When Jenny Carter went into labor with her first child in September 1998, she and her husband, Brad, were ecstatic. The couple, from Raleigh, North Carolina, knew from routine ultrasounds that they were having a healthy boy and could hardly wait to meet him. Would he have Jenny's auburn hair? Brad's stubborn streak? No matter what the mix, the couple agreed, their son -- whom they planned to name Reece -- would be perfect.
But when a nurse laid the crying baby on Jenny's chest moments after delivery, the Carters stared at him with concern. Even though his face was scrunched from crying, they could see right away that something was wrong. Part of the baby's upper lip seemed to be missing; in its place was a gaping hole that ran up into his left nostril and through the roof of his mouth.
"Is he hurt?" Jenny cried in a panic, thinking the baby had been injured during the delivery. The nurse explained that Reece had a cleft lip and palate -- a hole in the lip and the roof of the mouth that occurs when those parts don't fuse completely during pregnancy. "It can be repaired with surgery," the nurse told her. Jenny felt a huge sense of relief. "I was just happy to hear that he was going to be okay," the 29-year-old remembers. "Once I heard it could be fixed, I didn't think about it -- I just wanted to hold my new baby."
For Brad, the situation was too much to process right away. "I was so tired and so excited about becoming a father that I couldn't get anything clear," he says. So after Jenny had been settled in a hospital room, Brad set out for the neonatal intensive-care unit -- Reece had been whisked there for a checkup shortly after delivery -- to see for himself what was going on. Walking past babies small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, he felt panicky. Then he spied Reece, who, at 8 pounds and 9 ounces, looked robust by comparison. A nurse handed the baby over, and Brad settled with his son into a rocking chair. "At that moment, I knew everything was going to be fine," says Brad, 31, who manages an auto-parts store in Raleigh. The Carters felt even more reassured when a doctor gave them the name of a well-regarded craniofacial surgeon in the area who would be able to repair Reece's cleft.