A Father's Poem to his Perfectly Imperfect Daughters

Howe sisters hugging

Luke Howe’s daughter Meghan was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a big sister when she learned that Luke and his partner Kath were trying to have a child. After several heart-breaking complications, the entire family was over the moon, yet hesitant in their joy, when they learned that Kath was pregnant in 2016.

At an early ultrasound, Luke and Kath learned that the child they’d go on to name Matilda would be born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. Luke explained their early feelings: “We were grateful to learn of Matilda’s clefts so early on, as it gave us time to learn more by asking our medical team many questions. We didn’t really let the news phase us; we were just happy that the pregnancy was successful.”

Meghan holds books

Luke and Kath were hesitant to tell Meghan about her sister’s clefts, as they didn’t want her to worry. Once they had a better understanding of clefts and the challenges that Matilda would likely face, however, they told Meghan the news. Luke said, “Meghan was concerned that Matilda might not survive or possibly be in pain, but we assured her that our medical team would make sure that didn’t happen. With that off her chest, Meghan was very happy.”

Matilda Howe before cleft surgery

When Matilda was born, the whole family was enamored. Luke said, “She was absolutely beautiful. Meghan adored Matilda and has been a loyal and protective big sister ever since.”

After a few months, when the time came for Matilda to have her cleft surgeries, Meghan told Luke and Kath that Matilda was beautiful just the way she was and that she didn’t want her to endure the pain of a surgery. Luke agreed with Meghan that Matilda was perfect but explained that the surgeries would help her sister eat, breathe, and speak more easily for the rest of her life.

Matilda smiling next to her dad

Matilda went on to have successful cleft lip and palate surgeries through the NHS.

Looking back on the past year, Luke was thankful that he and Kath had a variety of resources to help them better understand clefts. However, he wished that there was more material out there in terms that Meghan could understand, “Meghan is such an avid reader — it would have been wonderful for her to have a storybook,” he said.

So, after some thought, Luke decided to get to work on a children’s book himself. The full book is still in the works, so Luke composed the poem below as a way of expressing his feelings for his daughters. “Ultimately, both my girls are perfect — it’s their imperfections that make them stand out. They both have lovely smiles. Matilda’s just happens to be different,” said Luke.   

The Unusual Smile — written by Luke Howe

Our story begins in a small little house
Halfway up a steep hill
It is the story of a lovely family
So listen closely if you will

There were two small rooms at the bottom of the stairs
And two on the second floor
The people that lived there were happy enough
Not needing anything more

There was a Mum and a Dad and a little girl
So really nothing strange
In a very nice and pleasant way
Their lives were about to change

The lady had shoulder length wavy hair
And a big and swollen tummy,
Inside her was a quickly growing baby,
Who would eventually call her Mummy

The baby inside her was different
In a special and intricate way
What this baby would look like
At this point no-one could say

They called their daughter down the stairs
She bounded down in a hurry
They had something important to tell her
But didn’t want her to worry

They sat her down on the sofa
It was old and let out a creak
Daddy smiled at her warmly
Sat next to her and started to speak

“You will be a big sister soon
So you need to carefully prepare,
You will have the important job
Of providing extra special care.”

“Sometimes things can happen
As a baby starts to grow
Our baby has developed in a different way
And it’s important that you know”

The little girl listened carefully
“Will the baby be in pain?”
“There’s nothing to worry about sweetheart,
I’ll try my best to explain”

Daddy repeated the doctor’s words
“She called it a bilateral cleft,
There will be a split on the right of the mouth
And another one just on the left”

“It might look a little different
But it won’t be that way forever
The baby will have an operation
And the doctors are ever so clever”

The little girl thought very carefully
About babies, daddies and mothers
She didn’t mind if the new baby
Was different to all of the others

Time went by in a heartbeat
The little girl wanted to cheer
When the day finally arrived
That the baby would appear.

She ran into the hospital
To lay eyes on her baby sister
As soon as she saw her, her eyes lit up
She hugged her and gently kissed her.

She had a good look at her tiny little face
And with her fingertips
She traced the line of her sweet little nose
And the shape of her wonderful lips.

There was a lovely soft lip in the middle
With a gap on either side
Her smile was unique and beautiful
It was happy, broad and wide

Over time she played with her sister
She would hold her tiny hand
Sometimes she would worry
That people wouldn’t understand

If people stared a little too long
At her mouth, her lips and nose
She would glare back at them as if to say
“She is as beautiful as a rose!”

Her smile gave her face character
It was like a charming pirate’s smile
She thought the smile the most fabulous
For many a country mile!

But the day finally reared its head
When she would have her operation
The little girl wasn’t sure about this
And approached with reservation.

“What if she comes out different?” She thought
“She might look very strange!
I already love her gorgeous face!
I don’t want her to change!”

Her Mum and Dad reassured her
That it was definitely for the best
“She’s a beautiful little girl” they said
“There’s no doubt that we’re blessed”

As they took her to the hospital
The little girl tried not to cry
She didn’t want the doctors to hurt her
She waved and said goodbye

She sat at home and worried
She waited and waited and waited
She knew that her sister was in safe hands
As the surgical team operated.

When she finally came out of surgery
She was so pleased to see her sister
She loved this baby so very much
It was amazing how much she had missed her!

The splits in her mouth were no longer there
But her eyes still sparkled with light
Her baby sister looked wonderful
Her new smile glowed so bright

Her mouth had already been perfect
What a beautiful stunning girl
She was different but lovely with her cheeky new grin
And was ready to take on the world

The little girl squeezed her sister
She held her tiny hand
Two little girls together
The loveliest in the land.