He’s five. My brilliant, beautiful, bubbly, bold, best-thing-in-my-world son is about to turn five years old. As his dedicated, loving (and extremely emotional) mother, it seems this birthday is hitting me more like a ton of bricks instead of just like small pebbles as his last few age progressions did. Maybe it’s because he will begin his first year in “actual” school – kindergarten here he comes! Perhaps it’s the fact that he is now, as he describes himself, a “fer-mesh-ional” (professional in his own words!) athlete; joining in everything possible – from swim lessons and t-ball down to soccer, fishing and basketball. Or, possibly, it’s the result of making it through the global pandemic.

When I think about it, though, I think I can directly pinpoint what’s bringing “all the feels” to me with this fifth birthday of his: This fifth birthday symmetrically matches the exact amount of time that my Andrew Bradley has now lived in my physical presence with the amount of time he existed only within my heart. As I shared on his first birthday with ACPA, Andrew is my miracle. He is my double rainbow baby. My hope for IVF success brought to life. The child that I prayed the first five years of my married life for God to bless me with. He existed within my heart, and I spent every day in those five years dedicating myself to bringing the child that first grew within my heart into this world. After some bumps along the road, in the truest of Andrew-fashion and right on perfect time, he came into my physical world and has not since stopped gracing everyone he meets with his wonderful presence.

Yearly, I share an update on my son through ACPA for the families with children born with cleft lip and palate. I share because I needed to read what other families shared when Andrew was born. I share so my son will continue to grow as a strong, confident boy who is comfortable with who God created him to be; so that I can prepare him and teach him to become his own advocate for obtaining the best that life has to offer him. As with all caring mothers, my goal is to help guide him to grow into the best version of his own self; to reach his personal full potential. My goals for my son are not directly related to his cleft lip and palate; just those of a mother who loves her son – cleft or no cleft. With the greatest pride I can tell you that he daily makes sure he is not allowing any shortfalls in his own little life, as I can see him developing into a confident, well-rounded individual. I am so proud of that.

In this fifth year of his life as in the past few years, Andrew’s cleft lip and palate have not been an area of much action. In the first year or so of his life, we were so often visiting his cleft team, moving through his treatment plan, navigating surgeries, procedures and healing processes. It was so much in that year, and I know in the future we will have those times again in his journey with his cleft lip and palate. At this point in his life, we check in with his cleft team yearly, including ENT, dental, speech development and cardiology every few years for his VSD. At his most recent team visit, ENT found that Andrew’s right ear did not respond in the “normal” range when the tympanometry was performed. So, we followed up with further tests short after, only to learn that his hearing is fine. The abnormal finding was a result of how his palate has grown and formed since his repair surgery. He had a no-new-cavity visit with the dentist, and his tooth that has developed behind his other teeth within the bone of his palate continues to be healthy, so no need for removal at this time. Overall, an uneventful year in relation to Andrew’s health. However, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were extremely cautious in regards to our family’s health, especially Andrew’s, knowing he has required special care in the past. I am sure this was not unique to our family during these unprecedented times.

Perhaps it is fitting that my world-changing son turns five in the year following the worldwide pandemic, where change has become the new norm. At least one constant is sure to remain – he is the best part of every single one of my days. There is no place he can go that his darling smile, zesty personality and beautiful red hair is not commented on by a stranger or two – to which he immediately responds, “my hair is not red it’s orange.”

He has conquered so much in his five very big years. He’s transitioned from being the baby born in this small town hospital with a hugely wide cleft lip and palate not discovered prior to birth into my amazing five year old boy. I’ll end with the words of his doctor at birth, “Andrew Bradley is going to be very special.”

Indeed he is.