Before She Was Even Born, Milena’s Parents Were Looking Out for Her

Thanks to them, she wears her smile with pride

Milena smiling on a playground, tossing her hair back

Grazi lives in Brazil with her husband and two children. When she learned her second child, Milena, would be born with a cleft, she was terrified. Now her fears are a thing of the past thanks to Smile Train. Here’s her story in her own words:

Before Milena was born, I had my son, Nilo. My husband was supporting us financially while I stayed home with him. The news that I was pregnant again was exciting, but we were hesitant. We weren’t sure if we were ready for another child. After all, Nilo was still just a baby.

A Big Discovery

At five months, we went in for an ultrasound. There, we learned Milena would be born with a cleft. I confess… it was scary! We didn’t know anything about the condition. Treatments and their costs were a mystery to us. At that moment, the only thing that came to our minds was to pray for God to lead us down this new path with Milena and help us care for her.

Grazi and Nilo standing behind Milena with their hands on her shoulders. Milena is holding a photo of herself as a baby before cleft surgery
Grazi, Milena, and Nilo holding a picture of baby Milena

The hospital gave me orientations on breastfeeding and cleft care to help me prepare for Milena. While they tried their best, the hospital wasn’t very prepared for the situation. There was a lack of common knowledge about clefts among the hospital staff and other parents I knew. I did some searching online in my own time, which yielded horrible results. All I found was children suffering greatly. Endless hospitalizations, lack of support, delayed development, severe bullying… It was terrifying to imagine that this could be Milena’s life.

A Beautiful Baby

When Milena was finally born, the hospital didn’t help us find a place specializing in cleft care. Thankfully, I knew a speech therapist who happened to work at Smile Train partner Hospital Municipal Infantil Menino Jesus. He provided us with a medical guide to start treatment with them when Milena was old enough. It was such a relief when we found out that all of her treatments would be free. We had been sick with fear that we wouldn’t be able to afford her surgeries, never mind the rest of her cleft care.

Grazi holding Nilo and Milena from behind
Even when times got tough, family was always there

The first week home with Milena was the hardest. She couldn’t breastfeed properly, so I had to stimulate her little mouth with my own hands. I spent the first month with her at my parents’ house to give us time to adjust and have more helping hands. My parents were thrilled to care for their new granddaughter. Her cleft never phased them.

Afterward, other family and friends were finally able to visit Milena. We all acted as normally as we could. The fact that she was born with a cleft didn’t change anything. She was always a beautiful baby. Her eyes were big and radiant, and even with her cleft, she flaunted a big smile that never went away. Today, she’s the smileyist person in the family!

Milena smiling on the playground and holding a white teddy bear
Milena’s family thinks her smile has always been her best feature

Smile Train Steps In

After a few more months, we were able to start treatment at Hospital Municipal Infantil Menino Jesus. That’s where we met Dr. Daniela Tanikawa, Milena’s plastic surgeon. She was wonderful and explained all of the surgeries to us. In fact, everyone at Hospital Menino Jesus and Smile Train is so caring towards us.

Milena sitting on a swing
Milena is proud of how far she’s come on her cleft journey, and it’s still not over!

We were all so anxious on the day of her first cleft surgery. We had no idea what she’d look like or if she’d have complications afterward. While our fear loomed tall, our faith pulled us through. We knew Milena was born with a cleft for a reason and that God was looking after us.

Seeing Milena for the first time after surgery was a moment I’ll never forget. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never imagined the results would be as incredible as they were – it was a wonder to see. We all were so emotional.

Milena and Grazi hugging
Grazi has been Milena’s biggest fan since day one

When we took her home, we followed the medical guidelines down to the letter. We never wanted to risk anything with Milena. It was worth the effort because everything went smoothly. The healing went so well; she hardly has a scar. A year later, her palate surgery went just as well. Having family behind us throughout the whole journey was a great help.

A Life of Love

Being able to get Milena treatment as a baby made such a big difference in her life. Going to the doctor doesn’t bother her, and she has a tight-knit bond with her cleft care team. We’ve always showered her with love and security. Building up her self-confidence was so important to us. Now, she isn’t insecure about her cleft and no one at school bullies her, as we feared. Her bright smile and loving heart are a magnet for friends.

Milena sliding down a slide
Milena is a ball of fun on the playground. No wonder she has so many friends!

If I had to give advice to cleft parents like us, I would tell them to keep holding on. The path will be long but very worth it. And know that your child will reflect you, so fill them with the love and confidence they need to push through. Seeing them grow up with love for themselves and everyone around them is a beautiful thing.

Grazi, Nilo, and Milena hugging
Milena’s family has no shortage of smiles
And to Smile Train’s donors who made this possible, my words will never be enough to express my gratitude. My family will be forever grateful to everyone! Donors have no idea how big their role is in the lives of families like mine. They make everything possible for us. Before Milena was born, all I saw online were tragedies. I have no doubts that when mothers like me look up clefts in the future, they’ll find endless success stories just like Milena’s. Truly, Smile Train made Milena’s life a joy.

Help spread joy to cleft families around the world.