ENTRY #18 - JAMIE BELL
I have typed up this blog entry a thousand times. I have almost clicked share more times than I can remember. But I find myself revising, revisiting, rewriting this particular entry. Ya see, Jamie Bell is incredibly special not just to myself, but to the state of Colorado and the entire Cleft Community. When she was born, Jamie was by far one of the most sever cases of cleft lip and cleft palate most surgeons have seen. Jamie was born with a bilateral cleft lip and a complete palate. It's come to my attention that a few readers haven't quite been able to understand just how intense these surgeries actually are. Let me put some things into perspective for you:
When you have a cleft palate, the entire roof of your mouth is open leaving your sinus cavity exposed. As you can imagine, this makes sucking virtually impossible for a newborn. Babies have starved to death, become severely malnourished, and are typically always speech delayed. To correct this, a bone must be shaped to fit the opening. Where do they get that bone you ask?? Surgeons will perform a bone graft from the cleftie's hip. Before I continue, I want you to imagine now, baby Jamie having well over 5 surgeries before her first memory. Now imagine 7 million babies beginning a journey not so different than Jamie's, every single year. That is just a single surgery on your palate, I haven't even mentioned the lip revisions.
It's tough to see the journey she had ahead of her in this photo because she was SO DARN CUTE!! Seriously, that smile with those sultry eyes are still such a part of who Jamie is today. I have loved getting to know about her struggles because she has overcome so many of them. This woman dodged photographers, videographers, etc for 30+ years as much as she could. That gut wrenching feeling that you aren't good looking enough to be in front of the camera. I get it. I know that sometimes you look at yourself in the mirror and wonder what you would look like with that cute little indent on a "normal" lip. If you're as big of a romantic as I am then you also imagine kissing. Will that feel weird for someone? Will I ever know what it's like to kiss a lip like mine?
As an adolescent, we as 1IN700, get this misconception that NO ONE understands or gets what is so rapidly going through our head. And for the most part, guys, you're right. Not a lot of people will be able to truly understand the capacity at which you function...except us. Cleftie's like Jamie Bell grow up, work hard, push through, and have this total desire to change that. Jamie Bell is the Co-Founder of FacetoFace; one of Colorado's largest cleft related organizations that focuses on providing resources to newly cleft affected family and providing a safe space for all 1IN700 to be themselves. Jamie is much more than 1 in 700, she is definitely one of a kind.
On that sunny day in April when Jamie Bell walked up to Castle Marne for her 1IN700 photoshoot, she checked her painful memories at the door. Her anxiety about stepping in front of the camera was there, but with smiles and laughs she was able let go and give me the honor of taking her photo. I would click, click, click, look at the photos and get choked up at every one. I am the first person to tell you what an emotional guy I am, but HOLY COW. Watching this beautiful soul lay it all on the line for this timeless piece of education just brought tears to my eyes. Every single photo just shined.
You shine, Jamie.
Jamie brought her daughter Alysha to the shoot with her. What a funny, funny, thing to see. Jamie and her mini me. I am not sure if it's the immense amount of empathy Jamie has taught her over the years, or if it's Alysha growing up with a different understanding of how to treat others...but this young woman has a soul older than both Jamie and I. Speaking with her, I felt like I was talking to a full grown adult about aspirations and dreams. Her input on dealing with other cleft affected (or any birth defect) was well beyond her years.
So naturally, I had to snap photos of them together. This little girl LOVES her momma, and her momma LOVES her. Bonds like this bring me back to childhood with my mother, when no matter what your mom is your best friend and confidant. It's interesting because the common theme of this book so far has been a lot of younger kids having that close connection with their mother because of their cleft. With Jamie and Alysha, it's somehow different. Jamie looks at Alysha with passionate, mothering love. And Alysha looks back with understanding, empathy, and compassion. I adore watching this whirlwind of affection.
Writing this post has literally taken me months. I have told Jamie, "Don't worry! I'll post it tomorrow," more times than I should have. Truth is? I have been waiting for this moment of true creative inspiration to be able to complete a post that I know deserves such attention. Jamie checks in on me now and again. Never to ask about her photos, or to bug me about her blog post. Jamie checks in on me to tell me how proud of me she is. How she watches 1IN700 grow and she smiles with confidence.
With the widest smile, warmest hug, and deepest gratitude, I introduce Mrs. Jamie Bell. Entry #18 in 1IN700. I couldn't do this without you.
JAMIE BELL - TESTIMONY