My boy with the crooked smile

I’ve held my baby boy Jarvis in my arms now for nearly as long as I held him inside me.

Alongside the exhaustion of sleep deprivation and muscle ache from climbing the steep learning curve of mothering, I have been lugging a bag of emotions that weigh heavy on my shoulders and threaten to spill out at the most unlikely of places.

Anger, guilt, resentment, fear, worry and self-pity. I feel them all regularly and intensely. Even in the moments of sheer joy, they are still there. That sheer-shot of guilt from the corner of my beautiful boy’s smile.

My baby boy has facial nerve palsy. Present since birth, it means the right side of his face has little movement. His right eye doesn’t blink, his right brow doesn’t furrow and the right side of his mouth doesn’t open as wide as his left. It was first thought it was caused by pressure during birth and that it would resolve, but now it seems it is here to stay.

I really can’t imagine him any other way, but at times I ache for what he will never know, feel responsible for what he has and wonder if a choice I made resulted in this. The fact is, I will never know. Facial palsy, I have since discovered, is just one of those things. One of those things I never knew about, and most people don’t ever know about. While coming to terms with this, I remind myself it’s not that bad. There are worse afflictions and worse fates. He is a healthy and happy boy and will grow into a healthy and happy adult but I know that he faces challenges ahead. The challenge of growing up a little different. And as a family we face challenges, of arming him with a healthy self-esteem that will shield him from taunts, an openness to respond to people’s curiosity and a generosity of spirit to accept others as they are.

But some days I don’t feel up to the task. I withdraw. I get annoyed when well-meaning people make comments about his face not ‘looking that bad’ as I demure and agree. I hold back from telling a person not to touch his face like that, as they push his unblemished forehead into a frown for him. I just smile as another shop assistant laughs and says that he winked at them. But deep down I get that feeling again, a deep primal protectiveness laced with all those negative emotions that I turn on myself. It feels heavy.

But then how quickly lightness descends, a stranger says “what a beautiful boy” and I beam for him. He fixes me with a gaze, blue eyes shining with all the trust in the world and in that moment I know that he’ll be okay. That we’ll be okay. My boy with the crooked smile and me.

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240 thoughts on “My boy with the crooked smile

  1. Your son is beautiful, and I love his smile. My mom had a crooked smile, and my identical twin grandson who was a preemie at birth James has the same crooked smile as my mom. Nothing has ever been said, about his smile before by the doctor I and I thought it to be James’ trademark and his way of looking different than his twin John.

    You see the twins were born at 28 weeks and was in the NICU weighing James only weighing 1lb 4oz and his brother 1lb 3 oz, and those beautiful baby boys fought to stay alive and was in the NICU for over 2 months. They turned 8 years old on April 15 , and are thriving and doing well.

    Jarvis is unique just like James, and that crooked smile is such a joy to see. That smile I believe makes up a part of them that says you smile your way and I will smile mine and adds character to who they are. None of the kids in school have ever made fun of James and he is very popular among his class mates and plays soccer. Also since I lost my mom in 1994 I would love to see that beautiful crooked smile of hers just once more.

    Jarvis is beautiful just the way he is, and I would not change a thing about him. God sent you such a beautiful baby boy, and take it as a blessing that a crooked smile can warm your heart more than a straight one. God Bless You & Baby Jarvis, Linda


  2. Beautiful Boy and beautiful blog. Thank you for sharing with us ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Your baby is cute and adorable and yes different and therefore challenged. And you are going to have to decide for yourself and for him if his crooked smile/facial palsy is going to be the headline in his life or a post script.

    After only 9 months with post partum hormones still raging and a bucket full of anguish and grief about the fact that your child is not perfect I know that you have not as yet been able to decide and you are honest enough to have written about your doubts and fears. But you are going to have to decide soon. You will frame how he sees himself and you will help him write his story with either the crooked smile as the reason he is to be pitied or admired.

    My 12 year old daughter was normal for her first 9 years with only a limp and weakness on her left side to contend with. Sure I cried and screamed and blamed everyone from my husband to God but mostly myself. We wrapped her in cotton wool and tried to protect her from everything. But then soon came to realise that what she needed/wanted was to be normal and that she really deserved the best life that we could give her. And to do that we had to stop feeling sorry for her and start treating her like a normal child. So we let her do and try everything she could including ballet, swimming, ice skating and even learning how to swing on a trapeze.

    Thank goodness we did because now she is a quadriplegic who breathes via a ventilator and can only move her right index finger – but she is at the same time a gold honor role student who is mainstream schooled. And sings in the school choir even though with a tracheostomy even speaking is a challenge. And she had a painting featured in the school art exhibition.
    And I tell her every day to do her best and that if she does she could be a lawyer, a doctor, a fashion designer, basically whatever she wants and that technology will catch up with her dreams and make even the most improbable possible.

    She is inspiring and impressive and simply amazing – and yes her eye droops a bit aswell.

    Don’t let a crooked smile define your childs life and if you let it be the excuse for everything that goes wrong from now on in yours, you will.
    Be strong you can and will raise an extraordinary boy – who has the cutest smile by the way. Sandra X


  4. Hi dear,

    Please don’t ever chastize yourself for things you have absolutely no control over……but yes you are allowed the luxury of all the emotions you feel. After all you are human.
    I don’t know how to put it but when I saw your little one’s lop sided smile…I thought I’d like to visit your blog and see more photos of him as I do love kids. But it did hurt to read that Jarvis had a little problem and it brought some tears to my eyes too. God’s ways are strange …..maybe you will love your son more than you might love an average child ….and I think from Jarvis’s point of view …who can complain about more attention from your momma !!!


  5. What a beautiful post. As a mother of a little girl with a disorder in the Autism Spectrum, it is easy to relate. Though it is not a physical attribute, she is “quirky” enough to get noticed. And I went through (and still go through) all of the emotions you expressed. And we have also experience the comments and suggestions of good intentioned individuals. Well, maybe not all good intentioned. One person actually suggested have that she just needs a good spanking (seriously…beat the Autism out of her?!?) You have the right idea, lots of love, and help him construct a good self-esteem. This is your hardest battle, because no matter how much you build him up, a few comments from peers can easily tear him down. But despite you down days (and you will have many), don’t give up. He is a beautiful boy, and you are a beautiful mom.


  6. (: Well first of all, I believe that the baby is proud to have a parent like YOU! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Cheer up. Just keep holding on!


  7. Your post is extremely heart-warming. As an expectant mother, I was very touched by your honest words. Your son is beautiful, and with a mother like you he is going to shine throughout his entire life. Always remember that you’re human, which means you’re entitled to every emotion that you feel. It makes you the strong woman that you are and the amazing mother that your son needs. He loves and adores you, and his one-of-a-kind, beautiful smile is all the evidence you need.


  8. Belinda,

    I have a blog on WordPress as well, and I see all the photos from other people’s blogs, I’ve seen them for months now and yours is probably, maybe, the second one I’ve clicked on and read. And I can only attribute it to two things: your sons adorably infectious smile and a headline I took to be filled with pride and joy over her son.

    The emotions you’re feeling so intensely โ€” all of them โ€” they’re signs of a mother who loves her child deeply. It’s okay to feel them. And I would recommend letting them run their course. If you want to laugh, then laugh; and if you want to cry, then cry. That’s why we have them: to act express what we can not at the time put into words.

    As I’m sure you know, his palsy wasn’t your fault. I’m sure it was just “one of those things.” And before you dismiss me well-meaning, but uninformed, know this: I am one of those people who grew up a little different. I have one of over a one-hundred documented types of dwarfism, so believe me when I say I know a little bit about growing up different.

    And I say this not to diminish the severity of your situation, but to encourage you and lighten your load โ€” a crooked smile ain’t that bad.

    But you know what Belinda? You are so ahead of the curve compared to a lot, if not the vast majority of parents out there. I can tell you would teach your son to be kind and brave and personable and smart and caring and have a generous sense of humor. I can also tell that you would arm him the very same healthy self-esteem, and openness, and generosity to accept others that you mentioned in your post.

    The only thing that’s different is that now you consciously aware of it.

    I don’t think my parents consciously set out to impart those qualities, maybe they did, I’ve never asked them. But I can say this, I have those qualities. And if my parents could do it without a road map, you certainly can.

    And it’s okay if you have days that you get annoyed with well-meaning people. You’re human. If you didn’t get annoyed sometimes, you’d be an automaton. But know that all those people aren’t going to be well-meaning. It’s okay to have a clearly defined line as to what behavior you will put up with from strangers and the behaviors you won’t. In fact, I would urge you define that line quickly. And remember, well-meaning isn’t a license for bad behavior.

    Protectiveness is okay. You’re a mother. And isn’t that what mothers do? Protect their children by looking out for their best interest?

    Belinda, you’ve got the battle won already. You’ve figured out.

    How do I know? You said it yourself in the last three sentences of your post โ€”

    “He fixes mee with a gaze, blue eyes shining with all the trust in the world and in that moment I know that he’ll be okay. That we’ll be okay. My boy with the crook smile and me.”



    Tell your parents I said they did an awesome job raising such a kind and empathetic daughter with an excellent head on her shoulders.


  9. Your son is beautiful! I have no children of my own but I cannot wait until I do. You feel the deep love that a parent feels for their child. I hope my child is as cute as your son is.


  10. Wow that was a beautiful post, and you have a beautiful son. I wish some day, I can develop unconditional love for a child like you have with yours


  11. I think he looks beautiful ๐Ÿ™‚


  12. Hello I am 13 years old and I too have a crooked smile I grew up with it! I have never had anyone make fun of it!! At first I wanted it too go away and then when I got more mature I realized that God chose me too have a unique smile and not many kids have one like me! He is adorable and I love his smile I have never seen another kid with a smile like mine<3


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  14. You love him, he’s YOURS.
    And he is beautiful because his palsy is what makes him who he is, just like each of our imperfections make us who we are – internally and externally. He is just perfect.


  15. He is lucky to have a mother like you.

    That is all.


  16. He is a beautiful boy and he is lucky to have you as his mama.x


  17. What a gorgeous kid. My little one- roughly the same age- has a large, red birthmark on her forehead. I feel your frustration with every one of the well meant, patronizing comments. A big smile and a “Look, isn’t she beautiful!” is so much more appropriate. i could just about cry, every time i hear it.


  18. your writing brought tears to my eyes … im sure your boy will grow up very happy because he has a supportive mum and family that loves him dearly!!! and every child needs that !


  19. Such a powerful post. This will be a treasure for him to read when he is older.


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  21. His smile may be a little crooked but it is just gorgeous! He reminds me so much of how my middle boy looked at that age and I sit her looking at my 6 week old wondering if he will be just as beautiful!

    I have a secret spot that harbours questions, what ifs and yes.. a fair bit of guilt over how my girls were born (they were born 11 weeks early due to a complication with twin pregnancies) and every now and then I stop and questions and wonder if they would be different, if their struggles would be less if things had ended up differently…. but over the years I have come to terms with things and while I wouldn’t wish their beginning on my worst enemy I can now accept that that is part of who they are, part of their journey and part of mine…. so I have to embrace it.


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  23. Your son is beautiful, and that smile is infectious! I saw the pic and had to smile. What a beautiful, honest post. My son has a small cyst on his face that most people don’t notice, but some people do and I think it’s so rude that they point it out. We don’t do that to each other as adults – well, I hope not anyway. Have a lovely weekend!


  24. I needed to find you and TODAY was the best day I couldve…! My husband & I share the same sometimes lonely feeling: our 2 1/2 year old son was born with facial nerve palsy due to birth trauma! Abe has the same presentation as Jarvis but on his left side! And like your Jarvis, Abe is our handsome blue eyed baby…and we totally understand those comments of “oh its not that bad I hardly notice” as Abe is sitiing there with a serious face, the grocery store clerk asking “are you winking at me?!” etc. Yes we are so blessed to have a smart adorable healthy son it could be Much much worse. We know this BUT there are some every day challenges that are faced(eyesight, wind, sand, SUN?) and I would just love to touch base with you about them and how youre addressing them. Just today I had one of those break down moments you described- I didnt expect it but wounded Mother bear came out of me as I was dropping off our 5 year old son at preschool. When I got home I touched base with my husband and he said there has to be someone out there who knows what feelings youre dealing with – sometimes it just seems so rare no Dr really gets it, no other parents “really” do, we’re dealing with an unsuccesful legal battle against the hospital, etc. I searched and found you today. Thank You, I hope we can touch base and chat about our awesome boys with the crooked smiles!


  25. Hi my name is Amy, I understand your feeling I feel the same way you feel, my son is 19 month he also has 7 nerve palsey on the right side of his face. I was just looking for a good eye Dr on line and I found your story brought tears to my eyes I thought I was alone. My son right eye does not stop tearing. Every time I take a picture of him it breaks my heart when he smiles. I get from the peaple about the winking or look he gave me a a grin. when he cries peaple say whats wrong with his face or they stare at him. I cry just thinking when he start school our the kids going to laugh at him call him names. A friend of mine seen him for the first time he was laughing she started to laugh at him saying look at popeye, I did not know how to react I just stared at her trying to smile but I could’nt. I wanted to get up grab my son and run out her place. But I sat in that chair and prayed for God to help me deal with this in a good way. I am getting better at it. He is the joy of my life I would not change him for anything. He does not fear any thing. Your son is so handsom God bless him and your family.


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  27. My husband has a “crooked smile”. He is very successful and well liked by everybody. He hates it of course and yes, he’s had to deal with comments over the years from curious people, some thinking he must have had a stroke. It has never affected his success though and he is a very good looking guy despite not having a perfect mouth. I don’t even see it to be honest which might sound strange but to me, he IS perfect. We have two beautiful girls together and in no way, has his crooked smile affected our quality of life in any way. I’d rather him have a crooked smile than an ugly personality. I understand your pain though. My daughter was born with abnormally large eyes which stuck out like a frog. As she’s getting older, they are looking less freaky but there is not a person we meet for the first time that doesn’t comment about them. I’ve had lots of mean remarks about them as well which broke my heart. No one is perfect and it’s sad that our society is so obsessed with looks. There are some things you can’t change and our job as mothers is to help turn these imperfections into strengths for our children. Everyone is right though, he is gorgeous and I’m not just saying that.


  28. You should have met my parents. I’m 50 now, and they raised me to simply be myself and no differently than my older sister. Please don’t underestimate kids’ natural holistic attitude towards their own bodies; when i saw myself in photos i didn’t analyze my face; i just thought “that’s me”!! i was loved, happy and naturally outgoing and had lots of friends (including little boyfriends. and yes, as i grew older, boyfriends who noticed my nice features and wanted to date me). It’s the people with negative, petty-minded attitudes *towards life
    in general* that will harass those of us who are ‘different’; you can always say “that’s so negative” and make your point without elaborating on what that means (and those who bother to be thoughtful will ‘get it’). Life is wondrous; your son is a part of everything in it so make sure he is encouraged like any other child. And bless you for being such a deeply caring mother.


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  31. Pingback: My boy with the crooked smile – Part II

  32. Beautiful baby boy! I have a baby girl who also has facial palsy. Her doctor acts as if it’s no big deal and say it gives her character. Her birth was easy so it couldn’t have been from trauma, but she did receive the hep b vaccine shortly after birth. Of course, I have been searching for answers and came across this page. Did your baby also have the hep b vaccine at birth? I have read several studies that have linked Bell’s palsy with the hep b vaccine. I am just searching for answers. Her very first smile at 3 weeks was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.


  33. I just found your website tonight as I was reading about facial palsy awareness week, my son Charlie was born with left sided congenital facial palsy, we recently found out that his cranial nerve 7 isn’t present. Parts of your post were like you were reading my thoughts and it was very comforting to me. I look forward to exploring your site and learning more about how your son is doing.

    Tasha (mother of Connor 12, Charles 1 1/2, Eloise 1 month


  34. I found out when my daughter was 6 months old while at her 6 month checkup that she had an asymmetrical face. Honestly, we never even noticed it because we thought she was so darn cute. We chose to ignore it but as she grew up there were times that her friends would say things that would hurt her feelings. It was not hurtful on purpose but instead just innocence of a child saying what’s on their mind. Her father and I didn’t think anything about it, made no fuss about it and as a result it wasn’t a big deal for her. My daughter is now in her twenties and is a very happy, funny, smart and successful young woman. It’s truly no big deal. She can’t whistle (who cares??!). Seriously, don’t worry at all about it.


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