She's a Beautiful Baby
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:29 PM
"In the paperSee more Whidbey Island babies in the News-Times' annual Beautiful Baby tab, inside the Wednesday March 22 paper.At six-and-a-half-months old, Bailie Carroll is already quite the cutie. And on this Monday afternoon, she's a happy cutie.As her mother, Shantel Porter, softly coos Bai-lie, the little girl's blue eyes sparkle, she gurgles happily, and her dumpling cheeks lift to make room for a smile.It's hard to even see the thin, dark scars above her smile - visual reminders that Bailie has, and will, endure several rounds of surgery before she becomes a teenager.By then, Bailie will know she was born with a cleft lip and a bilateral cleft palate - that her upper lip, gums, part of her nose and the roof of her mouth didn't develop before she was born.But by then, her mother says, Bailie will also know how very much she is loved, and how very beautiful she is, and has always been.In fact, Shantel recently entered Bailie in the Whidbey-News Times fourth annual Beautiful Baby Contest. Even though she was born with a cleft and now has a flat nose and scars, Shantel wrote in her entry. I think she is a beautiful baby.''Bailie is also a baby who underwent reconstructive surgery at three months; who sleeps at a 45-degree angle in a wedge- shaped block of foam because her condition causes her to spit up frequently, and sleeping flat on her back could be deadly. Then there are the arm restraints she sleeps in so she can't damage her repaired lip.Her mother says Bailie accepts all the conditions she must live by in constant good cheer.She's a super good baby, Shantel said. She's so happy. According to Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, about one in every 700 babies are born with some form of cleft lip or cleft palate - some 5,000 in the U.S. each year.Typically, as a baby develops in the uterus, its face starts to form at three months. Bones in the roof of the mouth grow together to form the palate and the the lips and face form and fuse to that foundation. A cleft is a congenital split in the palate or lip that never closes.Shantel was five months pregnant when she discovered that Bailie had a cleft lip and palate. It was April 29, and she and Bailie's father, Joe Carroll, went in for a scheduled ultrasound to determine the sex of their baby.I noticed the ultrasound technician seemed to be taking a long time and she was focusing a lot on the baby's face, Shantel said, adding that at the time, the couple thought the technician was just letting them enjoy the moment.But then the woman told them she noticed something on the baby's face, that she needed to go get a doctor, then left without another word.I began to cry, wondering what was wrong with my baby's face, Shantel said.The doctor came in five minutes later and said he suspected the baby most likely had a cleft lip and bilateral cleft palate. The same day, they were sent to another clinic in the hospital.There the equipment was better and they confirmed what no expectant mother is prepared to hear, Shantel said. My child had a facial disfigurement. I was devastated.To top it off, the doctor told the couple that other deforming conditions, like Down's syndrome, could be associated with clefts.Shantel's doctor told her that clefts could be repaired surgically, that her baby could have a normal life. But the expectant mother was still heartsick.I cried a lot that day feeling as though I had done something wrong, but I couldn't figure out what that could have been, she said. I didn't drink alcohol or do drugs. I finally realized I had to get past this.Some of Shantel's pain was mitigated by May 10. After undergoing a battery of tests, she learned there were no other related problems with her baby. From then on, she dedicated herself to learning all she could about children with cleft lips and palates.For four-and-a-half months I prepared, learned, went to see other babies, just prepared, Shantel said.There were setbacks.Shantel and Joe separated and she moved back to Oak Harbor to be with her parents. And even as her study and preparations gave Shantel hope for her baby's future, she was anguished at times. Shantel worried that people would talk about her and her baby behind their backs, blame Shantel for the disfigurement. She tried to prepare her friends by telling them what to expect when the time came, make sure they knew her baby had a cleft.All those feelings changed on Sept. 5, 1999. After 18 hours of labor I delivered the most beautiful baby girl, Shantel said. I looked at her face and I saw my daughter. All those things I was afraid of suddenly didn't matter to me any more. I had just given life to a baby that totally depended on me.Because of her cleft palate, Bailie can't properly suck, can't breast feed. So Shantel feeds her with a sqeezeable bottle, presenting the formula for Bailie to swallow. And because Bailie has no roof in her mouth, Shantel must sometimes clean food from her mouth after solid meals - a fact that don't seem to bother the new mother.It's all I've ever known, Shantel said last Monday, smiling down at her daughter. When she was three months old, Bailie had her first operation to close and repair the cleft in her lip.When Bailie turns one, she will have another surgery, to repair the tissue and muscle in her mouth and construct a uvula in the back of her throat.She'll have surgery to repair her nose when she's 4, then at 8, surgeons will shave bone from her hip to mold into her mouth to form her palate.She has needs that normal babies don't, Shantel said. But day-by-day, Bailie and I are overcoming those obstacles ... that is something we will continue to do for the rest of her life and I am determined to raise a very confident child.''So far, it appears that Shantel and her parents are raising a happy child - one who is busy bouncing in a wheeled walker at the moment.Bailie, rapt, watches her grandmother Cheryl make faces at her and squeals with pleasure. Then Shantel picks Bailie up and places her lips against her daughter's cheek, whispering ancient messages of a mother's love. Bailie's eyes dance with pleasure.Then it's hard to see the thin, dark scars. Or imagine how this baby could ever feel anything but beautiful, or loved.I always wanted to be a mom, Shantel says. When I look at her, no matter what problems she was born with, I think she's beautiful and I love her. "