Cleft Lip and Palate: Avoiding Adulthood Surgeries

Approximately one in 700 babies are born with cleft lip and palate (CLP) each year, and the treatment process begins from when these newborns are just a few weeks old when they undergo their first of multiple surgeries that continue through adulthood. This is a long, painstaking routine, and how each individual perceives him/herself throughout will help determine the level of difficulty they will suffer along the way. An article published in The Cleft Pal­ate–Craniofacial Journal provides an in-depth look at how the treatment process can affect people during different stages of their life, and the impact it has on the person they become.

Interviews with 11 participants with CLP revealed what a strong impact CLP had on their self-perceptions. Some interviewees ex­pressed great difficulty from an early age because of the pain and fatigue due to the multiple surgeries as a child, combined with feelings of discouragement when segregated in special clinics or waiting rooms. These struggles, along with bullying from their peers, made them feel “decrepit.” For these interviewees, these experiences led to an extremely negative self-perception in adulthood and the feeling of need for additional cosmetic surgeries. However, some par­ticipants had a very positive treatment process during their childhood. These interviewees had wonderful relationships with their health­care pro­vid­ers, a closeness with their caretakers during the long trips/stays at the hospital, and a feeling of building strength and maturity during such a painful time. These individuals did not feel the need as adults to continue with further cosmetic surgery because they felt a stronger confidence and sense of self. It seems paramount that healthcare providers, parents, and peers recognize the hardship of living with CLP and work to­ward helping the individual cope with the process rather than just moving the person through it. This will have greater psychological benefits, leading to a strong self-perception as adults.

(Source: The Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal. 2014, Volume 51, Number 2)