Her First Smile

July 30, 2016 cl/cp, Craniofacial, Family Stories, guest post, July 2016 Feature - Craniofacial, surgery 5 Comments

It was the morning before my daughter’s cleft lip repair. Alongside my husband and with my daughter in my arms, we walked into her surgeon’s office. We had intentionally waited four months after her adoption before scheduling the surgery. I wanted to give her time to begin to know and trust us. I also wanted time to learn all the little details about her before surgery. So, we waited. A few short months later, suddenly the wait was over and I was sitting in a surgeon’s office. The idea of kissing the lips I knew one last time felt devastating.


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Her surgeon began walking through what the next day held and what we could expect during and after surgery. After going over all the basics, he turned to me and asked me to explain in my own words what he would be doing the next day.

I had held it together up until that point. When he asked the question, I lost it. “You are going to change her smile,” I blurted out. I was a wreck. I wanted to scoop her up and run far away from the hospital and the doctor that were going to change the face I dearly loved.

Her surgeon compassionately smiled at me and said, “I’m not changing her smile, I’m just rearranging it a little bit.” He understood. His words were exactly what my aching heart needed. The smile I knew and loved would not change, it was simply being rearranged a little bit.


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It was a couple months after surgery that her ‘new’ smile finally became simply her smile to me. I was grieving a loss that not many could understand.

Though I never doubted that she needed her cleft lip and palate repaired, that did not make it easier. There is a commercial out about providing cleft kiddos surgery SO that they can smile. I get fired up every time I see it. My daughter, like many born with clefts, could light up a room with her beautiful cleft smile. She needed surgery, but it was not so that she could smile.


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It has been 3.5 years since her doctor asked me that question. We keep two pre-surgery photos proudly displayed in our living room. A large canvas print of one is her favorite picture. With her big grin, she’ll look up at it and say, “Mommy, I was such a cute baby!” She sees what I saw – an adorable, wide grinned beautiful baby girl.

I sure love her smile today, but I am immensely grateful when I close my eyes and picture her as a baby I can still see every detail and curve of her beautiful first smile.


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In the midst of raising five young kids, who create wonderful (but messy) chaos, Ashley Campbell uses photography as a tool to delight in the seemingly not so glamorous moments of life. On her blog Under the Sycamore, and through her SnapShops photography workshops, she hopes to help others find and celebrate the marvelous in the mundane.

The Campbells spend the majority of their days on a couple acres in Oklahoma where their roots run deep. You can also find her on Instagram here.



5 responses to “Her First Smile”

  1. Sharon Teague says:

    Beautiful!! I too cried before my sons surgery knowing how much I would miss his smile and I have held back tears after every surgery since thinking “what have we done” as he recovers. It’s so hard to watch them endure pain and all that’s goes with surgeries. I too keep our first referral picture of him displayed, that was the first look at our boy and we were in love!!!!

  2. Michelle says:

    Yes!!! I had a panic attack before my daughter’s club foot surgery thinking that these precious feet I have come to love will never be the same. This strange balance of working toward complete healing inside and out and yet not wanting to change a single thing and not wanting for them to have to walk through the painful parts to get to that healing and wholeness. Such beautiful words!

  3. Christi says:

    Beautiful! I can’t imagine. I cried with my daughter’s braces being put on and changing the smile I loved. Your situation is so much more significant!

  4. […] the weekend I was given the opportunity to guest post on No Hands But Ours. If you are unfamiliar with NHBO, it is an incredible resource for adoptive families (really any […]

  5. Carrie McKean says:

    Love this… What a perfect answer! Rearranging it a little… When issues aren’t life-threatening, it’s a delicate dance between embracing and celebrating our children just as they are and getting them corrective medical care, and that Doctor seems to have found just the right balance.

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