It’s humbling when you realize the significance of your work in a single moment, and it happened when after a successful cleft surgery, a patient gave me an apple as a token of gratitude. It was all the family could afford to give me, but it was the most precious gift I have ever received, second only to the child’s smile.
My association with clefts and cleft care began when I started my Fellowship the Smile Train center at GSR Institute of Craniofacial and Facial Plastic Surgery, Hyderabad. From there, I went on to establish The Nav-Muskaan Cleft Center in Gurugram with the aim of providing comprehensive cleft care to children with clefts. When a child is born with a cleft, one of the most heartbreaking things I have come across is parents losing hope and distancing themselves emotionally from their own child, because they do not know that clefts can be corrected. Initially, I used to feel shocked when I saw such cases, but over time, I have started understanding their mindset and empathizing with them. I have realized that our society is rather unforgiving when it comes to birth differences, and having a cleft is not an easy reality to navigate — either for the child or its parents. Now, as a Smile Train partner surgeon, I have the opportunity of counselling the families of cleft kids, apart from conducting surgical interventions. I regard these experiences as defining moments in my journey of personal and professional growth.
If we talk about challenges, stigma, social isolation and ostracization are just the tip of the iceberg, as a host of other problems ensue when clefts remain untreated. It’s a whole different issue if the child born with a cleft is a baby girl, because in India, the first question you hear in such a case is — “How will she get married?” This is the scenario that I am trying to change as a woman. Cleft or not, we need to spread the message that little girls can have a future beyond marriage.
Surgery is only half the battle won and convincing the parents to continue with other aspects of cleft care is the bigger challenge. Smile Train ensures that children with clefts get access to a multitude of interventions, such as psychological counselling, orthodontics, speech therapy post-surgery. I feel proud to be a part of a team with such a great work ethic. Led by exemplary women, Smile Train’s sustainable model of comprehensive cleft care functions like a well-oiled machine. This journey of partnership for providing cleft care inspired me to spread awareness about clefts in my personal capacity as well. I do this by sharing stories of my patients on social media with the hashtag - #cleftbabiesarebeautiful.
On Women’s Day, I want to tell women across the world to continue being themselves — enterprising, strong, and compassionate as you all are, and the world will thank you for it!
As told by Dr. Kriti Jain, who has been our partner surgeon since 2019. Dr. Kriti completed her Fellowship from the Smile Train center at GSR Institute of Craniofacial and Facial Plastic Surgery, Hyderabad. She went on to establish The Nav-Muskaan Cleft Center in Gurugram with the aim of providing comprehensive cleft care to children born with clefts.