REAL LIFE

The Story Behind Hunter’s Smile

From the moment he was born, Caitlyn’s bub Hunter has defied the odds
  • Caitlyn Perry, 36, from Cranbourne North, Vic, gave birth to Hunter in May 2022.
  • Born with a cleft lip, cleft palate, and clubbed feet Hunter braved surgeries.
  • Now almost two, he’s got his forever smile and hitting milestones.

Here Elisabeth tells her story in her own words

As I stared at the pregnancy test, my smile widened. There was no mistaking the two pink lines.

‘We’re having a baby!’ I said through happy tears, hugging my partner, Simon, 42, whose face beamed with joy.

After undergoing my third surgery in June 2021 to ease the pain of my stage four endometriosis, and also being diagnosed with adenomyosis – where excess tissue forms on the wall of the uterus – I never expected I’d be able to fall pregnant.

I’d accepted my fate, and put all my love into my beautiful stepdaughters, Simon’s kids, Amelia, then 11, and Maya, nine.

But incredibly, in October that year, Simon and I fell pregnant!

We were told our baby was due on June 16, 2022, and everything was tracking well.

At 10 weeks I had a blood test to check for the most common genetic disorders and, two weeks later, we were excited to get the all clear. We also learned we were having a boy.

Simon adored his two girls, but he and his ex had tragically lost their only son at just two weeks old, so it was extra special to be having a boy.

But then at our 20-week scan, the sonographer went to get the doctor, leaving me alone and anxious in the dark and quiet room. Due to Covid, Simon wasn’t allowed to be with me.

Moments later, the doctor came in and said our boy had bilateral clubfoot – a birth defect where both feet are twisted. It was shocking news, but I tried to remain positive, especially with Simon’s support.

The following week, doctors revealed our bub also had a cleft lip and, they suspected, a cleft palate – openings or splits in the roof of the mouth and lip. We wouldn’t know the extent of his condition until he was born.

At 24 weeks along, after a scan, doctors said the left and right ventricles in his brain had too much fluid. The extra fluid was putting pressure on our baby boy’s brain – and could cause brain damage.

It felt as if the bad news just kept coming.

I had an amniocentesis procedure but again it was all clear. But with so many problems, docs said there was a high chance our baby would never talk or walk. And a foetal MRI soon after confirmed our bub was missing part of his corpus callosum – the bundle of nerve fibres that ensure both sides of the brain can communicate.

It could mean anything for our boy – from developmental delays to seizures. Although we were given the option to terminate, Simon and I never considered it.

We’ll get through all this, I thought, rubbing my belly.

On May 28, three weeks before my due date, I was worried when I couldn’t feel my bub moving.

At the hospital, doctors couldn’t hear his heartbeat, so I was induced.

Seeing our sweet boy’s cute little cleft lip when he was born, I was immediately in love.

Caitlyn Perry baby Hunter
Our newborn (Credit: Supplied)

‘I visited my boy every day.’

Our precious little bundle weighed 3.2 kilos.

Within just five minutes of me holding him, he was taken to the special care unit at Monash Children’s hospital. Simon went with him.

Meanwhile, I’d haemorrhaged two litres of blood.

I was quickly sorted out and, while recovering in hospital for the next week, I visited my boy – who we called Hunter – every day. He was discharged at two and a half weeks when he could finally bottle feed.

Hunter had everything doctors had mentioned during the pregnancy, including the cleft palate. But he also had mild hearing loss, his frontal and side lobes had fused, and the grey matter in his brain had scattered in the wrong places, which can cause seizures and learning difficulties.

Baby Hunter Henry
His adorable cleft lip smile (Credit: Supplied)

‘‘Your forever smile is just as beautiful,’ I told him.’

Despite Hunter’s challenges we were thrilled to be home with our beautiful son.

At just four weeks old he had casts fitted on his feet, and at 10 weeks, he had his first surgery – to cut the Achilles heels to stretch and lengthen the tendons.

By 15 weeks, he was out of his casts.

Hunter’s second surgery was at six months old to repair his cleft lip. And it was a success!

Although I missed Hunter’s gorgeous cleft lip smile, his new smile was super cute too.

‘Your forever smile is just as beautiful,’ I told my sweet boy, cuddling him tight.

Baby Hunter Henry
Our boy has the sweetest smile (Credit: Supplied)

‘He started walking at 14 months old.’

Two months on, he’d said his first word, ‘Mum’.

At 12 months, Hunter had an op to repair and close his cleft palette – it was also a success.

Now almost two, he’s reaching most of his milestones – Hunter even started walking at 14 months old!

He still has a few ops to go, including a bone graft to repair the remaining cleft in his gum, and a nasal surgery. He wears boots which are connected to a special bar to hold his clubbed feet in place at night, which he’ll need until he’s five.

Hunter Henry
Wearing his boots and bar (Credit: Supplied)

Hunter is expected to have learning difficulties, but we’re sure our boy will keep defying the odds.

Our cheeky bub loves playing with his trucks, and his weekly swimming lessons.

Caitlyn Perry Baby Hunter Henry
Hunter and me (Credit: Supplied)

And Simon’s girls, now 13 and 11, adore their baby brother.

Our miracle boy is always spreading smiles.

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