My name is Alexa and I was born with a cleft lip and palate. Like many born with a cleft or craniofacial difference, my story includes struggles and obstacles. My story is also a about an 18-year-old woman who has overcome. I chose to embrace my cleft this past year, and I found beauty in myself that has been here all along.

Growing up, I experienced a lot of pain when I was bullied for the way I look. It was in my writing that I found my voice and was able to see myself for who I really was: a beautiful girl with dreams for an amazing future. Yes, I struggled with surgeries. Yes, I know the difficulties of speech therapy. And yes, I know what it is like to live with a physical scar. But, I also know what it means to find healing through writing.

I began writing in 7th grade. It started small, but through the years, I expanded into poetry, spoken word and social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. I learned that I can use my voice to help others who are going through what I have been through. So many people have felt like they don’t fit in or don’t belong – whether they have a cleft or not – and my message is one of hope.

Being able to express my feelings on paper, whether negative or positive, has made me who I am today – a survivor. I may not be able to control what other people say or how they act, but I can control what I say. Rather than letting the words of others define me, I’ve chosen to become the author of my own story, and like me, my story is beautiful.