When Meethi was born with a cleft, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to get her medical attention or just give up on the situation and accept my fate. I started out as a clueless mother of two with no support from my husband and his family, who wanted a boy this time. To their dismay, I gave birth to another girl, and that too one with a facial birth difference like cleft. My tryst with Meethi’s cleft began in March 2020, as she was born just when India had just announced the first and strictest lockdown to curb the COVID19 pandemic. During this time, when everyone relied on their loved ones for support, I was abandoned and left to fight this battle on my own by my family. I used to hear about such stories, but I never thought I’d have to live through one too. Google was my only friend, through which I found out about Smile Train India. On YouTube, I discovered that they operated a toll-free cleft helpline - 1800 103 8301. This was a Godsend for me, and Smile Train soon became my best friend.
Gomathi, their Helpline Officer, guided me to seek the right treatment for my baby, and soon became my rock and emotional support in those tough times. I remember having multiple calls with Gomathi to figure a way out for my daughter’s carefree, healthy smile, and I cannot thank her enough. Those calm conversations gave me the strength and fortitude to carry on, and Meethi’s journey towards a new smile and a new life began at GS Memorial Hospital, a Smile Train partner in Varanasi. My husband and in-laws had refused to be a part of my journey, despite me seeking their help and support. I recall a time when I had to go for a follow up check-up for Meethi after her first cleft surgery, and I called my husband to accompany me. He asked me to prove if Meethi was really struggling and needed that check-up. That’s when the wife in me took a back seat, and I willed the determined mother in me to take the lead and ensure that my baby’s treatment proceeds as planned. I did it all for my Meethi.
Since Meethi’s birth, I’ve been living with my parents, who have supported me since my daughters and I have been disowned by the family I married into. Meethi is barely a year old, but her elder sister, who now understands the concept of family, often asks me where her father is. I used to find myself at loss of words to respond to this, but after Meethi’s smile, I feel stronger. Thanks to Smile Train’s support, I know what I am doing, and I know that prioritising my children’s health and my own well-being is the right thing to do. A mother always wants the best for her children – I am just one of the many!
My emotional journey of motherhood has taught me that in India, both educated as well as uneducated families can harbour harmful mindsets towards girls, as especially those born with birth differences. I am a law graduate, and my husband’s family is well off - yet, I went through this harrowing experience. I yearn for work and financial independence– I’ll do anything and everything that can help me raise my daughters and support my aged parents. While my hardships in life haven’t ended, I have found within myself the grit to move on and lead a proud life. My daughters’ innocent antics continue to fill me with hope, and knowing that Smile Train’s got my back to support comprehensive cleft care for Meethi, my worries have slowly started dissipating.
Thanks to Smile Train, I was able to receive high quality cleft care for my daughter, when I was at my lowest point, both emotionally and financially. Today, I have a message for mothers sailing in my boat - “A child with a cleft is your blessing in disguise, one that makes you a stronger woman and mother everyday – Treat that child with the same love and affection as you’d treat any other child. They’re your strength, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”
As narrated by Meethi’s mother, Priyanka, on the occasion of Mother’s Day 2021. Priyanka is a mother of two, who received support from Smile Train during the COVID19 pandemic for her daughter’s cleft lip and palate treatment at GS Memorial Hospital, Varanasi.