A modulated voice flooded my ears, 3…2…1… the coarse, definite shape of the bright blue door now seemed to blur along the edges, sheathed in a lilac haze. and in what feels like a matter of seconds, my consciousness, stream of thought leaks in, I ask myself ‘Am I dead?’ which is followed by a curt response reinforcing sensibility. Surrounded by blue coats, I cannot recall which surgery has been fulfilled. This atmosphere of sterility greets me, in what feels like everyday. A ritual. Over and Over again. My mouth seems to sting in pain, my body-numb. My eyes seem brimmed with sand, but little did I know that this was the emergence of my identity. As the chapters of my cleft experience unfolded, I soon reached adolescence. Having been flooded with questions all through childhood, I encountered a fundamental consideration.

Little did I know that the following anticipation would take a single question to turn into a stance. Striding towards the pristine colossal halls of The Singapore Arts Museum, curiosity and colour glazing my eyes, I was beyond thrilled to draw inspiration from these artworks for my upcoming Art and Design project. Trying to contain the influx of passion, I walked over to the seemingly innocuous lady at the counter, and gave her the fee. In return, she adamantly replied ‘Oh?! Its free for people with disabilities. My mind took flight, out of all the numerous questions and interrogations I had participated in my entire life, this question seemed to annoyingly linger. Was this gap in my lip going to define me, and shape people’s outlook on me? Would this difference in my physicality affect their perception of me? If so, my values, my character, my personality would all be secondary. Do I feel disabled? My language is comprehensible, I manage to plough through 3 meals a day, I can sleep in spite of the apnea, I can smell the aromas I enjoy, and my mental condition seems to be of tremendous reflection. Would I have learnt an innumerable amount about myself, and practiced introspection so deeply had I not been born with a cleft?

Being born with a complete bilateral cleft lip and palate has instilled an everflowing flame of resolve within me. Its shown me a brutal side of life, that has made me immensely resolute. It has taught me lessons that we are never taught in school, the ones we are expected to learn ourselves. Its given me happiness in the small moments of life, and made me cherish them forever. It has shown me a side of my family, and reminded me of the beautiful people in my life, and the beauty within me. Its reminded me that in the face of adversity, I am my solace, and I am the shoulder to cry on along with the pep talk combined. Pushing my limits beyond the physical frame.. And reaching for the stars. Its given me a reality check on the fickle nature of people, self-reliance and self love. Embracing the difference. Because society is punctuated with clefts, no two people alike mentally or physically. The gap in society’s mind in seeing us as different- that’s the real cleft.

– Akanksha, age 16