The story of a family in Mangalore
Following the birth of her baby, 26-year-old Sharmila returned to her mother's house - in rural India a very wide-spread tradition.
The older generation supports the younger, at least during the first six months in which time the young mother has not fully recovered from the birth. So that she is well cared for, says Sharmila with a smile. So that her husband can visit her and that they have a good future ahead of them, the two of them with their child.
When she speaks, she gives no sign that her three-week-old son was born with a cleft lip. And not only with the less dangerous cleft lip, but also with a deeply cleft palate, which makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for babies to drink their mother's milk. It is not unusual for them to die of hunger. But the doctors in the hospital of Mangalore have prepared the young mother well for everything: thanks to prenatal diagnostics using ultrasound she knew a long time before the birth that her child would be born with a cleft.
This is a break-through not only in medical terms but also in societal terms. In India it is very often the case that children born with cleft lips are hidden or killed by their families - out of shame and ignorance about the possibility of free therapy. The earlier the parents are informed, the better they can come to terms with their situation. They know that they will not be left alone.
That was the case with Sharmila. She had time to prepare herself for the birth of a cleft-baby, both mentally and practically. After the diagnosis, the doctors prepared a treatment plan: the first step involves the baby being given a removable palatal plate which the mother inserts during breastfeeding: it makes the drinking of milk much easier. After six months and the necessary weight gain, the child can then undergo its first operation.
The clefts will be closed in two steps before the young boy has celebrated his first birthday such that he has the best possible prospects of developing just like his contemporaries, both visually as well as in speech terms.
"Naturally," Sharmila says, while giving her son a loving look, "there is nothing I wanted more than a healthy baby. Just like all other parents. And, of course, the diagnosis was a shock for us. But I also knew right from the beginning that the doctors could help my son, that we were not at the mercy of this illness and that my child would not be disfigured for his whole life.
The knowledge of the treatment methods and the feeling of being in good hands from the very beginning gave her and the family a sense of confidence and hope. And this confidence and optimism is that which she also gives to her child, with all her strength and love - just as it should be.