Marina Marina Armstrong
Born June 5, 1994
Unilateral Cleft Lip & Palate, VSD
The labor on June 5, 1994 started out just as it had with my son 9 years earlier. My water broke and after a few hours off we went to the hospital. The labor and delivery area at Sentara Norfolk General was not busy that day and when we checked in they allowed us to take our pick of the birthing rooms. We chose a sunny, warm room to welcome our baby, a girl if the ultrasound proved correct. My labor was an easy one up until just before delivery. My progression had been slow so when the final stages of labor set in, the nurses did not realize that I was as far along as I was. The epidural was ordered, and after two attempts and what seemed like forever, it started to kick in. When they checked again, I was ready to deliver our baby. After just a few pushes we were told that we had a baby girl. I heard her cry, but she was not put on my stomach as my son bad been. She was whisked away to the incubator in the room. Jeff had been holding my hand as I had given birth and once they had taken her away he asked if it was alright if he went to see the baby. I said yes. On his way across the room the doctor stopped him and said there's something you should know, your daughter has a cleft lip and palate'`. At I laid on the delivery bed, I tried to process this information and could not. I tried to picture what they were saying and could not. What was supposed to be one of the most joyous moments of my life was not. From the moment I heard that news my life changed forever.

When Marina (the name we had already chosen) was finally brought to me, I had an almost unnatural calm about me. I was literally shaking from shock and raw emotion (although the doctor and nurses assured me it was only the medication) but when I looked at my little girl she was beautifull to me. She bad a perfectly round head, beautiful eyes, and all ten fingers and toes. I knew from the moment I held her that I would protect her and take care of her and do what ever it took for her to live a normal life. As I held her in my arms, the nurses gave me my first hope for her normal life. They told me about a team of doctors located right here in Norfolk, VA. These doctors, plastic surgeons, believed in performing corrective surgery early. The nurses said they could fix any cleft problem The medical team had already been contacted agreeing to see Marina the next day. But, we still had to got through the night.

Needless to say, I did not sleep much that night. I was so worried about Marina that I called the nursery several times to get updates on whether she was sleeping or eating. They would not let her stay in the room due to her birth defect. But early the next morning that surgical team arrived and the news they had were excellent. She could be operated on as soon as she had the okay from the pediatrician and it looked like they would have space in the next 24 hours, Well, this was a lot to digest and that 24 hours flew by. During this time, I learned how to feed her despite her cleft. We then found out from the pediatrician that Marina had a heart murmur, which the cardiologist would have to check out before surgery. We were told that she had two holes in her heart (ASD/VSD). This would not however, prevent her from having surgery. We were informed that the surgery would be the next morning. By that time, Marina would be only 36 hours old.

Once again I could not sleep. I placed many calls to the nursery. Finally at 4:00 a m., I insisted the nurses bring me my baby so I could spend time with her before the surgery, planned for the next morning. I remember holding, comforting her, thinking that she was far to small and innocent to be facing this crisis. No one expected anything like this to happen. No one was explaining to me how we were supposed to act. Some friends and families accepted it with grace, others did not. Some wanted to hold Marina, others did not. Some wanted to help feed her, others did not. I gained a glimpse of what life would be like for my child, for any child with a cleft.

I would like to say that Maina had her repair and we lived happily over after, but life is not like that. Once we came home from the hospital, although she looked so good, she still was not eating as she should. When she was seven weeks old, she went back in the hospital for 14 days and came home with a feeding tube inserted through her nose and a feeding pump. This feeding tube and pump stayed with us until finally at 6 months she had her heart repaired. Once her ASD/VSD repair was done, she started sucking her bottles until they would collapse. She began to thrive. By the time she turned one year old, no one could tell that she was once flawed.

Marina's speech is progressing in-line, if not advanced for her age. My two-year-old daughter now enjoys a happy normal childhood. After all, what more could any mother hope for her child.

Suanne & Jeff Armstrong
Tel: (757)627-4843

Technogent, LLC
Operation Smile

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