I had never been especially self-conscious about my lip, because I had always been preoccupied with my nose, and once I’d had my septorhinoplasty (nose surgery), my self-confidence shot through the roof. I couldn’t believe (and sometimes still can’t believe) how much of a difference it made to the way I felt about myself. Although I wasn’t so worried about my lip, I became concerned that I could start to become self-conscious of it in the future, since it had become the my most prominent ‘cleft-affected’ feature. Since I know what it is like to lack self-confidence and have gone through horrible periods of low self-esteem, I decided to have the surgery as a preventative measure. I must also stress that I decided to have it done because it would be the same surgeon who did my nose. My nose surgery really did change my life, so I trusted him and his judgement completely. Therefore it was both my trust in him and my concern for the future that led me to have my lip reconstructed.
For lip reconstruction, the surgeon took what’s called a fat dermis graft (a thick layer of skin) from the hip where I’d had my two bone grafts. By using the same hip, the scarring from surgery would be minimised. He then inserted the tissue into my lip to make it fuller and ‘re-organised’ the muscle tissue supporting the lip inside my mouth that hadn’t grown.
In all honesty when I came out of surgery (about two and a half hours later), I very quickly worried I had done the wrong thing. I couldn’t smile or laugh, which I love doing and seem to want to do about a million times a day! I couldn’t talk clearly, which I have always been very proud of being able to do well as a cleft lip and palate patient. I was in a fair bit of pain, and for the first time in my cleft treatment this really bothered me. I was extremely tired, which is of course normal after an operation and I knew to expect it, but I remember feeling more frustrated than ever. This is partly because I expected the ‘short’ operation of just two and a half hours to be a quicker anaesthetic to recover from (which in the long run it was), but I was also so frustrated and upset because I suddenly worried I’d changed myself unnecessarily.
I was so happy before my surgery, so confident, and yet there I was recovering at home, away from my university friends, unable to smile (and when I would accidentally laugh, I would immediately start crying in pain). This was probably one of the scariest times for me in my whole treatment journey (which is saying something!). For the first time, I felt I’d really chosen to make a change for a reason I wasn’t certain of: how I might (or might not) feel in the future.
This was a very hard time for me psychologically and physically. However, I am delighted to say it was worth it. So worth it. I know I have just divulged the true worries that were going through my mind, but after the first month post-surgery (which was scary because I thought my recovery was going to be quicker), I could SMILE again, I could talk CLEARLY again! I was no longer particularly tired, I could walk/run well on the hip that had been used for the graft and I was back at uni. I am now so grateful that I had the courage to know myself and know that I could trust my surgeon and my instinct to have the surgery. I must stress that this worked for ME. Knowing myself and knowing how I felt about my treatment was an essential part of my decision to have surgery, and I am so grateful that I made this choice.