My name is Elizabeth, I am 66 years of age and was born with a cleft lip and palate. Although they didn’t say so, I would imagine my parents were shocked when I was first born, but they quickly accepted the situation, and like my siblings, I was always loved for who I was and enjoyed being part of a big family. If my parents were alive today, I think they would be very upset and saddened to find that unborn babies with a cleft palate, and other disabilities are now considered to be dispensable. The UK government allows abortion up to birth for babies with a cleft lip and palate and for other disabilities. This is discrimination and is unjust. A child with a disability has as much right to life as anyone. They may have to undergo various treatments or require support, but they are nevertheless created with a purpose that they alone can fulfil.
I personally underwent several surgical operations over the years, two of these were when I was too young to remember, and two were during my teens and early twenties. There was some discomfort for a few days after the surgery, but the results were worth it. I remember the kindness and gentleness of the different specialists who treated me over the years. I also remember two of the young people I met along the way. One had suffered terrible burns due to an accident when she was only a baby, and the other was born very disabled. They were both courageous and inspiring in overcoming their difficulties, I learned a lot from their example and am thankful for this.
At times in my life, I have suffered from self-consciousness because of my cleft, this was especially a problem during adolescence and in my early twenties and even to this day it still affects me sometimes. Feeling inadequate or different is painful, there is no denying it, but it’s likely that everyone feels this way sometimes. My family and friends didn’t seem to see me as different in any way but were nevertheless sensitive to my feelings. I remember that when getting ready with my sisters to go out for an evening, my dad whispered to me that if he was a young man meeting us all, it would be me he would choose to dance with. He tended to give me compliments when I was dressed up for a special occasion. It was his way of giving me confidence to believe in myself. In truth it is who we are, and what is in our hearts that makes us truly attractive. It can take a while to realize this, but I’m sure it is true. I have found also that a good counterbalance for self-consciousness is to think of others and their needs, because we then stop worrying too much about ourselves.
My working life has almost always demanded good communication skills, as I have worked in various public facing roles. This has helped to build self-confidence, and, on a few occasions, I have chosen to speak publicly on issues I feel strongly about. This has been a deliberate choice not only because of my beliefs, but maybe also to prove to myself and to others that a cleft lip and palate does not prevent someone from communicating well. All of us suffer from disability in one form or another. Despite this we have potential, we are unique and indispensable.
The most special time in my life was when I became a mum. I have a wonderful daughter and two beautiful little granddaughters. My son in law is a good husband and father. Unfortunately, they do not live local to me and when I am away from them, I am never quite whole. A part of me is missing. Visits however are very special.
To parents who are expecting a child with a cleft lip and palate, or any other disability, and who may be considering abortion, I would say have courage and believe in your child. Maybe they will at times find life difficult, but with your love and support, and that of others, they will have the opportunity to be happy and to bring happiness to others. We have been created by God who loves us infinitely and who has endowed us with the ability to love in return. Love is creative and positive. It doesn’t give up and is life giving. This love is in you. You can do it.
To those who have had an abortion, I would also say don’t give up. God has not given up on you. He loves you and is calling you to turn back to him in your sorrow. He will forgive you, heal you, and help you to move forward in His love.