January 26, 2024

The Brave Journey of Baby Jude: A Cleft Lip Story

Meet Baby Jude! His entrance into the world was filled with anticipation and joy, but there was a unique twist to his story—he was born with a bilateral cleft lip. In the heartfelt words of his momma, Dr. Anika Rodgers, a seasoned Craniofacial Orthodontist, we delve into the emotions, challenges, and triumphs that accompanied this unexpected chapter of their lives.

From the initial ultrasound revelation to the powerful moment of Jude’s arrival, Anika shares the raw and honest emotions that many parents face upon learning that their child will be born with a cleft. The journey unfolds with resilience, love, and a deep sense of community support.

Anika’s story not only highlights the unexpected turns life can take but also showcases the strength that comes from a combination of professional expertise and unwavering familial support. Baby Jude, now a happy and healthy little boy, not only received exceptional care but also brought a new perspective to Anika’s understanding of “everything happens for a reason.”

This blog isn’t just about one family’s journey; it’s an open invitation to connect, empathize, and learn. Dr. Anika Rodgers extends her support to anyone navigating the challenges of a cleft lip diagnosis, emphasizing that you’re not alone. Thank you Anika for sharing your story with me and for the honor of preserving his perfect smile at every stage.

The following was written by Jude’s Momma:

This is baby Jude. He was born at 38 weeks via scheduled c-section. His entrance into the world was just as exciting as with my other babies but there was one big difference…. I knew that he was going to be born with a different facial appearance. Jude was born with a bilateral cleft lip. A lot of people aren’t familiar with a cleft so to be more clear it means that he had a split through his lip on both sides up to his nose. He also has a clefted alveolus which means that the cleft goes up into his gum line. In Jude’s case he did not have a cleft through his palate (the roof of his mouth) which can be associated with a cleft lip.

I never thought that events in my life before Jude would be such influencers of Jude’s journey but I couldn’t have been more prepared for what he was to bring to our lives. 

After attaining my dental degree I went onto complete an orthodontic residency. I then followed up with a craniofacial/cleft fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX. This was everything I wanted to do, it was my passion… it was my dream to be able to treat patients with cleft lip and palate. I practiced at the hospital for 3 years and loved every second of it. When I decided it was time to start my own orthodontic practice, I knew I would continue to treat children with CLP but little did I know how close to home my experience would truly be. 

I am writing this blog for a few different reasons. It is intended to educate, to increase awareness of what a ‘cleft’ is and to tell my story which I hope will empathize with anyone being told that their unborn child has something ‘wrong’. It was one of the hardest days of my life. 

I guess I can start with the day that I found out that sweet baby Jude had a cleft. It was a normal day. I was 17 weeks pregnant. I left work and ran to what I assumed would be a ‘normal’ doctors appt. My husband, Tyler, wasn’t able to attend this appointment and as it was just a routine growth check of the baby I didn’t think twice about going alone. When I got to the office I was walked back to the room and I remember telling the ultrasonographer that it was our 10 year wedding anniversary that day and that I wanted a profile photo of our baby to do an announcement. I was so excited. Jude was our 3rd baby boy and I couldn’t wait to see his beautiful little face.

It was at this moment that things started to move in slow motion…. The wand was going up and down slowly over the profile of his face and I felt her demeanor change. It was a slow sweep and instantly I realized why. I saw a little protruding part of his upper lip and, based on the cleft training I had received, I knew that my baby had a cleft. After swiping over the same area for what seemed like a couple of hours but was probably only a couple of minutes she passively said that there was something about his profile that she didn’t like. And right away, without any hesitation, I said ‘he has a cleft’.  She turned to look at me and said that yes, she thinks he has a cleft. I knew it, I didn’t think anything, I was convinced. I could see his little arms and legs moving around and as beautiful as all of that was, all I could think was that there was something wrong with my child. 

Interestingly, for being a very emotional person, for the next 10-15 minutes I was very strong. I didn’t cry, I didn’t really feel anything to be honest… I guess I felt numb. It was surreal. After taking the necessary images, she then said she was going to get the doctor to show him the imaging and she’d bring him back in the room with her. She said I was good to get dressed and then she walked out. 

The door closed behind her. It was so quiet in the room. And, it was at this moment that I felt like I had just been hit by something awful. I felt the tears coming, I couldn’t control it. And then I felt so alone. I didn’t know what to do or how to think or feel in that moment. I walked over to my bag and got out my phone and started calling Tyler. This is when I wept…. I cried so hard I could barely breathe. Tyler was trying to understand what I was saying and kept asking me what was going on. I’m sure he assumed the worst…. I’m sure he thought we had lost the baby. He told me everything was going to be okay and that he was on his way. Then it was like time stopped. It was like I was sitting in a black hole…. All I had was myself and my tears. I started to panic about everything that could possibly be wrong with our little man. What was the next step? What would the doctor say? What was I supposed to think/do?

And then my husband walked in. I fell into his arms and I cried so hard I could barely breathe. All I could think was if anything else wrong. Was he going to survive? These are real emotions that a mother feels when she is told there is something wrong with her child.

Baby Jude arrived as scheduled and has been the biggest blessing to our lives. He had his cleft lip repaired at 5 months old and fortunately will not need any more surgeries until he is a few years older. He is a happy, healthy little boy and although he came with a few challenges he’s loving life! 

As stated earlier, I wrote this to show that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you know or what profession you are in, there are things that occur completely out of our control for reasons we will never know. Who would have thought that I’d be trained in a profession in which I would have the experience necessary to treat my own child. I was able to lean very heavily on the cleft and craniofacial team that I had trained under and Jude’s repair was done by a fantastic surgeon on the team. I am also beyond thankful to have had an abundance of family support prior to and during his surgery. 

There is much to learn about the diagnosis of cleft lip and palate and why it occurs. Having this experience has allowed me to connect with my patients on a greater level beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I am the biggest believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’ and baby Jude opened my eyes to a whole new perspective of this saying. 

I would love to be able to connect with anyone needing support after hearing the diagnosis of cleft lip and/or palate. You aren’t alone. There are many resources available as well as many established cleft teams that will help to guide you through cleft care from the time of pre-natal diagnosis to well into adolescence and beyond. 

Jude is just one story. But I pray that this one story will help many people. 

Anika Rodgers, D.D.S., Ph.D.

Craniofacial Orthodontist

Elevated Orthodontics NV

Thanks for reading! I’m Kristi, a momma of 2 and professional newborn photographer based in Reno NV. I specialize in capturing beautiful and timeless photos of newborns and their families. If you’re interested in scheduling a session, please don’t hesitate to contact me at kristigaytonphotography@gmail.com or visit my website at www.kristigaytonphotography.com I can’t wait to work with you and create beautiful memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.

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