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A little story about me!

Name: Jen
Age: 32 (just...!) 
Star sign: Cancerian
Lives: Kent

OK...we're done! 

Just kidding. 

I was born in 1987 to my Mum & Dad and I have one older brother.  I was born in Oxford and neither of my parents were expecting me to pop out with a Cleft Lip and Palate.  Scans had showed me to be a healthy baby and my brother didn't have any issues, so my parents were not on high alert. 

As I was handed to my mum, the midwife said 'congratulations, don't worry, we can fix it'.  Even to this day, my mum says she was so grateful for that midwife's reaction and comment.  My hospital stay lasted about 10 days, as they needed to scan me from head to toe to make sure there were no associated conditions with my cleft.  From there on, it was regular hospital appointments.  I had my lip and hard palate repaired at 4 months old, my soft palate was repaired at 6 months old and had my bone graft (where bone is taken from the hip and put behind the front teeth) at 10 years old.  I had countless visits to the orthodontist from 9 years old and was discharged at 27 and I've been seen by many speech therapists, dentists, psychologists and cleft nurses!

Growing up, we moved a few times as my dad was in the Forces.  We moved mainly around the UK with one posting to Cyprus (I'll talk about that more in a bit!).  As a young girl I was put into gymnastic lessons.  I hated being separated from my mum but I think that was just generally shy, rather than anything cleft related.  I enjoyed school although I wasn't very academic.  I was reasonably good at sports so ended up in a couple of different teams and always enjoyed the social side of school.  

At secondary school, I was quiet and rarely wanted to draw attention to myself.  I felt it gave people another reason to look at me if I spoke out or laughed so tried my best to not make too much noise.  My biggest fear, I'm sure like most people, was having to answer a question in front of the class and getting it wrong!  In my mind, I was so paranoid about being 'that thick girl with a cleft'.... (I can't tell you how mortified I was when the humanities teacher put our results on the board and I was bottom of the class... when she went over my homework to basically bollock me but had actually missed out a whole section! Her excuse? She was watching Neighbours... I'm not bitter about It at all, haha..!)  

Like with most teenagers, I had my fair share of bullying.  People often want to know what my worst experience was.  That experience came when I was 14/15 years old and I received an email from a random account suggesting I use my family's money to sort my face out.....  After some time I found out that it was actually a 'friend' that sent that email.  I'm not sure why they did it or if I had done something to prompt that message but it is what it is.  At school people would stare or make comments..one of those comments being 'Don't Get Lippy'.  People would sometimes say it just as I walked down the corridor or if I was just speaking and someone heard me talking, they would say it.  It used to run through my body like a wave of self-hatred.  I would go home and tell myself that I wouldn't go back the following day.  I always did and I only told my parents about those comments until this year! 

At 16 my dad had a posting to Cyprus.  By this point I had finished my GCSE's and had found a core group of people who I absolutely adored and who had contributed to making me feel comfortable in my own skin.  As we began the move to Cyprus, I had the old fears creep back in; 'what would people say to me', 'what will people think of me', 'people are just going to stare', 'I'll never make friends'.  

We moved in the summer and I was due to start school in the September.  Before the school broke up for the holidays, I had to go for an interview with my parents and the headmaster at the school.  This was standard procedure and was just like a meet and greet - the irony was that we ended up living next door to my headmaster (some time i'll tell you about when I looked after some of his animals when he was on holiday and one of his birds died...…………) ANYWAY!   So, I'm in a Mediterranean country in July where the weather was 28 degrees.  I'm wearing jeans and a shirt to try and look my best for the meeting.  Oh, and I also wrapped a winter scarf around my face because I was worried about people's reaction to my looks.  Now I look back and think how mad I was, but, at the time it was a totally rational thought.  I vaguely remember my mum asking if I needed the pink, chequered, woollen scarf around my neck and face but I brushed her off and probably did the standard teenage grunt!

As we walked up from the car park - I remember it like it was yesterday - we walked up steps towards a corridor of the school.  I remember thinking 'this is it, if you don't take the scarf off now, you'll never change, things will never change' and with that, I took the scarf off.  I'm actually cringing as I type this but for something so simple, it was SUCH pivotal moment in my life.  I felt like I was finally going to be in control of how I felt about myself and wasn't going to let anyone make me feel a certain way.  

I did one year of AS levels at school - like I said, I wasn't much of an academic - so I changed tact and spent the second year doing an NVQ.  This meant working for the Forces and part of my job was issuing out ration cards to soldiers (ration card = cheap fags and booze!).  It was such a strange situation to be in the more assertive position when issuing the card.  A lot of the soldiers couldn't read so I had to read the ration card statement to them (often I'd just summarise and tell them how many cigarettes and bottles of spirits they could buy each week!) then they would sign on the dotted line.  Previously, reading out loud whilst someone was looking at me would have made me feel like I was right back at square one but the more I did it, the easier it became.  Needless to say, being between the age of 16-18 in a hot country where it was legal to smoke and drink at 16, I had THE best time.  I met some incredible people and the experience made me more confident than I ever thought I could be.

At 18 we moved back to the UK and I started to work for a debt collection call centre (great job!) I was organising repayments on loans and calling on the bailiffs if need be.  I had to be assertive, I had to take abuse and I had to be in control of the situation.  After nearly 2 years of doing that job, I decided to move back to Kent.  It was the place that felt most like home after the moving around.  To just get into something whilst I was here, I studied holistic therapies.  It was a good experience.  I don't do much of it now but it's a nice string to my bow.  After college I worked as a self employed cleaner for a while.  It was hard work but used to do it for weekend beer money if I'm totally honest!

In 2009, I randomly applied for a job within Sexual Health in the NHS.  Luckily, working for the Forces, at the debt collection call centre and experience of working with the public convinced the interviewers to take me on.  During the 10 years I worked there, I worked in the admin office, on reception, as a healthcare assistant and finished my time as PA to the Lead Consultant (it sounds more glamourous than it was).  I bloody loved working there.  I often talk about the NHS on my Instagram and say how lucky we are to have it and I will always believe that.  I actually handed in my notice as I went on maternity leave as I felt like my baby's first year was going to be a bit rough and didn't want to head straight back to work after the second op.  I'm not shy on the fact that I'm lucky to be able to make that decision but ultimately it has lead me on to do what I'm doing now with Don't Get Lippy.

In 2009, I met my other (most would say better) half.  We met at a scuzzy pub.. the one where you're never the most drunk in there...Still, 10 years later we're still going!  He is a wonderful man.  He puts up with my anxiety, watching Christmas films in the summer and accepts that I will sleep at any given opportunity! In 2016 we got engaged and the idea of a wedding was on the cards.  Instead of wedding planning, we decided to try for a baby in 2017. I felt like my ol' body clock was ticking and the idea of a wedding was just not at the forefront of my mind.  In January 2018, I found out that I was pregnant with my boy, Will, and things get a little interesting after that!

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