When my beautiful boy Jarvis entered my world almost five-and-a-half years ago so did facial palsy. I didn’t know what it was then, but finding out my child was born with the condition shook my world and I haven’t quite been the same since. Not really in a bad way, just that my perspective has forever been altered by that one little missing seventh facial nerve. In Jarvis’s case, his facial palsy was congenital, meaning that the seventh nerve on his right side never formed properly, leaving the complete right side of his face without movement when he smiles, blinks or raises his eyebrows.
So what has parenting a child with facial palsy taught me?
1. I have no time for gossip based on appearance
I like to think I’ve always been an open and accepting person, but it wasn’t until I had Jarvis that I realised how much talk can revolve around people’s appearance – particularly those who look or dress differently. I really don’t have time for people that make it a habit to comment on other people’s appearance or features, which is very liberating really. When I’ve found myself stuck in these conversations I make it a priority to move the conversation away from judgemental comments, or question the person on their prejudices. Most people are unthinking, rather than nasty – but it still doesn’t make it right.
2. The fact that you ‘didn’t even notice it’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist
Since Jarvis was born, I’ve been in lots of conversations when I’ve been honest about Jarvis’s facial palsy and have been met with ‘but I can’t even notice it’ or ‘but it’s only cosmetic, isn’t it?’. These comments made me feel resentful, alone and misunderstood as here I was running my baby around to all his specialist appointments, to check his eyes, hearing, speech and have MRIs of his brain for a condition that no one understood or took seriously. While not life threatening, congenital facial palsy is lifelong and it’s impact – particularly psychological – shouldn’t be overlooked.
3. Difference really is beautiful
My son is beautiful not despite of his difference, he just is. Since knowing his beauty inside and out, I recognise the true beauty in difference. I am kinder about the things about myself I’ve always loathed and I’m drawn to those people who speak out about difference and work towards a world that isn’t so quick to judge based on appearance.
4. Honesty is the best policy
As Jarvis has gotten older we’ve been really open with him about what facial palsy is and what it means. We want him to be proud of his unique smile and not feel like he has to hide it away. We want him to feel confident to answer those who question or taunt him because of it. To do that, I’ve had to really own all my feelings and fears about what facial palsy will mean for him in the future and be as positive and upbeat as I can, all the while acknowledging any negative feelings he has about it as he grows.
5. Be kind, be kind, be kind
Most of all facial palsy has taught me that there is true power in being kind to whoever you meet, not judging based on appearance and acknowledging that you know nothing about the path that a stranger is walking. Kindness is often underrated but so important. I’d like to think that knowing facial palsy has made me kinder and more open to differences of all kinds.
Today marks the start of Facial Palsy Awareness Week – an initiative of Facial Palsy UK – a charity that supports people with facial paralysis of all kinds, including Bells Palsy, Moebius Syndrome and facial paralysis due to injury or surgery. As Australia doesn’t have a dedicated Facial Palsy charity or support group of its own, our family has decided to join in the week with the hope of raising awareness of Facial Palsy in the wider community.
My husband is joining in the #facemyday challenge and has shaved off half his beard for the week and I’ll be blogging and sharing on social media as the week progresses. I’d love you to join in by sharing this post or anything that resonates with you.