To me, my cleft acts as a filter. Not so much an Instagram filter, but a coffee filter. My filter may look a little strange, or a little different than other people, but I am so thankful for it.
Through all of the challenges, fears, and confusion of having a cleft, it has provided me with something I didn’t realize until years past my teens: it has brought the best people into my life. These were the people who looked past my difference, didn’t notice it, found it a great characteristic of me, or were genuinely interested in my life and experiences.
As a kid my cleft produced questions for many kids, but for my best friends to this day that I met at four or five years old, they didn’t ask much. They didn’t make fun of me. They didn’t care. They stuck around.
Adults were tricky, especially through my childhood years. Many looked down on me or assumed I wasn’t very intelligent. Trust me, you can tell the loving adults from the rude ones in a heartbeat. Sometimes faster than kids. But luckily, my filter blocked out the ones that wouldn’t be with me the rest of my life, supporting me every step of the way.
It was tough to make new friends during my teenage years. Everybody was in their awkward stage, but mine had a little something extra. Instead of uncomfortable, blunt questions to my face as I had when I was a kid, there was more pointing, staring, and whispered conversations. Mean things were said, but not by everybody. Not by the people that made it through my cleft filter. I soon had such a supportive and trustful group of friends in high school.
Getting to college, I was worried about my filter’s strength; it had been through a lot. Plus, we were adults now (technically). At this point in my life, I realized everyone is looking for something that made them different or unique. I had mine. I had become stronger because of it. And I trusted in my filter. College was everything I was hoping it would be.
Now, I am twenty-five years old. I have a career. My cleft filter still comes into play with co-workers, clients, and the public. My filter has taught me how to spot the nice ones, the fun ones, the trustful ones. The ones that won’t assume anything about me or doubt my intelligence or professional background. My cleft is my tool that I use every single day.
It has acted more like a coffee filter throughout my life. The case could still be made for it to be an Instagram filter, though. I think it makes me look pretty good.
Katie, 25, is an urban planner and designer from St. Louis. She was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.