Little One’s first surgery {cleft lip}

Last Wednesday my mom, sister and grandparents came over for a bit in the morning. I absolutely love this picture of my mom, sister and Little One.

Very early the next morning, Chris and I headed out of state with Little One. I had been dreading that drive for so long. I was certain I would spend all five hours just staring at her and crying. I did much better than I thought.

We arrived a little early and were able to grab breakfast before the day full of medical appointments began. This is one of my favorite pictures of her. I ache for this smile. I know that doesn’t make sense to probably anyone other than other cleft moms, but I miss it so much. I know that ache will lessen with time…when she can smile again pain-free. It is what it is for now.

After a very full day of appointments with various members of the cleft team, the day was finally over. Friday morning came too fast.

This is me doing everything and anything to evoke more smiles. Just one more. Then one more. Then one more…it wasn’t enough.

And this is me trying to memorize every little detail one more time. The way the right side of her top lip curved just so slightly. The width of her nose. The way I would always feel her front tooth when I kissed her. Every detail. Soak it in. Memorize it. Bury it deep in my momma heart to treasure forever.

After 2.5 hours of surgery, they put her right in my arms. It was so good to hold her again and know the surgery was over and she was okay. It is the strangest thing to have your child change so drastically in such a short amount of time. I can’t even explain the range of emotions and thoughts. Very surreal. Seeing her new lips and nose for the first time – bittersweet. That word that has haunted me and breathed life into me this year. Bittersweet.

In her pain and confusion, she looked to us. She let us comfort her. She let us hold and rock and sing over her….

She was released later that day and we headed back to the Ronald McDonald House. I cannot say enough wonderful things about that place. I hope and pray none of you ever have to stay there, but for those families that do – what a priceless gift. It was such a relief to return that night with her and be able to sit down to a meal provided by volunteers. It is a place where everyone just understands. No one stares. A safe refuge for families going through rough days. I might write more about it one day. As a couple far from home with a daughter just out of surgery – the Ronald McDonald House was a gift.

We drove home the next day and Little One perked up immediately upon seeing her siblings. FireCracker, who is LOUD without a microphone, serenaded her sister all day.

The pic below is from my iphone in not great lighting – so it is bit fuzzy. Nonetheless, you can see what an incredible job her surgeon did. It is baffling to be honest. I am so grateful for all he did for my daughter. She has been exquisite since the day she was born.

It hurts her to suck her thumb now, so she just stares at it an whimpers. As the swelling goes down, she is starting to show us little smiles.

Little One is doing remarkably well. She will have another surgery on her palate in about 6 months and then several more over the course of many years. Recovering is hard, but she is one tough cookie. I am a nervous wreck – constantly hovering over her, afraid of a fall. I do miss her old smile, but I am excited about seeing her new smile. These are early days post-surgery so she isn’t quite herself. Soon she’ll be back to her sweet, spunky self. I’ll be able to breath easier and I imagine that new smile will light up our family in the most refreshing way.

back to top share on facebook tweet this post pin site image email a friend
  • Lorna MacDonald - Hello Ashley, I have also been following your blog since you began your adoption process – I stumbled across it and it has blessed me and my husband immensely, because we too, are in the adoption journey. We are Americans living abroad in Germany, working at an International Bible school, hoping to adopt a German child. I cannot tell you what a blessing your posts have been to me, and what an encouragement to read of the journey your family walks with Jesus at the center. Even though I don’t know you personally, I do pray for you and your family and especially for Little One at this time. Your family portrays Christ’s love and hope in good and hard times… thank you for your encouragement! God bless you guys.

  • Ali - She looks just as beautiful as before. Even without personally knowing Little One, I also miss her cleft smile. I know her new smile will be just as amazing though.

    Continually wishing the best to her and your family.

  • Michelle Bostinelos - Hoping for a speedy recovery for Little One! What a sweet girl and what a brave Mama!

  • Susie - She is so beautiful- all of you are. Praying right now for a speedy recovery and the Lord to hold your heart’s very close and give you immeasurable strength!

  • jessica - sooo glad she came through this first surgery okay. it seems like just yesterday when i was reading on your blog about you heading across the world to pick her up!

  • amy jupin - you are exceptional.
    and this post blessed me in so many ways.
    thank you.

  • Stephanie Rohde - All the best to you, Little One and the whole family!!! You are just a beautiful family and everybody can see, that GOD always holds his hands over you!!! I#m so glad the first surgery went well and you are already home and Little One can recover in her loving family home!!!! God bless you!!! Love from Germany

  • Sara G.. - Ashley,

    I am so thankful the surgery went well and that it’s over with! Your daughter is PRECIOUS!

    Your photos from the last few days are preparing me for my 8 year old nephews open heart surgery on the 14th. I am feeling a little (actually, a lot!) anxious this week! My husband, siblings and parents will all be with my brother and sister-in-law during the surgery, and I pray that we can be a comfort to them. We are so thankful the Lord is our Rock!!


  • Nicole - Wow- it changed her whole face. I am glad it went well. I hope future surgeries go this well. Kiss her for me.

  • giozi - I’m really happy for her and all of you. She looks great, was an excellent job.
    She always was a beauty baby.

    Another thing. Your mother !!! ohh she looks so young.

  • Tiah - What a HUGE difference just one surgery can make. Wow. Does she still have her teeth?

  • Sarah{Handbags*N*Pigtails} - I love what you said about her being exquisite since the day she was born. That’s so true!
    My heart was aching for you as I read this,Ashley. I cant imagine having my child leave my arms looking the only way Id ever known her, knowing when she was returned she would look totally different. And yet that is what you have faced.
    And yet, this too shall pass. Like you said, she will start to feel more like herself. And then you’ll get to learn her new smile. :)
    Blessings from NY

  • Nao - i’ve followed your blog for quite some time, but this is my first time commenting :)
    i’m a social worker, and did research/worked with children and families with cleft palate. i absolutely love visiting your blog, especially to read about your journey with little one.
    i continue to be amazed at all of your children’s resilience, adaptability, and kindness. i think it’s an incredible reflection of your strength as parents and as a family.
    it’s such an inspiration to us all, regardless of the family situation.
    congratulations on a beautiful new chapter with your little one.

  • Sandy - Both her smiles are beautiful! Thanks for sharing the journey :’)

  • Julia - so good to see the pics. she was heavy on my heart last week. thanks for sharing.

  • Auburn - Such precious pictures. I’m so glad I got to see her gorgeous smile pre-surgery while we were visiting. I’m not her mommy but I think I understand what you mean about missing that smile. Totally understandable.
    But oh the new smiles that are to be had!! :)

  • meghan - Ashley, I have been following and praying for your hearts and her spirit and pain tolerance for the past several weeks. She is one tough cookie. I can’t imagine what she is going to have to go through, but it is good for me to read your posts. I have had 2 facial reconstructive surgeries due to tmj and bone degeneration. Both of these happened when I was older, and my face did not look as beautiful as hers did after i came out of surgery. my sweet mom cared for me through both of these- through the metal wires and feedings through tubes and morphine drips. it is good to hear your heart through this because it helps me to understand a bit of what she went through emotionally as she nursed me back to health for months and months. Thank you for being so open.

  • Anna - My Ellie and I are rejoicing with you and your family. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. In this difficult season of recovery, we will be praying for you and Little One as the Lord brings you to our minds …. and the last picture is BEAUTIFUL. Love the flare and the chair :)

  • Abby - Congratulations on Little One’s surgery! Bittersweet indeed. She was gorgeous before and is beautiful now. Prayers for a healthy, happy recovery!

    On a different note, I thought of you and your blog when I read this one: Specifically, her point in #2. Possibly something you may want to look into.

  • Amelia - She is beautiful. It is such a blessing for her to have you and, I am certain, for you to have her as well. Thank you for sharing your journey; you have touched many lives through your words, your photography, and your candor. Continued prayers for your family. God bless!!!

  • MarthaB - Thank you so much for sharing this part of your family’s journey with all of us. Our daughter had several surgeries in China (for a different SN) and it breaks my heart to think about her going through them alone. She and I spent a good hour looking at all of your pictures over and over again…she kept coming back to the ones of your daughter in the hospital and we had the opportunity to talk about what it is like to be in the hospital, talk about the doctors that took such good care of her and then talk about what she calls her “China scar” when she saw Little One’s lip repair. She goes through phases where she asks questions related to her hospital stays (she was too young to remember them), and your pictures helped bring to life what it means to be the strong little girl I always tell her she is.

  • elizabeth H - Ashley, i was praying for Little One the entire day…and glad that she’s back home! {Firecracker’s songs are, i’m sure, a JOY to her!}
    I’m ever so amazed & thankful for our talented physician’s.
    PS. that pict of Little One at the table is P.R.E.C.I.O.U.S!!!!!
    She is BEAUTIFUL!!!

  • Suzanne Gaines - I have tears in my eyes reading about your littlest one. I looked at the picture of the one where she is on the quilt staring into the camera and thought she is the sweetest and luckiest little baby to be loved! I know she has brought you all so much happiness.

  • Ashley - I love, love the pictures of your children and family, and your beautiful home. Mostly, though, I’m captured by your newest daughter and the way you love and care for her. Thanks for sharing your life in pictures.

  • Amy D - thanks so much for sharing. hope you got to bond even more as you had time to focus just on her. love that your little one found her comfort in you! we just got home from our daughter’s surgery, and that was one of the most treasured moments of our hospital stay! hearing from the nurses how much calmer she was as soon as we walked up to see her in recovery! it was bittersweet though, because i was NOT prepared for how much hair they would shave. and now we’re thinking of shaving her whole head, which breaks my heart. she has the most wonderful curls. we just treasure how our little ones looked when they came to us, don’t we! praying for you and your family as you get miss her old smile and learn to love the new one!

  • Clea - Ashley I always read your blog, and have been so overwhelmed by your story with Little One. Your family is such an inspiration to me. I hope she recovers well. xx

  • Crystal Prychidko - I loved every moment in this post!! The surgeon did a remarkable job on Little Ones cleft. It’s amazing the difference it makes. I showed my mom your blog and pics of Little One before and after surgery. She said Little One was darling and my mom awed and oo’ed at each picture. Loving the ones before just as much as the after surgery ones!!

    Your family is beautiful, you are blessed. Thank you for sharing your family adventures with us!!

  • Heather Cockerill - Ashley, your daughter is gorgeous, as is your whole family. I’m an adoptive mother of three, all from China. We adopted our youngest daughter from Hubei Province in November 2012. I recognized some of the sights in Guangzhou from your photos. Our little one was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate, right side, just like your Little One. Our daughter’s lip was repaired prior to us receiving her referral, but she’s yet to have the palate surgery. A friend I play soccer with introduced me to your blog and I appreciated reading through your adoption journey and your preparation for your daughter’s surgery — it’s encouraging as we begin the process for our little girls surgy/ies. Blessings to a beautiful family!

  • Inga - thank you. your posts have a raw, genuine feeling that pulls on my heart. i truly enjoyed this last post on little one. five years ago i was an outcomes photographer for operation smile on a mission trip to the philippines (before and after pictures of children with surgical procedures for cleft lip and palate); my experience was phenomenal. the plastic surgeons made macrocosmic facial differences in just a few hours and the nurses made monumental emotional differences in all of our hearts in minutes. I distinctly remember the infants were bandaged with wooden tongue depressors on their arms so they would not touch their healing wounds– the nurses called these “no-no’s” and it has stuck with me as a lighthearted aphorism for a desperate moment.

  • Peggy Garcia - Today is my cleft baby’s 9th birthday. The photo of your husband holding Little One right after surgery reminds me so much of his big day and coming back to us. I hold tight to the memory of kissing his little lips. He’s handsome , spunky and full of smiles. Thank you for sharing :) She’s a doll!

  • Wen - Thanks for sharing these beautiful and personal images. Little one is and has always been sooo beautiful! Hope her recovery goes well and quickly!

  • Katie - Hi Ashley! You may have already heard of this children’s book, but it’s one of my favorites and I thought you might like it too, especially because of the name — Room for a Little One.

    I highly recommend it and It’s only $3.99 at Barnes and Noble right now:


    PS. Hope Little One is getting better each day! She certainly has lots of entertainment to keep her distracted.

  • Kathie Robson - Ashley, I am so happy that Little One’s lip repair went so well, she seems to be healing quickly and her new little mouth and nose are beautiful. I love all of the pictures you took of her before the surgery and I’m sure one day she will treasure them as you do! My son, also from China, had a bilateral cleft lip and palate and his lip was repaired in China when he was 5 months old. I envy the months of pictures you have been able to take of Little One with her adorable clefty smile! I have only one picture of my son before lip repair was done. What a priceless gift recorded through pictures that will no doubt be treasured for years to come! I can’t wait to see Little One with her new wrinkled up nose and ear to ear smile! Blessings to you and your family and thank you so much for sharing your life in pictures with so many! Hugs from Colorado!

  • Kim@StarrySkyRanch - It is just amazing what they can do. And even more amazing to me that you can do so much work and still be released that day. As a mama who waited through 20 surgeries in our son’s first 20 yrs I am so grateful for modern medicine and old fashioned love. : )

  • Becky - This touched my heart. That sweet girl…

  • Fran - Each one of these photos speaks volumes for the love you have for each other! So beautiful!

  • Shannon - I’m glad it is going so well. My daughter had foot reconstruction back in April at a Shriners hospitals, and that is another place that is a real gift to parents. It’s great to be surrounded by caring people who just get it.

  • able mabel - Your surgeon did an amazing job! I love that picture of you trying to memorize her face. It’s very touching.

  • Nana PP - What a BEAUTIFUL Little one. So precious and sweet. I was born with a partial cleft palate and my husband was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip. His oldest was born as he was and she had her tubes tied so she would never give birth to someone who might be born “disfigured”. What a shame she robbed herself of knowing the love and joy a child brings. I admit when i was pregnant i wondered if my babies would have the same cleft I did. All 3 were born without any complications and even not knowing if they would face the same scarey surgery as I had i still longed to see their smiles and kiss thier tiny lips no matter the outcome. your story has touched my heart and has given me the nudge i need to go ahead and support Operation Smile so other Mammas and babies can find joy in a smile. My girls are both mothers and neither of them ever worried what thier babies would look like or the challenges that they would have to overcome with a cleft or downs syndrome. They both said, this is My child and God made him just for me and i love him no matter. P.S. I was adopted also and my parents said when they came to the hospital to pick me up the nurses said “oh we thought you would change your minds since shes you know. My parents just took me into their arms,o thier hearts and their home and never loked back. they say I was thier greatest blessing, but ya know, I think i’m the one who was blessed. Blessings to you and your Beautiful family.

  • Cynthia - I have to fully agree about how amazing the Ronald McDonald houses are. I have stayed in two of them with my family when I was younger and my little brother was in the hospital. The comfort and kindness there makes going through hard times easier. They are such a blessing and I am so glad that you were able to relax after Little One’s surgery and take comfort there. Lots of love from my house to yours!!!

  • jessica - my little one also recently had her lip surgery, and i feel you every step of the way – i was so scared to let her go, give her up to the nurse… luckily surgery was quick and once they allowed me to go sit at her side in recovery i practically ran – it was rough to hear her cries and not be able to fix her pain and hunger (at 3 mos she had never felt such an empty belly, she hadn’t been hooked up to tubes/wires since she was a wk old and able to leave the nicu, she was in arm splints to keep her touching her mouth, and in a strange place – did i mention she was asleep in my arms when i handed her off to the nurse?) she was a trooper tho, once fed, not requiring any added pain meds and in the evening she had loosened her i.v. and was granted permission to leave it removed, and of course able to come home w/ us the very next day! :) feedings were a little difficult at 1st; it was like having a newborn once again, feeding only a couple oz at a time every couple hrs until her tummy was able to hold larger amts again….

    fast fwd to nearly 6 wks later and i find myself truly in love w/ her smile now; at 1st like you, i missed it terribly – i was used to this wide grin, but now i get the “o” face :) i found myself looking back on some early pix of her and i hardly recognize her in many of them – i can only imagine how her pallet surgery will effect me, and her of course, and what shape her nose will take as she both continues to grow and w/ future surgeries (6 wks post opt appt is in a few days, and i’m sure w/ her continued amazing healing we will have a better idea and plan for the future….

  • karen hochstetler - hello, i saw your blog in parents mag. wish i would have “met” you sooner. I do not have internet just e-mail, so i dont know if i will get a reply, but i have a daughter that was born with a cleft palate. what a journey. she is my 4th child but so special. she was very colic the first months n it would have been so nice to have somebody that has experiance to ask questions. She is now almost 10mo and has repair surgery scheduled for the last part of July. Would love to hear from a mom instead of just the nurses! I’m know your a busy mom, but wanted to say Hello. Karen from northwest OH.

  • Cecelia - She is with the right family. Wow!

  • Kristen - Awe…she is just so adorable! I am going to miss the old smile too! Its so funny to me that she is whimpering at her thumb. I just broke my 2 1/2 year old from her paci and she whimpers saying I want paci and its so cute :)

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *