Stefania and Elena: Twins With Clefts

“Everything is harder when there’s two”

Florentina with Stefania and Elena

Florentina, from Romania, is the mother of Maria Stefania and Elena — 10-month-old twins with clefts. We caught up with her just after her girls’ first surgeries, and she graciously agreed to share her family’s incredible journey with us.

When the doctor told me I was three months pregnant with twins, I couldn’t breathe. We already had two children, an 18-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, so this came as a big shock.

I started taking vitamins and regularly seeing my doctor. He did an ultrasound and found nothing suspicious.

Everything was normal until nothing was. I started losing fluid, and, at eight months, they induced me. First came my Stefania, then my Elena. The doctors told me right away that they had clefts, and also that there was a very good hospital three hours away where they could receive treatment.

Looking into my baby girls’ faces for the first time made my soul hurt. All I could ask was, “Why? Why me?” My husband, Alexandru, took it better. He said that if this is what God wants, then we will work it out.

Stefania and Elena play on a hospital bed before cleft surgery
Elena (foreground) and Stefania (background) play on a hospital bed before their cleft surgeries

I knew he was right. We are both from large families — I am one of six girls, and he is one of five boys. Neither of us has ever had a lot of money; I am a housewife, and Alexandru just got a steady job doing construction after working as a day laborer for many years. We right now live in a small house with just one room and a bathroom. Yet, our whole lives, we have seen that things always have a way of working out when you have faith.

Florentina with the girls before their cleft surgeries
Florentina (purple robe) and her sister Michaela play with the girls before their cleft surgeries

Stefania weighed four pounds when she was born; Elena weighed only three. I stayed with them in the NICU for a month and a half until they reached their optimal health. It was hard. Everything is harder when there’s two.

Things only got harder once we took them home. No one ever said anything to my face, but you know how people talk in villages. It had me wondering whether I really did do something to cause my twins to be born with clefts, even though the doctors always insisted that it was not at all my fault. They said it just happens.

Still, knowing there was a place we could go for treatment gave me confidence. We had been saving money since they were born, and we drove to the hospital for the first time expecting to learn how long we would have to wait until we could afford two cleft surgeries. Of course, we were prepared to pay as much as we possibly could to provide our babies the care they needed.

Stefania before cleft surgery

Well, you can imagine how we felt when they told us we wouldn’t have to pay anything at all thanks to Smile Train! I said, “No. You shouldn’t help only my children because maybe I have something in my purse, but perhaps there are other families who really can’t afford anything,” but they wouldn’t hear of it. Naturally, we were grateful and very happy.

In my mind, I trusted the doctors, but in my heart, I got so scared as I watched them take my girls away into surgery. They are so small.

Florentina holding Elena
Florentina holding Elena before her cleft palate surgery

They did the surgeries separately. Stefania was first, and when I saw them bringing her back into the room with her eyes open and awake, it was like seeing God. Alexandru and I both cried twice. We called home immediately and thanked God and the doctors that everything was OK.

Both surgeries went perfectly. Our hospital, S.C.U.C. M.S. Curie, is a very good and devoted hospital. I’d like to thank everyone who was involved and helped, both the doctors and everyone who donates to Smile Train. We thank you for all the support, and may God bless you for everything you do for these children who really need this care.

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