What would it feel like

What would it feel like to find out you are with child? What would it feel like to carry the pregnancy out while continuing to work in the tea fields day and night? To continue doing manual labor, to not be able to receive prenatal care, to give birth at home or in a field far from help? What would it feel like to give birth to a baby with a cleft condition? To have your hopes shattered in a society where it is considered unacceptable to have a child with a deformity.

What would it feel like to be told as a mother, this condition was caused by your bad luck. Maybe you cut a fish while pregnant, or conceived during a lunar eclipse or had bad karma. What would it feel like to have the blame placed on your back as a mother, as a woman who wants nothing more than to birth a healthy child? How do your feel in those first moments, as you take it all in? I am not a mother, I have never carried a child, given birth or been told that my child is unworthy of life. I can not even begin to imagine what it would feel like.

What would it feel like to step into a hospital in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by foreign faces. After months or years of being told it was all your fault, what would it feel like to learn that you are not to blame? Is it too late to change that heaviness in your heart? What would it feel like to see your child treated by others as a beautiful and perfect being? That beautiful and perfect child that you as a mother always saw?

I wouldn't share this if it wasn't something we experience here every day. Sometimes I feel like if I talk about these realities that it will come across like those television ads with pictures of starving children with flies all over them, asking for sponsorship. But you guys, this is a reality. This is happening every single day when it shouldn't be. Mother's being outcasted from their family for giving birth to a baby who has a cleft lip or palate. Being told it is their fault, not having food provided for them or their child. Babies being dumped in trash bins, placed on train tracks to be killed. It happens too often that the baby is brought to us at the very brink of succumbing to starvation. Their malnourishment is so severe that their immune system is compromised, their skin is covered in sores and sometimes they are so hungry that they suck on their fingers to the point of making the nails come off. Babies who are months old but are the weight of a preemie. Parents who were guided by a doctor to feed their cleft baby twice per day... a tactic used on uneducated parents so that their child will pass away. I don't often feel angry, but this, this makes my head throb with anger. My colleagues developed an amazing nutrition program that gives these babies a chance. The power that was taken away from parents is given back through proper education. Does that heaviness start to lift?

Today we operated on five thousandth patient in Assam. The backlog of clefts has been reduced from approximately 20,000 to 15,000. This patient happened to be one of the very first patients in our nutrition program. In July she came to us in need of serious support, seven months later she is at the proper weight and nutritional status to receive a safe surgery. The smile on her mother's face as the baby went back for her operation stretched from ear to ear. She was empowered, supported. We kept our promise made seven months ago, that her beautiful daughter would gain weight if fed properly, that her beautiful daughter would be operated on. That the whole family would be given a chance. What would it feel like, to know that you saved your child?


  1. As a new mom this is unimaginable and so heartbreaking. These surgeries are lifesaving in so many ways. I celebrate your dedication and compassion. You are one in a million!

  2. It is heart breaking to me on the opposite side of the spectrum. I was born with a pretty debilitating skin disorder (though you wouldn't be able to tell now) and grew up with much ridicule from my peers, but always had a supportive and loving family. It's hard to imagine one's own doctor essentially wishing them dead. Or a mother not understanding the process of genetics. It seems very medieval. I feel so blessed to live where I do.

    I don't think you ever need to worry about bad karma Kristin!

  3. These posts continually blow me away. I don't even know why I'm commenting, because I can't seem to find the words that would accurately convey how I feel after reading them. I am just so glad there are people like you out there, changing lives one day at a time.