Undivided Love: The Stories of Cleft-Affected Families began as The Shands Project, a non-profit still photography project.
I created The Shands Project to raise awareness of Cleft Lip/Palate, to empower patients and their families, and to encourage natural beauty. I renamed the project so that I could include families outside of the UF Shands community.
Why is this project important? Why should it be made?
One in 700 births is cleft-affected. That’s just math; just numbers. The human element is that each one of those babies joins a family that has questions, concerns and confusion. Everyday in a cleft forum, I see new posts from expectant mothers and fathers. I’ve seen foster parents ask questions because they had no time to prepare. Even at my daughter’s softball practice, a family asked for my help with their cleft-affected newborn son.
Families need to have a safe place to go to other than the internet. The internet can be a scary place when you’re given a diagnosis. Typically, clefts are discovered during the 20-week ultrasound. This means that a mother has approximately 20 additional weeks of obsessing, worrying, reading, re-reading and reading into so many “horror stories.”
While there are many great resources online, visual connection helps people learn and heal. The reality is that while it’s an overwhelming diagnosis, your parenting experience will be just as rewarding as you hoped it to be.
My goal is to offer families a realistic and comforting glance of what to expect during a child’s treatment plan and cleft repair journey.