Cleft

As Caroline was born

the doctor saw
the split
from lip to nose–
purple rimmed,
going down deep–
Deep enough
to hurt
generations.

And the imperfect doctor,
tired of wounds
tired of divisions,
saw the small
wholeness
Chose that moment
Chose tenderness
saying simply,
She is beautiful.

And the imperfect mother,
tired of pain,
held her child,
touched the tiny,
ragged face
Chose that moment
Chose acceptance
crying softly,
She is beautiful.

About the poet:

Jon Neher is clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and associate director of the Valley Medical Center Family Medicine Residency Program. He is editor-in-chief of the newsletter Evidence-Based Practice and a frequent contributor of essays on medical education to Family Medicine.

About the poem:

This poem was written to capture the layering of emotions that occurred the day I unexpectedly delivered an infant with a cleft palate. I was new to my career, and this was a novel challenge for me. Since I had no professional scripting to fall back on and because I wanted to encourage bonding, I found myself repeatedly saying how beautiful the baby was, even as I discussed the cleft with the parents. The effect on the family was precisely what I was hoping for.

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

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