HEALTHY LIVING: Cleft lip son has always been perfect

Jacob Feather, aged four, who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
Jacob Feather, aged four, who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
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RUTH and Harry Feather from Middlewood, Sheffield, were terrified when they were told their unborn child would be born with a cleft lip and palate. But now their four-year-old son Jacob, is a happy, healthy boy who is looking forward to starting school. Ruth, aged 34, also mum to one-year-old William, told her story.

“WE found out at our 20-week scan that our son was going to be born with a one-sided cleft lip and palate.

Jacob Feather before his operation for a cleft lip

Jacob Feather before his operation for a cleft lip

“It was our first baby and we had no family history of clefts so we had no idea what to expect.

“That very afternoon we were contacted by a specialist nurse from the Trent Regional Cleft team who booked us in for a 3D scan in Nottingham two days later to find out if anything else was wrong. Hints were made about abortion.

“We were terrified - but we knew we didn’t want an abortion unless there was no chance the baby could live.

“Despite many assurances that all was well we spent the rest of the pregnancy worrying that something might have been missed.

“The only thing that made it better for us was when we were put in touch with a family in Doncaster who had a little boy, then aged two, who had been born with the exact same cleft our baby had been diagnosed with.

“Meeting that healthy, happy, beautiful little boy made everything so much better.

“Because the truth is that no matter how helpful and kind the specialists and health professionals are, how much they tell you it will all be okay, nothing beats meeting normal ordinary people, fellow parents, who have been though the same thing as you and found it was not as bad as they thought.

“Jacob has had surgery to reconstruct his lip and like many children born with cleft palate, he suffers from severe glue ear and has been wearing hearing aids since the age of 20 months.

“His speech is now excellent and was recently discharged from speech therapy with a report saying that his speech and language skills are years ahead of his age.

“We know we have been very lucky in this regard and we are very proud of him, but we have met many children whose speech is not so good, and for whom communication is a daily struggle. At four and a half, Jacob is an extremely happy, healthy and clever boy who is looking forward to going to school in September.

“He is confident, sociable and likes to play the fool and make others laugh.

“When he is old enough to make the choices for himself he will probably be offered further surgery to change his appearance - I hate to say improve because he’s always seemed perfect to me, even before any of his operations. He might have jaw realignment, lip revision, or a nose reconstruction, but it will be up to him.

“Because of our experience we have always supported The Cleft Lip and Palate Association, in any way we could.

“We have gone training to become CLAPA parent contacts, a voluntary unpaid role similar to that of the family we met in Doncaster.

“We are now setting up a group called Happy Faces Sheffield to provide support to local families with children born with cleft lip and or palate.

“We want others to be able to share their experiences with people who understand and get the reassurance that we had from our contact family in Doncaster.

“Family and friends will always be sympathetic, newly diagnosed parents will be continually told by well-meaning friends that ‘it could be worse’ or ‘it’s easily fixed’.

“But it is so much better to talk to fellow parents who have been through the operations.”