When I was growing up, there were two things about me that were different. The first being that I am an only child. Back in the 1970s and 80s this made me something of an oddity! The most common reaction I received was jealously! This was an emotion which I most definitely did not understand as I was desperate for a sibling.
The second thing was less talked about. I was born with a cleft lip and palate. Growing up I was painfully aware that I looked a little different from other children. I was teased on several occasions, but the worst I can remember was the rather dull offering of "fat lip" by a rather fat boy in sixth class! The main source of my discomfort was the knowledge that I did look different. When I thought about my appearance I wondered what people thought of me, and if they would like me despite my difference. Being of a naturally shy disposition didn't help my lack of self-esteem.
I was aware that I was somewhat lucky when compared with other children born with the same condition. My cleft is unilateral, rather than bilateral, and I had enough skin on my upper lip to form a not too thin top lip. The thing which gave me the most discomfort was the base of my nose which, like most with a cleft lip, is somewhat out of alignment!
The times I felt most different were when I looked at my pre-operation baby photos. It was a little confronting to remember that the unattractive baby in the photos was me! My parents wisely did not hide the photos from me, and answered all my questions. At the time I wasn't aware that there are countless children in poverty stricken countries who did not have access to the surgery that made me just like everyone else. Now I am acutely aware how fortunate I was to be born in a country were I had the opportunity to lead a totally normal life.
As a teen and young adult I did at times wonder if I was pretty enough for someone to really love me, but it wasn't something I ruminated on. The only other time I gave it much thought was during pregnancy when I breathed a slight of relief as the stenographer showed us our baby's fully formed lip!
So today when a lady at church nervously approached me to discuss my lip I was reminded of what it means to be born a little different. This lady has an adult son with a cleft lip and palate and she wanted to affirm and encourage me which was lovely! Her son had a more difficult time of it than me, as he had less bone in his upper jaw and was bullied more than myself. She also related the story of a man who approached her to ensure that she did not shun her son as he had been shunned by his parents, who were embarrassed by his appearance. When I hear stories like these I am reminded of my blessed I have been!