Story by Sara, as told to Karen Mulder
My Baby Was Born with a Birth Defect
Andrew Michael Briggs was born six weeks early weighing 4 pounds 15 ounces. As do most “expecting” parents, we had anticipated a healthy baby. We never thought about the possibility of our baby having a birth defect—particularly one as obvious as a facial cleft.
When I was pregnant with Andrew, I was extremely careful because I had lost a baby boy the year before. So I took every precaution and expected to have a healthy, safe, normal pregnancy. Andrew Michael was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.
When I saw my sweet boy for the first time, I wanted to tell him it wasn’t his fault. I took all the blame and guilt upon myself. Somehow, I thought I had caused this defect. My husband and I both wondered if we had done something in the past that warranted this problem. During the first few days in the hospital, I questioned: Why did this happen to my baby? Will he ever be able to kiss his mommy and daddy? What will people think and say when they see Andrew? Will my family love and accept him?
When we first brought Andrew home, he had to stay inside because his body temperature wouldn’t remain constant. So, in a way, we didn’t have to face friends or outside people for a couple of months. But, when we did take him out, I would try to cover up his lip with a cloth or blanket. I was embarrassed for us as well as for him.
Andrew’s first surgery was at four months of age. It took two hours. The hardest part for me was giving my baby boy to the nurses prior to surgery. The doctor did a wonderful job repairing Andrew Michael’s lip. His second surgery, to repair the soft palate, was at six and a half months of age. He also had tubes placed in both ears. And there will be more surgeries in Andrew’s future.
Andrew Michael has been a special blessing to our family. He has brought more tears, laughs, love, and joy to our home than we had previously known. We thank God daily for this little bundle of joy.
Sara’s Advice: Ways to Be a Caring Friend to New Parents
- Congratulate us on our new arrival.
- Send a card or a note saying, “I’m thinking of you.”
- Tell us that our baby is beautiful. Point out other beautiful features, like his big brown eyes and black hair
- Hold our baby. (Holding the baby says, “This handicap is not a barrier. I accept this special little person.”)
The following ideas come from the book Helping People through Grief by Delores Kuenning, a pastor’s wife.
- Do not say, “I’m sorry about . . .”
- Ask the usual questions you would ask of a new parent: “Does (name) sleep well?” “Is feeding going okay?” How are you feeling?” “Are you able to get enough rest?”
- Make life normal when you visit. For example, when the baby is old enough, bring a toy and say, “I’ve come to play with (name) for a little while.”
Photo Credit: Joshua Smith