“We keep him at home,” Ma Hong said.
The embarrassment of her statement brings tears to her own eyes. This is one of the first times Ma Hong has ever taken her son out in public. In their hometown of Zibo, China, four hours away, this mother of two is not able to bring 5-month-old Zhe Wei out of the house without being laughed at, blamed for his appearance, or despised for bringing a child with a cleft lip into the world.
Before Zhe Wei was born, Ma Hong and her husband had never heard of or seen anyone with a cleft condition. As the days turned to months, depression grew heavy as hope dwindled. Living off of a farmer’s salary, affording treatment for their son was not a tangible idea. Such a procedure was too expensive for the family to afford.
When a friend informed Ma Hong about Operation Smile, she rejoiced at the possibility of a normal life for her son. Up until the family reached the Operation Smile medical mission, Ma Hong felt alone. But she said it was a relief to see so many parents going through her same situation. Ma Hong explains that when she saw her son’s name on the list of surgeries to be performed this week, it was a “turning point of life” for her family.
As Ma Hong bounces her pudgy baby in her lap, the worry lines in her face disappear for an instant. She closes her eyes and smiles softly, soaking up the positive and hopeful energy of the hospital waiting room. Just as her son’s name is called to be taken into surgery, Ma Hong kisses her child and whispers in his ear just how lucky they are to be given this opportunity.