My boy’s smile is changing the world!

‘Do not google the possibilities,’ the doctor advised us.

Despite everything he’s been through, Geri’s boy always has a smile on his face.

Here, Geri Botten, 35, tells the story in her own words.

Looking down at the two pink lines I was overjoyed but flooded with fear.

After a recent miscarriage, I couldn’t help but worry. My hubby Daniel, 32, had a gorgeous son Lathan, seven, and I had a beautiful daughter Alana, eight, but this was our first bub together.

family photo
Me and Daniel with Lathan, Alana and Arthur. (Credit: Michelle Forte)

At our 12-week scan Daniel sat beside me and squeezed my hand. ‘Everything looks perfect,’ the sonographer told us.

Glancing over at Daniel with tear-filled eyes, I was happy to see his beaming smile. After that, I felt a little more relaxed, so we shared the news with the kids. ‘I’m going to be a big sister!’ Alana beamed.

Then at our 20-week check-up, all four of us piled into the room. Lathan and Alana couldn’t wait to see their sibling on the screen. ‘There’s your little brother,’ the sonographer announced. But her smile faded as she focused on the grainy image. ‘I’m just going to call the doctor,’ she said. I instantly felt sick.

The doctor explained that our little man had a cleft lip. With a tear on either side of the bow in his lip it could be completely aesthetic. ‘He could undergo plastic surgery a few months after he’s born and that would be the extent of his condition,’ she said. But if his palate was also affected it would impact his ability to eat and speak and he’d need a bone graft to allow him to swallow.

before surgery
Me and my perfect boy (Credit: Michelle Forte)

There was so much to take in, but that wasn’t all. It could also be part of a syndrome, which would cause developmental delays or intellectual and physical disabilities. We wouldn’t know any of this until after he was born.

‘Do not google the possibilities,’ the doctor advised us. I need to know, I thought.

So after we put the kids to bed that night, Daniel and I jumped on the computer. Scrolling through lists of syndromes connected to cleft lips my heart broke. ‘I feel like a failure,’ I said to Daniel. ‘We can handle anything,’ he reassured me.

With more research, I discovered Australia had the best cleft specialist in the world and he was just down the road from us! Then there was another glimmer of hope when our bub’s heart was cleared and the chances of him having a syndrome were diminishing. Still, we had to wait until he was born to find out for sure. Will he ever speak? I fretted.

Arthur’s gappy grin would light up a room (Credit: Michelle Forte)

In March this year, we welcomed adorable Arthur into the world. As he was placed on my chest, I took in his chubby cheeks and big eyes. ‘His palate?’ I asked, not looking up from my bub. It was then they confirmed that as well as a cleft lip he did have a cleft palate.

Arthur was in for years of corrective surgeries and therapy. His gap split his top lip into three parts and the cleft in his palate meant we could see straight up into his nose from the inside of his mouth. But in my eyes, he was perfect in every way.

Unable to suckle he had to be fed with a nasal tube, but he got so upset, I decided to try him on a bottle. Finding a special squeeze bottle, I was thrilled when he was a pro!

So proud, Alana wanted to take her new brother to school for show and tell. Like a little sponge she’d absorbed all the information about cleft lips and palates and shared it with her friends.  ‘It’s the cutest thing about him,’ she smiled. 

Best of all, Arthur was so happy and his gappy grin lit up the room. When he was four months old the amazing team at the Australian Craniofacial Unit prepped our boy for surgery.  ‘I’m going to miss his little lip,’ Alana said.

A few hours later my cheeky little man was barely recognisable. His face was swollen and his eyes were puffy. It was heartbreaking. He still needs more surgeries to fix his palate, I thought, welling up and feeling cruel to have to put him through it all again. Once he’d recovered though, Arthur was back to being our beautiful smiley boy – but without the gaps! It made us realise it was all worth it.

before and after
Before (top) and after the op
post surgery
Arthur after his op

He’s booked in for surgery later this year to start rectifying his palate.

For now, he still has the gap inside his mouth. Our determined boy loves using a spoon and eating semi-solids but half always goes up and out his nose! Sneezing mid meal is like he’s starting a food fight, but we can’t help laughing, as Arthur finds it so funny!

When he’s eight, he’ll need a bone graft, which will be taken from his hip, to replace the gums he never grew. Arthur is so lucky to have the care he needs so he can live a normal life. It got me thinking about the Philippines, where my family are from.

They’re inundated with cleft cases and without vital medical care, children are left unable to speak and eat properly. So I started fundraising to help children suffering from cleft palates to receive the care they need.

Right now, my life is filled with mountains of food-covered laundry but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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