An Unremarkable Child

Our new baby boy was born mid-September, with a normal delivery, but after a couple days in the hospital, struggling to feed, we learned he has a cleft palate.

The palate is only visible when he has his mouth open, where you can see a vaulted arch, reaching into the roof of his mouth, in place of a weird dangly uvula. Learning this attribute of our brand new person affected my wife and me in entirely different ways. For me the characteristic was purely a pragmatic issue meaning that we would have to feed and store him differently. Babies with cleft palates, and therefore no partition between their nose and mouth, are not able to suck, and because of potential breathing difficulties, they have to be laid to sleep on their side. My wife’s reaction was one of guilt, having been the one to have physically supervised his in utero development, and therefore felt her actions may have attributed to this diversion of expectation. Not a drop of alcohol, nor a ground of caffeine had passed her lips since last Boxing Day when we got that second line. The blasé, unfeeling inquiry as to whether my wife had had the dreaded amniocentesis, in order to pre-diagnose likely chromosomal abnormalities in pregnancy, didn’t help her feel any better. She had not, and only heard the question as an accusation, “you’re approaching 40 and are probably too old to have a healthy baby, your eggs are probably just old” which didn’t really help. And again she felt robbed of the opportunity to breastfeed her baby, as baby #1 had a tongue tie they didn’t fix until he’d lost the breastfeeding reflex.

From their assessment, the consultants decided our boy’s cleft palate, apparently small chin, wider than usually spaced eyes, and low set ears were clear indications of some sort of chromosomal abnormalities. These characteristics can indicate a broad range of syndromes that include Down’s syndrome, Pierre Robin sequence (apparently the most likely in our case), all the way to horrific conditions that are heartbreakingly bracketed as “incompatible with life”. Bloods would need to be taken and we would be called back to discuss their findings in 6-8 weeks. That alone really puts a dampener on a brand new life and all the hopes, dreams and aspirations that come with it.

Of course, our hearts shattered and we braced for the worst. I took solace in the fact that the little boy we had before us didn’t appear to be suffering in any way, and signals suggested he was a pretty chilled out little dude.

The fact that some of the characteristics that they were taking as signs are clearly evident in his immediate family; my ears are set a bit low, and my Mother’s ears are lower still. The main argument I kept coming back to and was joined in by the plethora of health professional that visited us over the first few days when we finally made it home, was that, barring the palette and having much darker hair, HE LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME AS HIS BIG BROTHER!!!!!

So that 6-8 weeks has taken for-ev-er, and I, at various points, have done that annoying thing of repeatedly asking the same question and forgetting the answer. The question being whether they said we’d definitely have to go in for the results, and the answer was always “yes”.

The time since they took their blood samples has been peppered with regular visits from our allocated CLAPA (Cleft Lip and Palate Association) Nurse who assured us that they test for the REALLY bad stuff first. The tacit, although non-binding implication of this was that we would have heard back already if there was anything serious to uncover. So the weeks have ebbed away until we found ourselves halfway through week 5.

The sound of our letterbox slamming shut alerted my wife’s attention to the arrival of something through the post. Walking into the porch there was a single envelope on the mat, so she picked it up and eased it open unassumingly, and unconcerned.

The results were in, and were stated as “unremarkable”. suggest the following definitions for Unremarkable as: “Imperceptible; incapable of being observed or noted”.

Bear in mind this is a thorough review of the DNA and Chromosomal make up of a small baby whose parents have quietly been wondering about the amount of time they’ll get with him…

Is it good news?

You kind of expect something more akin to Positive or Negative, but I suppose they weren’t asking a fixed question, and I presume “Normal” is not a classification that one can make of a human being with a visible difference.

Unremarkable is the sort of word it’s very hard to get excited about, but when the eminent Doctors were basically just trying to find out what was “wrong” with him, but then failed to find anything interesting or worth bringing us in to talk about.

It’s good. It’s amazing.

We were both engulfed by a very muted euphoria, as our littlest boy was deemed “unremarkable”.

I suppose we’ll find out. We love him in spite of the lack of interest he’s inspired.

We’ll take that.

Thank you universe, you rule!


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