Out in Public
Finally, when Reece was 1 1/2 weeks old, it was time for the couple's first appointment with Dr. Gerald Sloan, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to whom the hospital had referred them. Dr. Sloan explained that the first surgery, to close the hole in Reece's lip, wouldn't occur until he was about 3 months old, to minimize the chances of complications from anesthesia. The second operation, to close the hole in the roof of Reece's mouth, would come when he was about a year old.
Upsetting as it was to think of their tiny baby undergoing surgery, the couple immediately felt comfortable with Dr. Sloan and his team. When she saw Reece's feeding tube, the clinical-care worker explained to Jenny and Brad that there were much simpler methods of feeding cleft-palate babies. She gave Jenny a special bottle with a Y-cut nipple that allowed milk to flow through it more easily. Jenny was thrilled when Reece immediately started guzzling from the bottle.
Jenny and Brad had taken Reece out of the house only to see his doctors. In part, they were afraid of exposing him to germs. But they also weren't sure they were ready to deal with the attention. It wasn't until Reece was about a month old that Jenny worked up the courage to go out with him in public. "I welcomed the questions but hated the stares," she says. She decided that the best way to handle people who gaped at Reece was to be straightforward. "He has a condition called cleft palate," she'd explain. Sometimes, though, people could be cruel. "It must be a crack baby," one woman commented to a companion as she passed by. "I saw red," Jenny recalls. "I wanted to turn around and slap her." Instead, she forced herself to hold her tongue. "I think that if somebody has a problem with what's on your outside, it's her problem, not yours," she says.
Although Jenny and Brad knew that their son's lip surgery would make him look like other babies, they both had mixed feelings about it. They knew the surgery was vital for their child's health but dread- ed the loss of the face that had become so precious to them. A few days before the operation, Jenny dressed Reece in a pale-blue sailor suit and took him to a photographer for a series of professional portraits to make sure that she'd never forget what he'd looked like.