I hail from a very poor family in Tamil Nadu. During her pregnancy, my mother did not have access to adequate nutrition that is required for the growth of a healthy baby, and could not afford any dietary supplements either. Regardless, she gave birth to me 30th May 1987 at St. Isabel’s Hospital in Chennai. My family celebrated my arrival. When the nurse handed me over to my grandmother, she first noticed that I had a cleft lip. It worried them to see their baby girl with such a birth difference. However, the doctors reassured them, telling them that clefts are treatable and that I could lead a normal, happy life. I underwent my first surgery when I was barely 6 months old, and also received another revision surgery in 2002. I’ve lived with a corrected cleft lip for 33 years and I’ve learnt to happily accept it as a part of my life. This self-acceptance was not easy, though, because throughout my life, I’ve heard the same kind of question too many times to count - “Did you fall down? Why are your lips hurt?” As a child, I used to feel very sad and ashamed when I heard this, but now, it does not affect me because of the self-confidence I’ve built over the years.
The modern cleft correction surgery I underwent as a 15-year-old girl changed my life forever. I began to smile more confidently, and realized that apart from my smile, I can speak volumes with my expressive features and rely upon my other qualities such as my intelligence and kindness to help me build the life I envisioned for myself. It worked like magic! At school, I excelled in academics, dancing, singing and sports. Believe it or not, even in public speaking, I was considered one of the best. I practiced speaking clearly and confidently in front of a mirror every day at home, and trained myself to master the art of sounding resolute and articulate. There was no such thing as ‘stage fright’ in my world - I was armed with my confidence and words. Being kind to everyone around me has always been a principle that I live by, and that is how I have made some amazing friends!
“Topper in School”,” Scholarship holder in College”, “Best performer at Work” - these fruits of my efforts made me a firm believer of the concept that ‘hard work and self-love’ can get you far in life. By then, even the people around me often forgot to notice my corrected cleft, for they started noticing other aspects of my personality first. Eventually, while I pursued my education, I got married to my best friend from college. My husband is from the Jeppiaar family - a very influential family in India. But I always wanted to build my own identity, distinct from the one I was born with and the one I married into. Today, I stand tall and proud as the First Doctorate in Educational Psychology in Tamil Nadu. I work as a Consultant Educational Psychologist at WestMinster Healthcare, the most elite hospital in Chennai. I am also very passionate about social issues, and actively advocate for the rights of women and children. I head a government-recognized student motivation programme - Raksha, that educates and motivates school and college kids to pursue their dreams. Hundreds of youngsters look up to me for guidance and inspiration, and I find solace in that fact. That is why, I believe that my new smile is my biggest source of strength, and my birth difference was definitely a blessing in disguise.
All that life has taught me, can be summed up in a simple sentence - “A cleft cannot stop you from being successful in life.” So when I came across the work done by Smile Train, I felt an instant connection to their cause of lighting up smiles for millions of children with clefts across the world - and especially those who do not come from a privileged background. By sharing my story, I wanted to tell everyone what a difference a healthy smile can make! The best part is that a smile is just a call away through Smile Train India’s toll-free cleft helpline number - 1800 103 8301. I also implore everyone to share your happiness with every child who needs cleft care by donating towards their treatment at Smile Train.
Just know that every smile that brims with confidence is beautiful. If my life can change with my smile, your life can change too. All you have to do is “just smile and start!”
As narrated by Dr. Saranya Jaikumar, Educational Psychologist and Motivational Speaker, and former cleft patient. She has been a vocal supporter of numerous social causes, and stands strong with Smile Train during the National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month (NCCAPM) 2020 to spread awareness about clefts.