Ms Doris Agbetuormyo is a mother of an eight-month-old baby boy with a cleft lip and cleft palate birth defect.
Before she could overcome the pain from the CS, she underwent, or recover from the shock of having a baby with a defect, the husband added salt to her injury as he disappeared into thin air after seeing the baby at a Dansoman clinic, where she delivered.
She is not alone in this predicament of not knowing what to do in such a situation, as many give birth to babies with different birth defects.
What are cleft lips and cleft palates?
According to webmd.com, cleft lip and cleft palate are facial and oral malformations that occur early in pregnancy, while the baby is developing in the womb. Clefting results when there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area and the tissue that is available does not join together properly.
A cleft lip is a physical slip or separation of the two sides of the upper lip, which is often extended beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or the upper gum.
A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth, which can involve the hard palate (the bony front portion of the roof of the mouth), and or the soft palate which is the softback portion roof of the mouth.
It is possible to have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, and vice versa or both because the lip and the palate develop separately. The cause of the defect is yet to be known by experts.
It is believed that over 170,000 babies are born annually with a cleft in developing countries while one in every 700 babies in the United States are born with either a cleft lip or palate or both.
Corrective Surgery / Operation Smile Ghana
To bring back the smiles on the babies and their parents, some organizations including Operation Smile Ghana often perform free transformational surgery for the babies which has fewer scares and allows them to have a normal life as they grow.
With a team of professionals including surgeons, paediatricians and nutritionists among others, Mr Clement Ofosuhemeng, Patient Coordinator of Operation Smile Ghana says they are determined to restore the stolen joy and smiles back to families.
To ensure that nothing hinders the parents from presenting their babies for the monthly check-ups and subsequent surgery, they ensure that all financial burdens associated with it including transportation and feeding are taken care of.
Nutrition and Cleft
Among other factors, nutrition is one major determinant of a baby’s readiness for surgery, Ms Dede KwadjoMsead of Nutrition for Operation Smile Ghana, and Principal Dietitian for Korle Bu Teaching Hospital disclosed.
A child with a cleft lip must have a minimum weight of not less than six kilogrammes at six months, while those with cleft palate must not weigh 10 kilogrammes to qualify for surgery.
Many of the babies have weight-related issues due to the challenges of feeding with the defect. To help put them in the best nutritional shape, the nutritional team meet with and assesses the babies for early detection of nutritional issues and put in the right interventions to ensure that the surgery is carried out at the appropriate time to save the child from speech impairment.
Caregivers and parents with knowledge deficits receive the needed education to properly and effectively feed the babies with fortified foods to build their nutrition base to attain the needed weight before surgery.
Stigmatization, shame and name-calling are one of the things parents of cleft babies are faced with, this often forces them to hide their babies preventing them from getting the needed medical care and schooling.
There have been reports of people calling children with defects as spirit children and cursing society leading to some of them being killed, a similar incident happened some few weeks ago in the Central Region when the parents and grandfather of a two-year-old special child were nabbed for burying her.
Mr Kofi Wayo, a father of a 16-month-old baby girl, Ms Mercy Takyi, a mother of 17 months old baby boy, and Ms Ajara Mumuni, a mother of one year- and four months old baby, all shared their experiences of catering to cleft children and the stigma associated with it with the Ghana News Agency.
For these parents, even though it is not an easy path to walk on, perseverance, faith in God and seeking medical help are the way to go instead of hiding the babies and shutting the doors of a transformational surgery on them.
Parents, caregivers, community members and opinion leaders must endeavour to help identify and encourage people to get help for the babies with a cleft as it could be corrected and the earlier it is done, the better for the child to have a normal life devoid of stigma and shame.