I walked into Sears last week to return a pair of sneakers, my baby strapped to my chest in an Ergo carrier. As we waited to be helped, Rose started to fuss, and pretty soon the older lady behind me in line was peeking over my shoulder.
“Can I see the baby?”
I tried to ignore the flutter in my chest as I pulled off her hat and showed off my daughter.
“She’s beautiful,” the lady said.
“Look at those eyes,” her friend said.
For the next ten minutes, the ladies and the saleswoman asked me questions about how old she is, if she had brothers and sisters, and complimented everything from her dark brown hair to her cute pink shoes. I left the store with a lump in my throat.
It was an experience that I had many times with my older kids, strangers commenting on my beautiful baby, but it was one I wasn’t sure I’d ever have with Rose.
My daughter is beautiful. But I’m not always sure that people who don’t know us well will take the time to see it. I worry that they might only see the cleft that divides her upper lip in two.
A more common reaction is the one that we got when I took the kids to the zoo on Thursday. Rose was in the stroller this time. Two little boys passed us and one said to the other, “Did you see that ugly baby?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with her?”
I don’t hold it against these boys. They’re little kids, and truthfully, a year ago I might have thought the same thing. I remember when a friend’s baby was born with a cleft lip and I worried that I’d put my foot in my mouth when we got together, so I talked with her about his milestones, his upcoming surgery, anything except the cleft that was as plain as the nose on his face. The half inch gap where his skin didn’t fuse had me entirely tongue-tied– I knew I was behaving badly but I didn’t know what to say.
I’ve been looking at Rose’s face long enough that I hardly see the cleft anymore; unless she has cupcake or rice coming out of her nose, I rarely even think about it. She’s beautiful with it, not in spite of it.
Two weeks from now, I’ll hand over my precious baby to a team surgeons, who will stitch together her upper lip and her soft palate and put in a prosthetic hard palate. With any luck, we will come to the end of seeing Gerber puffs escaping from her nostrils.
This challenge is Rose’s, not mine, but as her mom, I’ve learned from it too. A little bit of drool won’t kill you. Food that comes out the nose isn’t really any grosser than food that comes out of the mouth. And every mom likes to hear that she has a beautiful baby, because no matter what that baby looks like, she is beautiful to her mother and to everyone else who has chosen to love her.
What makes someone beautiful to you? Has your concept of beauty changed over time? Why is it so dang important to me for people to think my baby is pretty? Is there really such thing as an ugly baby?