My Cleft Journey - Grace Murphy

In honor of World Smile Day®, Grace Murphy, an American teen with a cleft, shares her journey and what she's learned along the way.
Grace Murphy smiles against a colorful wall

My cleft is a big part of my identity. Although my cleft journey has been challenging and frustrating at times, I am forever grateful for it because it has shaped me into who I am today.

Some of my earliest memories are in the orthodontist’s or speech therapist’s office. Like many cleft-affected children, I started speech therapy when I was very young. I started going because I wasn’t saying enough words, but as I progressed, it became clear that my cleft affected my pronunciation as well. I don’t remember much about my early years in speech therapy, but I vividly remember getting frustrated with myself and crying because I couldn’t say R’s like seemingly everyone else my age. However, it was all worth it because when I graduated from speech therapy in fifth grade, I was elated; I felt like I had finally caught up with my peers.

Grace on swing
Grace today smiles on a swing display

I have vague memories of my second and third surgeries, but I have clear memories of my fourth and fifth. As an active teenager, sitting out of sports for six weeks two times was more challenging than the pain and recovery of surgery. However, I tried to remain positive by remembering what a gift it is to receive these life-changing surgeries.

Another significant aspect of my cleft treatment has been orthodontic care. I started visiting the orthodontist when I was in kindergarten. I remember being timid at the office because I was the youngest one there by at least five years. However, that soon became the least of my worries. As I got older, I became petrified at the idea of having my teeth poked and pulled. I feared the worst — that a tooth would fall out or that my gums would bleed non-stop.

Grace and her Dad at Wrigley Field
Grace and her dad take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field

I was probably around seven or eight when this fear developed. Overall, I was a brave kid with a high pain tolerance, so no one understood why I was suddenly so afraid of the orthodontist and dentist. After talking it through with my parents, we realized it was because of all of the cleft treatment that I had already been through. The fear never subsided as I got older, but I have been able to handle it better.

Grace smiles by Lake Michigan
Grace on Lake Michigan

My advice to anyone struggling with accepting their ‘forever smile’? Embrace what you have and be grateful for and proud of your journey. Your smile might not be perfect, but it's yours and it shines in moments of pure happiness. Your smile is beautiful and worth sharing and don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.

If you agree with Grace that everyone deserves access to high-quality cleft care, make a donation to Smile Train this World Smile Day®.

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