Maricel: Both My Daughters Have Clefts and I Consider Myself the Luckiest Mom on Earth

One mother’s cleft journey in her own words
Marciel with Ernie, Jr. and Ermalen before their cleft surgeries

Maricel lives in Manila, Philippines, with her husband and two daughters with clefts, ages six and two. She shared her story with us just after local experts performed the free cleft surgeries her girls needed to live and thrive, thanks to Smile Train supporters like you.

Ernie, Jr. as a baby
Baby Ernie, Jr.

I didn’t know my first child, Ernie, Jr., would have a cleft until I held her for the first time. But I didn’t panic. I had seen other children with clefts around our community before, so it didn’t seem strange. One of her grandfathers has a cleft, so I figured it must be genetic.

Ernie, Sr. and Ernie, Jr. share a moment before Jr.'s cleft surgery
Ernie, Sr. and Ernie, Jr. share a moment before Ernie, Jr.'s cleft surgery 

I have heard many terrible, heartbreaking stories of fathers rejecting their babies and wives after their baby is born with a cleft, but, of course, my husband, Ernie, Sr. loved our little Ernie from the moment he laid eyes on her. It didn’t even occur to him to no longer give her his name when he saw her cleft. Our whole family, likewise, has been nothing but supportive and helpful.

Ermalen as a baby
Baby Ermalen

When Ernie was three-and-a-half, our second daughter, Ermalen, was born, also with a cleft — I guess that gene must be very strong in our family! Once again, our whole family rallied to support us and our now two little girls with clefts.

Ernie and Ermalen
Ernie and Ermalen

Ernie was a generally healthy baby even with her cleft, but it was hard to understand her when she spoke, and she frequently got infections. We also worried about her starting school — as a girl who looks different, we knew her classmates would not be nearly as kind to her as we are. Naturally, we also didn’t want Ermalen to ever have to suffer any of this. Both girls needed surgery at the soonest possible time.

Thankfully, just as things here started opening up from the pandemic, we learned that our girls could receive free cleft surgeries from the local experts at Philippine Band of Mercy hospital nearby.

Ernie and Ermalen undergoing a pre-surgical consultation at Philippine Band of Mercy
Ernie and Ermalen completing a pre-surgical consultation at Philippine Band of Mercy Hospital

I now consider May 19, 2022 the best day of my life, as that is the day each of my daughters received their cleft surgeries. When we saw them come out of the operating room that day, Ernie, Sr., and I both gasped and cried. We couldn’t believe these were our little girls; we simply could not believe our luck.

Ernie and Ermalen after Smile Train-sponsored cleft surgery holding pictures of themselves before surgery, flanked by their parents
Ernie and Ermalen after their cleft surgeries

My whole family and I send endless thanks and blessings to Smile Train and its donors because we never could have been able to afford even one of these surgeries on our own, let alone two. I now see a bright future ahead for both Ernie and Ermalen. I hope they will use the second chance you have given them to go to school and graduate with a good education. I want them to grow with confidence and to believe in themselves because you have taught them that they no longer need luck, because with kindness, all things are possible.

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