difference. She was radiant with that little cleft lip! I’m so glad for you that you’ve gotten to a place of seeing her lifelong smile as just her smile, not her “new” smile. That’s a very peaceful place to be, I’m sure.

    A couple at our church just had a lovely little girl with a double cleft lip. I don’t know if she (the mom) knows your blog, but I think I’ll give her your email address, if that’s alright. I bet she’d love to talk with someone who has been through the first part of the journey already!

  • AshleyAnn - Danielle – I can’t speak for all parents, but I loved when kids asked questions. They didn’t try to filter and their curiosity was easy to welcome. I would have never been offended if your kids asked me in public about my daughter’s lip (while she is young enough not to understand). I actually had a few kids come up to me and flat out tell me my daughter was ‘ugly’ – and I just rolled with it. Kids are different and I love kids and all their little questions. So, for what it is worth, if your son had asked me I would have engaged him in a conversation, I would not have felt you needed to hush him…but that is just me 🙂

    I’m pretty sure I would have left a conversation with you son with a smile on my face!

  • Lisa sharp - Ashley, you have such a way with words, I always look forward to reading all of your posts because they are emotional and real and never preachy. You truly have a gift. I have only commented a few times before, probably because I think my silly comment isn’t that important, or why would you care what I (a complete stranger) has to say. But after reading such an honest post, I wanted to share my thoughts with you. Watching your journey with little one, I truly feel my view of “beautiful” and “perfect” has changed. If I am to be honest, at first, I was slightly taken back when I saw the first few pictures of her. And not in any bad way, it is just not something that we are used to seeing in our daily “first world” lives. I am very glad to have read your family’s journey and your feelings and emotions along the way. Seeing her sweet personality captured in your photos and the way her entire face lit up when she laughed, made me realize that I truly loved seeing her beautiful cleft smile. It brought such joy to my heart seeing it in your pictures everyday. I understood your comment when she was about ready to have surgery and you said that you were kind of sad that she wouldn’t have her cleft anymore because it was a part of who she was and that you would miss it. It probably sounds silly coming from a stranger that I miss her cleft. I hope that all of my rambling thoughts are coming out the way I mean for them to, and that I have been able to convey my thoughts to you in a way that doesn’t sound insensitive or ignorant. (That is probably why I normally don’t comment). But I just wanted to thank you for inviting me along on your journey and for helping to change my mind’s view about clefts. Clefts are not just birth defects that need to be fixed, but they are a part of the individual and are a part of the beauty of that individual, not despite it. In God’s eyes, she is fearfully and wonderfully made. He doesn’t make mistakes. I now feel I have a little glimpse of how God sees ALL of us after journeying along with you both 🙂 thank you, and hopefully I didn’t come off as some weird, creeper stranger 😉 Lisa

  • meg duerksen - i have never encountered anyone like you girl. the emotions you have are SO deep and raw. i love that about you. 🙂
    and i love that baby girl.
    i had never seen anything like that before and it helped me stretch too.
    all good.
    all precious.

  • Stoich91 - Your journey has made me love and understand clefts so much more! I actually missed Little One’s cleft too, and I’m just a blog reader! 😀 Working with special needs kids, I totally understand how you NEED someone to guide you through the process of how to deal with disabled or even just generally different children.

    When it comes to differences, we are all children: Curious, shy, a little afraid. Some people have bitterness where these feelings spring into mean-ness; thankfully, most can be taught otherwise! ;D

    Thanks for being brave! xoxoxo Wonderful story, you have brought all of us so closer to kids with cleft lips/pallets. So beautiful!

  • allie - everyday I wish I knew little one’s name! her smile, the new one, the old one, doesn’t. matter. her beautiful face, the amazing hearts you and Chris have, and the genuine warmth of your words have changed my family. We are on a journey to adopt now and my daughters beg to get a brother who needs us, and could he please have a cleft lip? They saw nothing but happy baby in her smile and have a broader view of beauty forever.

  • Emily - Your post reminds me of this poem by Jane Hirshfield, What Binds Us. It talks about the skin that grows over a scar as being more powerful than the prior skin.


  • rachelzana - I’ve been reading your blog for years and years, and I just had a feeling, deep down, as soon as you wrote on your blog that you were in the process of adopting a child from China with special needs that it was going to be a child with a cleft lip/palette, far, far before you wrote about what Little One’s special need actually was. I just somehow knew, and prayed. I remember so vividly the very first pictures you posted of Little One in China, and I was just felt SO happy for you and for your family, and I just loved that little lip from the start. What surprised me, though, was that it was only a matter of days, not even days, actually, before I didn’t really even notice Little One’s special smile in the pictures that you posted. Instead of her lip jumping out at my eyes, I saw her eyes and her smile just get bigger and bigger as she felt safer and safer, and it was so, so beautiful. Everything about every part of her was and is so beautiful. I could just see how much she was loved by looking at her pictures, and I loved seeing all the ways she was growing and changing. It kind of feels like I can just see right into her personality and who she is, and always could, and I thank you SO much for all that you have shared about your adoption experience. Adoption is so close to my heart, and I appreciate your family so much. I miss that cleft lip too! And I love to see how loved Little One is!

  • Jen Williams - I’m a first time reader today as a friend of mine directed me to this post. My son was born with a cleft lip 6.5 years ago. Funny you should talk about scars and differences and seeing beauty in all faces, because my little boy, the one with the scar, does exactly that. He is honest about things that are different from him personally, but it’s almost strange how oblivious he is to any “major” traits that make us all look different. He just noticed his scar for the very first time 2 weeks ago. I cracked up laughing that it took him over 6 years to ask us what was “different” about his lip. I’ve never thought about being thankful for his old smile, but I do know that I’m thankful for his precious little scar that reminds me of his little face that stared back at me for 3 sweet months before it was repaired. He’s got the sweetest little grin now from that scarred, repaired lip and I just adore it. Your little girl is gorgeous before and after!

  • barbie newsome - This was so beautifully written. I felt as if you took the words from my heart and mind that I have been unable to express. I have twin boys both born with cleft lip and palate. Even after their surgery I still feel like people stare. I wonder how much of that is in my own head. It is wonderful that you adopted and your little one is and was beautiful with her wide smile and with her new smile. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • creole wisdom - Oh! This is so beautiful, so real. She is beautiful and lovely, and lucky to have you for a mama.

  • RachaelB - I truly cannot fathom adults whispering and pointing let alone using their fingers to imitate her cleft. I’m so sorry our world is so cruel.
    She is and always has been beautiful.

  • Monica - Beautiful blog, beautiful journey, beautiful love, beautiful little girl! God bless your family forever.

  • Mary D. - You have a wonderful way with words. Thank you for sharing your story. It reminded me of all the emotions I went thru with my firstborn. He was born with a birth defect on his right foot. To me, he was perfect, but I knew he had to have surgery to correct it. When he was four months old, we took him for his first surgery. While waiting, I realized I didn’t take a picture of his foot. It caught me by such surprise. I didn’t realize how much I would miss kissing those feet – the way God made him. And when he came out of surgery, I was distraught at putting him thru the pain. I let them cut him. I let them hurt them. Strange emotions for I know they were helping him, but I miss his old self, just the same. I adore Little One’s original smile and I adore the new one now. No matter what, her true spirit will also shine thru, no matter the cover.

  • Amanda - Thankyou for sharing this, it bought tears to my eyes. A few years ago my beautiful daughter received burns to over 60% of her body- we didn’t know if she would live. I remember going out in public for the first time….. and OH THE STARES!!! Here I was so happy my girl was alive and the realization that people are so shocked when they see something different they perhaps are not aware of their own reactions…….Its a new sort of normal now for the rest of our lives. She is strong. She is courageous. She is amazing.
    Your daughter was beautiful then and she is beautiful now!
    My daughter was beautiful then and is beautiful now!

  • Kristi - So I kinda love how in almost every picture of you, you are either kissing or looking at or loving or squeezing your kids. Not just in this post…but in all of them. That rocks.

  • Lisa - Bless you. You are so brave to share these things so openly. I am so, SO grateful for your blog. It is like therapy to me as I wait for my little one from China and has been such a tool for our family as we’ve had conversations with our daughters. They have been captivated by your sweet girl’s photos and story (as have I!) Thanks for sharing your journey.

  • Tammia - You shared this so beautifully. I have always been a little disappointed that our daughter’s lip was repaired before we met her. I feel like I missed out on her “whole self.” I can’t tell her about her cleft lip, I wasn’t able to take a bunch of pictures or memorize every detail. Thank you for sharing this part of the journey. All your pictures of Little One are beautiful and I’ve enjoyed sharing them with my daughter, too.

  • kelleyn - Ashley my heart aches for you and for all the mother’s out there who have had to experience what you have! No mother should have to experience this! All children are beautiful! All children are perfect in the sight of the Lord.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - You know… there are days that I do wish He would hurry back so that we could all live in a place of kindness and safety and beauty. There are other days that I am ready for the fight, but I know a mamma’s heart can feel so protective sometimes.

    Thank you for being you. I love how you challenge me.


  • Margaret - This is such a beautiful post. I had to stop many times to wipe the tears from my eyes so I could continue reading. My beautiful boy was born with a cleft lip and palate and I felt like I was reading our story. It was so hard at times, watching how people responded to him in public, but the most difficult thing for me was when he had surgery. I loved him just the way he was and missed his cleft smile more than ever. I loved him so much and was happy for him, but just as you said he came out with a whole new smile for me to fall in love with. Thank you so much for sharing and being so honest. It is nice to know I wasn’t alone in how I felt through it all.

  • kiki - Beautifully written! Thank you for writing this post and for just exposing the fact that our world is so driven by outward appearances and that we really need to view others as beautiful, because that’s exactly how God created us to be! As someone with many acne scars on her face, my complexion has always been something I’ve struggled with. I’ve felt similar stares from strangers and I’ve definitely had my self-conscious days. But my scars, as you’ve mentioned, tell a story and for that I’m grateful for. 🙂 And I know you’ve probably seen those Dove commercials all over facebook and the like, but I just wanted to say that this post really goes with that and I wanted to thank you for always writing honestly and beautifully, too!

  • Joy Fisher - Hi Ashley,

    Totaly understood what you were saying in this post from the get go. I have to comment on your last line: “I don’t want this experience to be another thing I forget as time passes. I want this change in me – the one that sees beauty in new and unexpected faces – to last a lifetime.” I would say that your photography has already shown that you are one of those who sees the beauty in the unexpected. Song is so, so lucky to have you, as you are to have her! much love 🙂 joy

  • Sadee Schilling - “A scar takes place after healing. I am thankful for pain, for the need to be healed and the scar that marks that healing. I hope and pray my scar is big, nasty and gnarly. I hope it never fades. I needed to be changed in this way.”

    Beautiful! Thanks for your vulnerability today, Ashley!

  • melanie - I can totally understand your point, Ashley. As a mother of a 4yo boy that is wearing hearing aids I hate the looks of other people. Or when they try to focus somebodies attention on the fact that my son is wearing hearing aids. Most people handle it great (and I’m thankfull for that) but what stays in mind are the rest of the people that don’t know how to deal with it.

  • anja - dear ashley, what a great post! You (as usual) chose the right words, your intention is really so clearly showing. Through the past year, especially the last 6 months, your blog has been a sweet love letter to your adorable daughter, most intense the first time with her and of course her *old* smile. So you introduce the world to this kind of beauty. You show everyone through your great pictures and your amazing point of view the beauty within looking-bit-different! and set thoughts like semen in people that surely grow.
    There are sooo many people here (me included), who find your daughter in person adorable from the first picture. And yes, it changed me and my angle on so many things and points of view a lot! Weird but true.
    You’re handling it all so great – I know from my own (very different but somehow similar) experience how others response on you and your kid can make you oh so sad. But the way you show your life through this blog is so positive and happy! it takes a lot of sunshine inside to not let the bitter feelings dominate your mood. You are really, really adorable yourself!!

  • Camilla Mulligan - A wonderful post and a wonderful daughter.

  • K - Wow! I only just found your blog and this is the first post I read – and it had me in tears!

    I haven’t faced the same thing you have; my son though, had a condition when he was younger that meant he literally squeaked every time he breathed – whether he was awake, asleep, eating or just sitting – but it was all day and all night long, and got much worse when he was tired or sick.
    For most parents with children- they long for the sound of silence; for us, that meant that my son had stopped breathing – and often did, at that, due to another medical condition.
    I was often stopped in shops where people would point out to me that though they could not see him as he was often under a draped cover asleep, my child was crying or trying to get my attention (they pointed this out usually when at the end of their patience with the repetitive noise or my perceived ignorance towards my son’s endeavours), and I had to calmly tell them that actually, my son is asleep and this is just the sound he makes when breathing… which obvsiously then led to probing (and understandably curious) questions as to why he was like that.
    He had 3 surgeries (at 7, 11 and 15 weeks old) and people would constantly comment on how much better he was doing – but they weren’t the ones that had to see him be operated on, prodded and probed by doctors, nurses, needles, cannulas, etc.
    My son even now at 2.5 years old, has to have a CPAP machine and mask attached to him every time he sleeps – something that I’m stoked to say doesn’t make him self-conscious but proud (it’s his “fighter pilot” mask).
    I don’t feel like I am superior to others at all, but I do feel like the experience gave me empathy and insight that maybe not others have had – and I feel blessed for it. I hope that my child will feel the same as he grows older.
    Thank you for writing this post. It’s always good to be reminded of how open, welcoming and engaging we are with others – especially kids and I’m thankful that you had the courage to write honestly of your thoughts and feelings.
    You’re doing an amazing job!

  • CAM - I have never commented on your blog before Ashley but I think this post marks the time to do so.
    I found your blog the day I gave birth to my third child (our last). I followed a link from someone else’s blog and was immediately captivated. I was in very early labour, my eldest child (almost four years old) was at pre-school, my ‘middle’ child (almost two years old) was napping and I was engrossed in your story. I then saw the photo of your husband Chris holding Little One in the hotel room, tears streaming down his face. I will admit: I sobbed. Sobbed my heart out for that joy, that perfect moment, that heightened emotion. I was high as kite on labouring hormones but never mind…that image touched my heart in way I had never known. Your baby came home to you the same day my baby came home to me.
    In the (almost EIGHT – how did time go so fast?!) months since our babies arrived I have read your blog religiously. My four year old knows Little One’s pictures well. After her surgery, my daughter did not recognise her…we both had become accustomed to that magnificient cleft grin. Such a grin! Her new mouth is indeed beautiful…but I want to thank you for introducing me (and my daughter) to what raw beauty looked like. Little One’s cleft was the first ‘imperfection’ I have fallen in love with and seen as perfect. I mourned the loss of that irresistable grin for a week or two…before I fell in love with that new little face.
    Thank you for sharing the journey…we’re in Victoria, Australia and we have been following it with utmost attention. Your family is beautiful…and I feel a special little bond (hopefully in a way that doesn’t creep you out!) that our babies arrived into our families on the same day. I’ll never forget that image or my husband’s response when I called to him – sobbing – to come look: “Babe – this is it – our baby’s on the way. Any happy image that’s got you in such a state is telling me this is it!”

  • Gina - Hi Ashley,

    I just wanted to start of by saying thank you.

    I live in the UK, and am 18 years old. A few years ago, I was informed I would never have children, due to various health issues. Around the same time, I was directed to your blog by a friend.

    At the time, I was struggling with my inability to have children, as was my family. My mum was devastated. However, through reading your blog, seeing your story of adopting your gorgeous little girl, and more than anything seeing your eternally positive mindset, I knew that things would be better. Your story also led me to God, and I embraced the fact that He had a different path for me – adoption.

    However, my mum disagreed. She made several hurtful comments, about being unable to love any child I adopted, and how my sisters own children would always come first. These are issues I am still coming to terms with.

    But I showed her your blog. And slowly, she is coming around to the idea that my inability to have children is simply God’s way of giving me a different path.

    So thank you. You led me to God, and through that have changed my life. You have given me hope for my future, and seeing the bond you share with your little one has made me so excited to begin my own journey. But beyond this, you have helped my mum understand the beauty of adoption. So thank you eternally for all you have done for me.

    Best wishes to you and your family xx

  • Patti - Thank you, beautifully put.

  • Angela - Thank you for sharing! I love your response today, “Just smile!” That sums it up doesn’t it. Especially as a Christian, I should share the joy of Christ with those I encounter. It doesn’t matter if it’s a physical difference, a different religion, a different sports team!…. I should see those around me as God’s beautiful creation! We are ALL precious in HIS sight!

    I love your heart and I appreciate your sharing your journey with us. I share your blog with my kids (boy – 11 and girl – 9) so they can understand that though we are not all the same, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made!

  • Theresa - I would like to thank you for your story. Your blog has been such an inspiration to me and as I dream of adopting one day, you give the courage to choose a child that may not be “perfect.”

    My children have stared at the pictures of your daughter and were afraid that she was hurt. I was happy to have the opportunity to teach them that she was ok, it didn’t hurt her, and her lip would be fixed. After that, they frequently saw her picture and didn’t mention it.

    So again, thank you for bringing awareness to people through your beautiful daughter and your beautiful blog 🙂

  • Linda - Sharing yourself so beautifully, scars and all–amazing! You have touched and probably helped so many people today. I thank God for your heart, your daughter and both kinds of beauty–physical and spiritual. May God continue to bless you!

  • Caroline - I happened to stumble upon your blog through A Beautiful Mess when I saw the pictures from your home. However, I had to stop on this post and I’m going to try to be brief because going into a long story about myself, is definitely not my intention. I just wanted to say that this post, reading it, hit something within myself. I was born with a double cleft lip and like your amazing daughter, had to have a lot of surgeries to try and heal it all together as much as possible. Having a cleft lip is so hidden and I grew up with feeling shame due to what I heard from others. So I just wanted to say that we truly need more stories like yours.
    I think your daughter is absolutely gorgeous and I hope she hears this every day.

    There is so much cruelty out there towards things that are unknown and different but also unnecessary pity that is equally frustrating. If I could, I would give you the biggest embrace. You seem like an amazing person and your family is beautiful. Good luck with everything and again, thank you thank you thank you.

  • Alice H - Your daughter was and is beautiful. I have never seen her as just having a cleft lip because I have never seen her through anything but your eyes and your kids eyes. I bet those stares were hard but you made it thru. You are strong and she will be strong because of you!

    Also on another note, my niece burner her hand really bad when she was 8 months old. It was a 3rd degree burn and she had to have a skin graft. It really broke my heart when I was at one her birthday parties (I think it was her 7th) at the skating rink and McKenna went to hold her friends hand and her friend said “ew I don’t want to touch your ugly hand”. I wanted to slap that little girl so bad but my niece just said “its not ugly, its a burn, but you can hold my other hand instead”. Anyways, eventually Little One will be able to stand up for herself and you will give her the tools she needs to do so if anyone ever says anything mean to her.

  • janet @ ordinary mom - I just wanted to say thank you for this post. To be honest, I would have been one of the ones who wouldn’t know what to say. I would have been the one who may have be hesitant and commented on the shoes, or the headband. But I know now because of how open you have been with this journey that I move forward hoping to be the stranger friend who exclaims on all children’s beauty.

    Because all children are beautiful.

    Thank you.

  • mandi@herbanhomestead - Gosh Ashley, I had no idea! I guess I just assumed that we live in a progressive enough culture that people are so…cruel. That’s naive, I see now. I’m sorry that the time that should have been all about joy for you guys (bringing your daughter home), was marked with such cruelty and hardship. She, just like your other kiddos, is (and always has been) gorgeous.

  • Kim - My daughter has a scar on her lip from a dog bite when she was one, she’s now twenty. We don’t even notice it anymore but when she was younger she said new situations (a new class, new teammates, new job) always made her nervous because she knew somebody would bring it up. A few years back I heard a line from a Goo Goo Dolls song that really struck me. The song is called Name and the lyrics go “scars are souvenirs you never lose, the past is never far”. Now when people ask she simply tells them it’s a souvenir. In our eyes, she’s beautiful. So is your baby girl.

  • Alison - Your daughter is BEAUTIFUL. If I saw you in a grocery store I would have a really hard time not pinching those adorable cheeks and that adorable nose. So so so so CUTE!!!

  • Alison - She really is beautiful 🙂 But you know that.

  • Jessica - I have a little girl who is a congenital quadruple amputee, so we’ve been know to put more than a few heads on swivel too. There is much kindness and there has been much hurt. The playground in particular seems to be our nemesis.

    As hard as it can be to deal with the hurt, we have experienced the beauty of that pain. It isn’t beautiful in that moment, but grace comes from the hard, resilience comes from the ruddy, unculled moments.

    May each of those hard moments be turned into future blessings for you and your kids.

  • Beckyjopdx - I thank you for writing this, and writing exactly how you wrote it. Don’t pull punches; no amendment needed. This is a much needed perspective for me and others. Now I am reminded of my behavior and how I should be responding to a beautiful baby. This is a reality check we need as humans. By the way, you’re right. She is absolutely beautiful in every photo here.

  • Whitney - I read this yesterday and thought about it for a while.

    My four year old son was born with a cleft that looked a lot like your daughter’s (maybe it was bigger).

    We knew from my sonogram that he had it, but it was still a shock. he looked so different than I was expecting, but he was beautiful and mine. He was “normal” to me and we didn’t think much about it until people would say something in public. Honestly, the worst experience was with older adults, including one family member. I remember kids asking questions to make sure he was okay, but they were so different. They wanted to care, not to ostracize. His lip was repaired just a few short months later. Recently, I found a video of him before the repair. In it, he was smiling and laughing. His smile is so wide, so happy, that it just made my heart burst. He was so perfect, even then!

    Now, of course, cleft isn’t a part of our lives anymore. It’s completely unnoticeable and has no effects, which we’re grateful for. About a year ago, we were at IKEA when I saw a little baby boy who had an almost identical cleft.

    He smiled his big, radiant smile at me, and he was so beautiful, I was just in awe! I couldn’t get over it. Even now, I start crying when I think about that baby.

    Yes, your daughter’s shoes or clothes are cute, but really, she’s beautiful and perfect.

  • christina larsen - Such a raw post and truly from your heart. Thank you for sharing with us. All of your children are beautiful, you are truly blessed!

  • Sharon Long - I loved this post, because it is so true that everything seems to be defined by your outer looks and not your inner self. Little One is an amazing child, but I think her mama is just as amazing!

  • Alex - What a wonderful story to wakeup and stumble across. I truly feel blessed to have a little glimpse into you and your family’s courageousness. Starting the day with a new perspective on life. Thanks you for that. God Bless your family. <3

  • Sarah - I’ve stumbled upon your blogs a couple times during the past few months and every time it’s moved me to tears. You have such a beautiful family with a beautiful story to share. Your daughter is beautiful, and she was before her surgery too. Thank you so much for sharing your vulnerable beating heart with us.

  • emily anderson - E was beautiful then, and is beautiful now.

    i just love that little girl

  • Hannahbelle - I have a dear friend who is 24 and was born with a cleft lip. He is not adopted, he was born in the USA, and his family got him great medical treatment and surgery — like your baby girl, his scar remains and his facial structure is slightly different that that of other people’s because of the scar and reconstruction.

    I met him in college and we formed a quick friendship and flirted a lot — many of our friends thought that we would end up dating but we never did. I think part of it was that at the age of 20, I just couldn’t get past what my idea of handsome was to see who he was even with the scar. In total truth, I didn’t deserve him. He is such a special person — hilarious, kind, empathetic, brave. He is a man who believes in justice and equality and cares about people deeply. He is a man who any woman would be proud to have as a son, friend, brother, father or husband. I was too young and too shallow to realize what I had nearby me. As we have grown older, he and I have kept our friendship and we are still very close. He is still the amazing person that I know and love dearly as a friend, and I have come to see how handsome he truly is over time. We are not together, he has since moved on to women who are more perceptive than I was, I think 😉

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that your daughter will face challenges because of her scar, but perhaps she will be one of the best people in the world for it. Even though I consider myself a good person, I had to grow into that person, and people like my friend changed and molded me along the way. I think your daughter has a unique opportunity to teach others a lesson in beauty simply by existing and being present in their lives. People will learn how to appreciate her physical beauty and her inner beauty, perhaps even more readily than others, because of her scar. And the people who love her most will be the very best kind of people.

    Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story and thank you for reminding me of my own. I’m going to call my friend and tell him how special he is to me.

  • lexie - this was so beautifully written. your honesty mirrors so much of what my heart feels about my newest little sister my parents most recently brought home china. ellie pearl. she has a cleft, but not in her lip. her cleft is in her nose. i find it to be absolutely perfect, that nose. i never dreamt that i’d fear “missing it” like you mentioned when your sweet little one had surgery. but i’m already not looking forward to the day that i have to kiss that oh so perfect nose good bye. i love it. it just makes her face extra kissable. 🙂

    thank you again for your honesty. you have a beautiful, beautiful family!


  • Stacy - Beautiful post! Our oldest daughter has multiple disabilities and is in a wheelchair. We have always gotten lots of stares when we go out. I used to love just staying at home with her because everything was “normal” there – nobody pointing out all that she couldn’t do or asking why she has her mouth open, is drooling, can’t talk, etc. Now we 4 have boys that were adopted – they are Hispanic and I am a blue-eyed blonde. We continue to get lots of stares about the composition and size of our family (7 kids) but now I just smile and pretend that they are jealous of us. 🙂 Makes me chuckle inside everytime somebody stares!

  • Erin - Thank you Ashley for your open and brave honesty. May God continue to bless you all for your beauty–inside and out!

  • Midwest Magnolia - Melissa Lewis - Thank you Ashley. Thank you for opening your heart to us, knowing that each thought will be examined and scrutinized by some. It had to have been difficult to post something so vulnerable and so precious to your heart. The act of simply pushing the “publish” button had to have taken quite a bit of courage and strength. Thank you, yet again, for being vulnerable and opening up your heart to the world. What a blessing it is to read these posts.
    Little One is absolutely beautiful and her smile (the before and the after) radiates Gods goodness! ~ ~Melissa

  • Sharon - What a cutie! I love reading stories like this. My son was also born with a cleft lip and palate. Watch her speech and don’t be afraid to ask for help. In our state, from age 3 on, they can get support from the school system in the form of speech therapy. Being a special education teacher, I know how important speech is and that it develops appropriately. It affects so many other areas. Educate those around you. Children are always so curious and wanting to know about what a cleft is. It’s interesting watching them as you describe it to them. Good luck on your adventures with your daughter. With such a supportive mom, she’ll go places!

  • whittakerwoman - Loved that you wrote this. Loved every detail and truth to you. Sorry that you had to update. Sometimes people need to look at the heart of the article not the details. I am pumped to hang out next week! H

  • Terri - What a beautiful story! I too have a daughter with a cleft lip and palate who is now almost 14. The stares before her lip repair were sometimes cruel and made me not want to take her places. But after 7 surgeries in her short life and the questions about her scar even now, it has made me so proud of her and her courage. I read somewhere that scars are a badge of honor, it meant you had survived something and I do believe that. My daughter has been through more than I could ever imagine and it has made her a better person. Yes we struggle and I fear teenage years when folks can be cruel. But a cleft is just one part of her, it does not define her but it has shaped her life. I wish you and your beautiful daughter all the best!

  • Tawnya Smith - Ashley – just had to say that your daughter, and your journey in bringing her home has even changed ME. I can whole-heartedly say that I have seen the beauty in her, her cleft lip, and all of who she is from the day you first showed us her pictures, and a large part of that is because you brought us into your journey, and it brought me to an open “safe” place of being able to see your Little One who happened to have a cleft palate. I’ve never known anyone whose had one, and I’ve never had the chance to “stare”, but could safely do that through a computer screen….except more in wonder, and amazement, and to see the beauty from God in her. I guess I’m trying to convey that you have made a difference in showing people the beauty, and when I see pictures of Little One (before and after surgery), I can’t stop looking at that beautiful face! So thanks for allowing us into your journey – and thanks for writing such a hard post – God’s spirit shines through you to so many!

  • Lisa Box - Oh man, Ashley…THIS is why I keep coming back to your blog. What a different perspective you have…what a GOD perspective! You have taught me so much about beauty and love. Thank you!!!
    Love, Lisa

  • Libby - Hi Ashley. Another cleft mom shared this with me and I’m so glad she did. I would have killed to read something that made me feel so connected to another mother when my son was born with bi-lateral cleft lip (and palate) seven years ago. He also had an extra thumb on his right hand, something that appears to have been completely unrelated. I relate so clearly to all of your mixed emotions in those months pre-surgery…especially the fear and longing for the pre-surgery smile. As much as we wanted him to be viewed by strangers as “just another cute baby” I also had fallen in love with his perfectly “unrepaired” self. I mourned the loss of the baby as I knew him just as I celebrated our amazing surgeon (Dr. Vicari At Children’s in Chicago). It all felt so hard.

    Today, Eli’s only experience with being a cleft kid are the occasional questions about “why is your lip so bumpy?” (which he hates) and the special orthodontist we see at the craniofacial clinic. We’re looking at a bone graft in the next few years, so that will bring another round of learning for us as a family. Holding you close in my heart and feeling so grateful for the words you’ve given for what’s in my heart. xo

  • Tiina - I could say amen to your post. You have a great skill of writing and expressing your feelings. Ever since your adaption process I have been following your little ones story and without even knowing you I fell in love with the little one too. She was and is still such a cute little girl. I believe many people are not surrounded with abnormalities and that’s why they don’t know how to face such a person in normal way and the situations can occur sudden and person can lock in and don’t really know what to say. You are lucky to be surrounded with great people. Keep you chin up and keep going.

  • Sue - Hello Ashley! Your story is beautiful…. Your spirit and courage are a wonderful gift for a child born with a cleft. That alone will fade her scar physically and emotionally.

    I was born with a cleft lip and partial cleft palate 48 years ago. I can count on one hand the number of times anyone even asked me “what happened” to my lip. I never thought about it — none of my siblings, classmates, or anyone ever mocked it. I wish the same for your Little One, and believe she will have a wonderful life!


  • Jenni - She is a beautiful girl. Both before and after. My son was born with a CL/CP, he recently had his lip repair. I remember seeing him for the first time after and wanting to cry because I realized that I would never see his big cleft lip smile again. I am lucky to be from a small town where I could could explain things and there for minimize the stares. We had a lot of support for our local community. Today his smile is beautiful and we wouldn’t change anything about the path we have traveled together.

  • Keshet Starr - Can I just say you did such a good job of showing us her soul in your blog posts. I saw her soul clearly she was never anything but beautiful to me:)

  • Amanda - One day, my husband and I plan to adopt. And only God knows right now what our own little one will look like. We’re open to a lot of things and as I follow your story I try to soak up your knowledge and experience. Thank you for sharing your beautiful family with the world. Each one of your Littles is beautiful, unique, and exactly right for your family.

  • Claire - thank you for your post; I just discover your blogg via “a beautifull mess” that I follow since 2 years; I’m a swiss woman and I have a cleft lip too. I totally understand what you feel because my mother feel exactely the same; even today she still suffering about it; in fact I think father/mother suffer more than the child because they see everything but canno’t do anything to protect their child. I want to tell you that the life is not so hard with a scar on the face; I taked time to be ok with that but now, when people look at my lip or my scar or ask my if a had an accident it doesn’t hurt me anymore. I’m a mother of a boy, he has no problem at all.
    So enjoy the life with your pretty baby girl ! (Sorry for the mistake)

  • Laura - Tears. I am so grateful to have found your blog and touched by this particular post. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for being a witness to Christ and His perfect love. We are adopting a special needs girl from China and are in the early stages of the process. I will certainly be following your story for encouragement! Would love for you to be connected through mine as well. http://www.lomanadoption.blogspot.com Blessings to you and your previous family!

  • Jorge Castro - The family, sports, i love my family, is the base of the world!!!!

  • Sharon Covert - This is my first time visiting your blog. My daughter is from Vietnam and was born with a cleft lip also. I felt many of the same things you did. I didn’t even notice her lip or think about it, and when it was repaired I did mourn the loss of who she was and what she looked like before the surgery. She is 6 now and even though she is absolutely stunning, she is very self conscious about her lip now and when she sees pictures of herself as a baby. Breaks my heart!

  • Rose E. - It used to be that when I saw the pictures in magazines of children with cleft lips, I would quickly flip past because those pictures actually frightened me. But now, because of you, I see children with cleft lips and just think what little cutie pies they are.

  • Joanna - I agree with every word you have written. My son was born with a cleft lip about 3 years ago. I miss his wide gummy smile all the time. I fell in love with that wide, open grin. It would just melt my heart every single time he smiled at me. I faced the hard reality of people staring and whispering but it made me such a stronger and better person. My son came into my life at the right time. I use to worry about my outer appereance to the point of obsession at times. Like I said, he came into my life at the right time and for a reason!! I no longer stress about my body image, if my outfit is what is currently “in”, etc. All those worries literally flew out of the window when I saw my son’s smile for the first time. I am so thankful and blessed he came into my life!!

  • Anissa - I came across your website looking for washi tape. I am a mother to a now 18 yr old bilateral cleft lip and palate daughter who is the most gorgeous girl inside and out.I was so inspired by your stories.I remember people used to look at my daughter when we went out.My heart is with you.Keep smiling.


  • Melanie Adams - beautifully written by a beautiful mother of a truly beautiful daughter. your story is a beautiful one -thank you for opening up and sharing! xox

  • Jana Brown - Ashley, your daughter is truly beautiful. I must confess, I was stunned by the initial pictures of her — taken aback at the cleft. I was a labor nurse for 7 years, and saw some babies born with clefts, but something about the pictures on your blog was hard to see. I want you to know that through your blog, I have had the blessing of learning to see true beauty. I’ve had opportunities to talk to my girls about true beauty, since they have seen the pictures as well. And we are all better for it. Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly about your journey, and may the Lord continue to bless your beautiful family.

  • amy jupin - i am standing up cheering for you ashley.
    i think you are right, you wrote this directly from a mother’s point of view, your point of view, so please don’t apologize for a word of it.
    she is one blessed little girl.
    love y’all so much.

  • Jodi Davis - I read this blog and a tear comes to my eye but a smile to my face. If gives me hope. My daughter unknowingly to me was born with a cleft lip and palate. It was such an emotional time for mw right away but after spending just a few hours with this wonderful little girl made me realize she is too wonderful for me to worry. But I worried about all the same things. I think as a mother you don’t want to have your poor child be “mad fun of” or “looked at” and “what would I tell everyone”. I soon realized I didn’t care about that because I had the sweetest little girl who was so loved by my husband and I and an older brother that never asked after the initial ask of what was wrong with her lip. He loved her all the same. She was loved. She is getting ready in a few months to have her palate surgery and I do feel a little guilty because this is her last big surgery for a while. My girl who had a perfect smile in my eyes is now perfect in everyone’s eyes and soon she will be able to eat and enjoy foods without it coming out her nose, which will be wonderful for her but I still will miss helping her eat. Its all steps in the right direction but it sure makes you look at life differently and you soon realize the little things don’t matter and to live one day at a time because with a blink of an eye things change. I think you are amazing and your children are pleased to grow up in such a wonderful family as yours and to understand that beauty comes from the inside out! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • shannon conway - Hi Ashley I have been reading your blog for sometime now. A friend of mine, sent me your link and said I should start following you. My daughter was born with a cleft palate. It as been hard and we have hadto learn how do feed her AMD sooth her.

  • Shannon conway - Sorry didn’t mean to send that yet! Anyway it has been a hard road which you know. I have been reading your blog for help and what to expect. My daughter is 6 moths old and we are fixing to have her first surgery. Just wanted you to know that you have been a big help to me. It’s going to be hard but i know we can get though it.

    Sending my love and prayers for one cleft mom to another!
    Shannon Conway

  • Jenn Hays - What a beautiful and well written post. I feel it is so important for adoptive families to talk about the hard parts of adoption so healing and support can take place. Much love to you from one adoptive mom to another!

  • Kelly - This is such a wonderful post. I miss her old smile too even though her new smile is wonderful! Both so much a part of who she is and I think it is perfectly wonderful to miss her old smile, to have loved it as you did and I love that God shows the beauty in it and I’m sad with you that some aren’t able to see that but at the same time understand that in this fallen world that is just the way it is. I appreciate the way you expressed your sadness but not judgement on others. Kelly

  • Ginette - Ashley, I so badly want to tell you this, but at the same time fear that it won’t be taken the way I mean it. So I guess I will just ask that you read this knowing I mean it with love wrapped in kindness. And I pray that it in know way breaks your heart to hear my authenticity.

    I have always had trouble looking at cleft lips. We would receive pictures of children with clefts in the mail, and it was so hard for me to look past the cleft and see that child’s beauty. I sure if I saw a child with one in real life, I would stare, or look away.

    Then I met Little One through your blog….and I fell in love with her. I was able for the first time in my life to look a child with a cleft and see them as beautiful. I see her clefty smile (as I think you have called it) and it is the most stunning, radiant, sunshine smile I have ever seen. Truly. I feel like I have never in my life seen such a glowing smile as her clefty smile. My heart is full when I see pictures of Little One and I wish I could hug her, meet her, hold her, and smile with her. Every time I saw you post a picture of her smile, I would smile with her…it is contagious. When she went in to get surgery, I was so surprised that I too, like you, felt sad to see her clefty smile go. I miss it too. And I have never even met her…

    What amazes me is that I know it was your love, your sharing your journey, your Little One, all changed me…forever. I know that I will be able to look at children with clefts now and see them as beautiful as they really are. That I won’t stare or look away, but just see them as a child. I love that you gave me that. So I guess I just wanted to write all this to say thank you. And thank you for sharing this post, and sharing your heart with all of us. Thank you.

  • AshleyAnn - Ginette – thank you so much for that sweet encouragement and being brave enough to write it…thank you 🙂

  • Quentin - Being a 17 yo cleftee, I always resented my parents for bringin’ me to life.
    Now that I saw your post, I understand better the feeling a parent can have on the matter.
    Thank you for this beautiful post.

  • oona pohjolainen - This was beautiful and inspiring.
    Oona (adventuredarling.blogspot.fi)

  • Sortido de coisas bonitas… (2) ← Short story of life and style... - […] ao blog Under the Sycamore através deste post tão duro de ler mas ao mesmo tempo tão tranquilizador.  Duro porque a ideia de que este é […]

  • Courtney - Thank you for your honest story here. I am a speech therapist actually headed to China this afternoon to join a medical team providing surgeries for children with cleft lip/palate. Knowing I was about to head out, my friend shared with me this blog.

    Professionally, I am prone to see a child with a cleft, both repaired and unrepaired, and zone in on speech and language development. In my mindset, these children are beautiful, but I gravitate towards “fixing” their sounds. Sadly, it’s easy to forget that these patients are children. Just. Children. With families who love them. Thank you for this reminder as I head out.

  • Patricia Coron - Our adorable Susan had a cleft lip but the palet was ok. She was almost 10#s when she was born so the plastic surgery was done within 3 months or less. We took her to Children’s Hospital in Peoria, Ill., where a DR Slaughter with very big fingers, performed his magic. When Susan entered college her lip was sanded and the scar is barely noticeable. Susan is now 48 and has two handsome boys. Susan also had an ear tab on each ear. Those were also removed. Her 16 yr old son was also born with one and as it is very small, he still has it. The ear tabs appear to be a family trait as an aunt of my husband’s had one too. Susan is a beautiful french looking girl and is loved by anyone whose life she touches. If I could post a picture of her, everyone would see how beautiful a person can turn out to be.

  • Stephanie D - Bless your heart for writing this post. I was born with a facial deformity, much like a cleft lip but a cleft on the entire side of my right face.
    I’m forever scarred by the way I was treated during my childhoos and teen years.
    I am 41 now, and still, everyday it is difficult to go out into the world. It is such a difficult thing to live with.

    I believe there is much more knowledge and acceptance of these things these days and for those that must grow up with facial deformities now, I am thankful.

  • Caitlin - I am so glad that I stumbled upon your blog and this post! I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate and will be 26 in July.

    I love reading from the perspective of CL/CP parents – it reminds me to be thankful for what my parents did for me when I was growing up and the sacrifices they made. I was also happy to hear that you’ve been able to read what teenagers have posted on this topic – I’ve been there, and, through a summer camp in Indiana designed specifically for kids with craniofacial anomalies (including many CL/CPers), I now have many friends who have also been down this road.

    If there’s any advice I could give to you, it would be this: Don’t ever wish her experiences or her scar away. Being born with a CL/CP has made me stronger, and if someone were to ask me if I could do it over again and not be born with it, I’d tell them no. It’s made me who I am, and I’m proud of that. If she’s not ashamed of what she was born with, it will make it harder for other kids to tease her for it. And you’ll be able to play an instrumental role in that – if you teach her that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and work with her on how to explain it to other kids (because they will ask), she’ll be okay.

    Just as your scars tell stories, so will hers. Just as you and I are thankful for our scars (metaphorically and physically), I hope she’ll grow to be thankful for hers, too!

    If you’re interested in learning more about the summer camp I went to, you can check it out here: http://iuhealth.org/riley/cleft/for-patients-and-families/camp-about-face/

    All the best in your journey!

  • AshleyAnn - Caitlin – thank you so much for that comment. I do hope and pray she will see her beautiful scars the way you see yours. I’ve met a lot of people born with CL/CP and not many have your perspective. Your perspective is what I long for for my daughter. Thank you. I’m off to check out that camp…

  • Tara Baum - Hi Ashley Ann,
    I just stumbled across your blog today. My son is 4 1/2 months old and has a cleft lip and palate. His lip surgery is on Monday, I am trying as a mother to find the strength for Monday. I am dreading it. I just LOVE my sons smile and always have and am going to miss it so much! Like you i would never not do the surgery for the little ones sake later on in life but its so hard to even comprehend how different he will look. I am in all honesty so scared. I read your blog and your beautiful little girl is just that she is beautiful!
    I agree with this post in every way. It is so hard as a mother with a baby that has a defect but the people around us; family, friends all help us through the tough times. My husband and I are so fortunate to having a strong foundation around us but it is still hard.
    Anyways, I just wanted to write and let you know that you are not in it alone. In fact your blog has helped me with forshadowing what it will be like in some degree on Monday. For that I am greatful. Thank you!

  • Liz - Hi there, this is so touching. I have a cleft lip and palate… I am 45 and a mom and wife. I have a 9 year old boy/w no issues at all. This just touched my heart so much. I have tears in my eyes. This little girl is so lucky to have you. You are lucky to have found each other. Yes, it is a struggle to have a cleft lip and palate. We are different. We are also very strong, loving, and courageous people. We have a compassion for others because we have had this pain and struggle. Please feel free to email me I am also on FB. I will connect with you on FB. Big hugs to you! Liz Christner.

  • Keira - I just wanted to say what an amazing story. It gave me some perspective to how my Mom would have felt with me. I was born in 1970 with a cleft lip and pallet after many surgeries it was repaired as best as it would ever be. I still get those stares from time to time. When I see children with cleft lips (repaired or not) I always feel compelled to show them my scars. I remember every adult with a cleft lip I ever met and the connection I had with them. I was shopping once and saw a mother, grandmother and and daughter with a recently repaired cleft lip. I approached the mother and asked about her daughter. She was on guard from the start. Short and curt wouldn’t even look me in the face. Grandma turned her back on me. Until I said I was born with a cleft lip and pallet. Then they both had a ton of questions. It was heat-breaking to see them be so cautious of someone asking about a birth defect. I learned along time ago to just start talking about it because most people are curious and want to know why and how and as a society we have been told not to ask because it is impolite. But we are curious by nature and we should not be ashamed of our defects.

  • Cindy Phalen - Just read your story and I am not a mother but a grandmother of a beautiful little boy with cleft lip and palate. Gods grace has been great as he had fed great since birth and now at 10 weeks wt 14+ pounds. We are at the eve of his first surgery to repair his lip. Yesterday his brother who is 3 said he didn’t want babys lip fixed. I know how he feels my grandson smiles with a smile that lights up his whole face. Its a smile that I thankfully get to see daily as they live close. And surgery will go great but is a change and I know that gorgeous smile with change for the better. But his smile will change to a new one and I will love it too. But I so love this smile also. Thank you for sharing. Cindy

  • Lara Korba - Ashley,

    What a beautiful story you have to share – honest, heartbreaking and so very loving. I stumbled across your blog in the midst of research. I work for a non-profit that helps impoverished children with clefts who would never have access to the surgery.

    Your daughter was beautiful before and beautiful now, as is your extraordinary love for her.

    Thank you for sharing your story!!

    Lara Korba

  • Sharon - what a lovely well written story, you have a beautiful and gorgeous little girl, love and best wishes to you, her and your other children xx

  • Habib - It’s only been 71 hours me & my wife have a boy with cleft lip & palate, till now i was happy with that but now start weeping, wondering how people will react to our baby. we live in a society where still people think either it’s a curse or a superstition.
    Well written mam, may Allah bless you and your family.

  • gena - I want to do you the favor of letting you know how much I’ve enjoyed your blog these past couple of weeks. Your words and outlook on life are an inspiration. Not to mention your DIY style– color is life!

    About a week after we discovered our baby had a cleft lip and palate (I’m 24 weeks pregnant), I wrote the “bittersweet” quote you posted on our kitchen chalkboard door. It helped guide me from a place of mourning the loss of the baby I expected us to have to a place of total acceptance and excitement for our road ahead.

    Thank you for posting.

  • Melissa - Thank you so much for sharing. I am training to be a speech therapist and we are talking about cleft palates. In school, we focus on the physical/ scientific information regarding cleft palates but its important to get in touch with people’s feelings surrounding the topic. There is no emphasis on the emotional and psychological aspects of it. Also, I am trying to look at lots of images of cleft palates to get used to seeing a different face in the hopes that I don’t stare or react in a way that makes someone uncomfortable when I am working with their child. Your story is beautiful and a great insight into the emotional world of parent’s whose children have cleft palates. I will remember this in the future and I hope it helps me a better, more sensitive clinician. Thank you.

  • Budding Taste: The Nose Knows | Inspired healthy organized - […] from a mother of a daughter who had a cleft lip and palate, go here (more medical description) and here (personal experience of […]

  • Rachel - As a mommy to a cleft baby, I just relived every emotion through your post. I have both tears of sadness and joy streaming down my face…at work, none the less. 🙂
    I find it absolutely amazing that I always try to seek out the cleft mama’s and how much we can relate, as I didn’t have that through my journey with my son. I received an email from Mpix on how to “improve your phone photography.” After reading the article and admiring the photos I noticed the slight ever so tiny yet all too familiar little scar above your daughters lip. I’m glad I dug deeper into your article and blog. What a ray of sunshine you are.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Lia - Hi Ashley, your post made me cry, but in a good way. I am a 25 year old girl with a cleft lip and I have always dealed with my condition alone inside my head and always feel uncomfortable when another person would bring it up to me. I always wondered how my own mother felt when she had me as a child. It’s only now that I began to search the internet about other people dealing with this and I find your feelings really moving and inspiring. I am intending to write my own take about my experience and hopefully I could have the same bravery as you did. Your daughter is very beautiful. Thank you so much.

  • AshleyAnn - Lia – thank you so much for sharing your story with me, I am so humbled by that. Your words are a gift to me, thank you!

  • Ashley Barnes - Thankyou so much for this… i have a 3 month old baby girl that is getting her cleft lip repair done in 7 days, and this has completely summarized how i feel right now. I dont every want to kiss my baby girls perfect clefty lips and know its the last time they will feel that way, i will no longer feel that little peeking of gums from between her lips as she smiles through our kisses. This is hard, and you helped me feel alot better today 🙂 Thankyou.

  • Katie - Thank you so much for this and your honesty. As a cleft mom I’m in tears reading this because I can relate. We go next month to have his first surgery and I can’t believe how sad I am to see his cleft lip fixed.

  • Mark ~ - I’m an older man. I also was born with a cleft lip. While I was surfing around I happened to come across your page and had read every single word, slowly and with deep understanding. I would like to talk with you through emails if that’s ok with you. I understand what lives inside you, what has been born inside you along with your daughters birth and life with her cleft. I understand everything you’ve said and the feelings between the words and sentences, and,,, the tears, the weight of it all.. ALL of it. I’ve walked my life’s path alone. My mother ignored me once my younger brother was born, perfect, blue eyes, blond, one of the “beautiful ones”, she turned her back on me and I mean what I say. I had to feed myself, eat left overs, even pre teen I’d come in the house at 3AM and she didn’t care. She abandoned me. My father was never home because he worked all the time. My brother and 2 sisters made fun of my cleft as did mostly everyone else I’d ever known and I just lived with it best I could. Teachers, acquaintances, bosses, strangers, all built a wall and pushed me outside of it. I fought back. I had a higher IQ than most people I’d ever met, I was kind hearted, I can see inside people and understand them, but they to me, no, I was cursed to being treated as damaged goods, white trash, stupid, retarded, a joke. I fought back still. I was a musician in a rock band that did VERY well, I managed a store that claimed #1 on the east coast for sales, I completed college and worked electrical in the union for years, I was hell’s wheels on a motorcycle, I built street racer cars that were beautiful to see, and I’d found Jesus. No I’m not a fanatic but I have to say, yes I’d found Jesus at a very early age, you might say we have a brotherly or fatherly relationship, somehow I think I’ve walked near the same path as He, for this cross I carry is life long and has been deep with heartache. You said you don’t believe the whole world is horrible, the truth is maybe not for you or for the beautiful ones but for me and others like me we have no where to go for shelter, there is no where saying All “Hair Lip” people come gather here, there is understanding and love, acceptance, you wont be seen as a freak here,,, no there is no shelter, no one understands what the life is for us, the life society forced on us (cleft lip people) pushed off to the side and disgarded as low life underachievers and bearers of bad geneology where daughters of parents kill the love of their daughter for a boy with a cleft lip once met face to face and the “hair lip” is realized, when the daughter finally gets up enough balls to show him to her mother and father and they warn her off of him to never see him again. Over and Over and Over through the years, it never ends. I believe the human race is heartless and hateful once the vail is taken away, THEN and behind closed doors the teeth of prejudice comes out into the open. My cleft has given me an insight into people, oh and you can call me mental or what ever you’d like but I speak the truth and I think you know this already and believe me in the years to come you’ll come to understand what it is I’m saying and know I’m rite. I know what your child needs from you, I know what it is you need to instill within her, I know the road she’ll walk and the road YOU will walk, even now you walk it, I know because I’ve lived it and still do, each and every day. I’ve not given up on myself because I know what I am inside but I’m always reminded of what I am to others who look at me. Days I’d like to commit suicide, Days I feel so good about myself for how far I’ve come, Days I pray God changes peoples hearts that they’d become loving and compassionate, Days I’d wish I wasn’t born 🙁 days I wish I wasn’t born with this. I’ve come to accept I’ll always be the trash people see me as and that I’ll never be able to crawl out of this no matter how hard I try. I love God, the sky, the trees, the sunshine, but people? do I love people? Do I love humanity? Oh I’m such a strong person or, Oh he’s got such an emotional problem, Oh he’s so mental,,, really? No its not me, its not your daughter or any of the other cleft people out here. You need to make your daughter strong and teach her to understand what the world is and how she’ll be seen by others and how to cope with it, how to overcome it. Give her the tools to survive humanity. Don’t lie to her, teach her the truth because when you fill her with these lies of hope she’ll realize she’s alone and you don’t understand her or what she needs to be understood by you, if you don’t face this WITH her well then with every word you say to her that isn’t the truth will push her away from you farther and farther until one day in her eyes you’ll become just like the rest of those that laugh at her and push their lip up with their finger and make faces at her and throw her into the abyss. YOU NEED TO BE HONEST with her and live it with her, MAKE her understand that YOU understand what its like. The pain you feel when you see others condemn her for it hurts you to the bone but for her it will be one thousand times deeper. This is where you need to live inside the love you share for each other. Its not how she’s dressed or any bull crap of society you can give her. You need to be able to touch her soul and wrap your arms around her at that level and be able to whisper the pain away at that level because every day for her she’ll be crucified by others a knife through the heart out of nowhere and yes people love to see the pain they inflict on us, and yes every day its like this. Soul Mate? yes you need to be this for her but totally honest and open with each other, IF you really love her, this is the level of love you need to give her. I know if you post this and really you don’t have to post this but I know there’s haters out there that will tear me apart for writing this, but those are the people I’ve warned you about. I’ve been honest with you. I’ve told you the truth, no bull crap. If you’d like to talk ok, you have my email. If not then I’m sure you’ve left me in the den of lions and I’ll be eaten alive by those who’ve read this and cant understand. Perhaps even you, don’t understand… yet. Anyway, there it is.

  • Melissa McGhee - What a great story! I was born with a cleft lip and palate…and can certainly identify with this story. There’s been times I want to scream also. People can be so cruel. I love the part about every scar has a story to tell. Mixed emotions have been a part of my life for 43 years. You learn to identify with Dr Suess’s “those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind”..

    Thank you