“I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to have a similar experience with this pregnancy when we found out we were expecting Sutton.” After the photo shoot, Morton posted a beautiful image of Sutton dozing on her company’s Facebook page, dressed in a flanking sash and a matching floral hat. Portraits of nine-week-old Sutton Gardiner went “iral” after photographer Shannon Morton shared the touching photographs on her company’s Facebook page last month. The Gardiners, who also have a three-year-old son named Asher, were told their daughter had a right unilateral cleft palate and cleft palate at her 20-week ultrasound. “So many smiling Babies in the studio recently! This is sweet Sutton, the cutest redhead! Morton wrote in the image’s caption.
The next day, she shared another sweet portrait of BeBé Sutton wearing a flower crown on her head while she slept with her chin in her hands. At first, Courtney was worried about how people would react to her daughter’s photos, knowing how cruel strangers can be online, but they received nothing but love and support from commenters. “Everyone was so kind and thoughtful, sweet messages just saying how beautiful she was,” the mother shared. “Some people started posting about how they had family or friends who had children with cleft lip and palate.”
Since Morton’s first post was shared on January 26, it has received more than 728,000 likes and nearly 7,000 comments. The Gardiners, who also have a three-year-old son named Asher, admitted they didn’t expect their daughter’s portrait to “smell” viral, but were “absolutely thrilled” by the positive reaction. Courtney and Gavin didn’t know what to expect when Sutton was diagnosed with right unilateral cleft palate and cleft palate at her 20-week ultrasound. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cleft lip and palate are tears or fissures in the upper lip and roof of the oca that occur during pregnancy.
BaBy Sotto’s cleft palate initially made feeding BiBeron difficult, and he spent 18 days in NIϹU at Texas Philldre’s Hospital, where his parents played his music. “She’s strong-willed and a little stubborn,” Ϲortey said. But you can tell he’s going to be a real social baby. She just loves to be held. He loves any kind of attention.
Sutton’s angry photo has inspired her parents to share her story on their Facebook page, My Cleft Cutie, in hopes of offering comfort to other parents facing similar diagnoses. Worried that her daughter might have other health problems, Courtney spent the night before her appointment praying that her heart would be healthy. He remembered breathing a sigh of relief when they were told his heart looked normal on the ultrasound. “The last part they did was the ultrasound of her face, and that’s when the sonographer basically said, ‘Oh, she has a cleft lip,’” he explained. “I remember being completely taken by surprise and surprised because it wasn’t even on my radar as a possibility that it could happen.” Courtney had assumed that cleft lip and palate were genetic, but the causes of these defects in most Babies are unknown. About 1 in 1,600 babies are born with a cleft lip and palate in the United States each year.
She was so shocked that she burst into tears as questions and worries ran through her mind. The doctor couldn’t give them many answers and their fears about their daughter’s condition only increased.
“We didn’t feel like it was handled appropriately,” Gavin, 30, said of his daughter’s initial diagnosis. “It was like, ‘Okay, this is what it is.’” The Gardiners were referred to specialists at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in Houston, which is about an hour and a half from their home. “They were able to let us know how treatable it really is and how these kids can have wonderful lives and get through this because of their support,” Courtney said. Courtney started seeing an ostetrician in the hospital around 36 weeks of pregnancy and joined the support group for mothers of children with cleft palate and cleft palate on Faceook, where she was able to interact with other parents who understood what she was going through. .
“Being able to ask those mothers those questions and follow their children’s journey was something that gave me a lot of comfort and encouragement,” she recalled. After Sutton was born, she had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 18 days because her cleft palate made feeding BiBeron difficult. Gavin said the comments they received on FaceBook after their daughter’s photos were sniffed out were a “huge encouragement” to them after their NICU stay. Sutton is scheduled to have her first surgery to repair her lip in March and will undergo a second surgery to close her palate as she approaches her first birthday.
“She’s stubborn and a little headstrong,” Courtney said. “But you can tell that she is going to be a very sociable girl. She loves to be held. He loves any kind of attention. When her brother is around, she loves when he comes and brings her things, and she starts smiling every time he comes near her.” Gavin added that his daughter also loves listening to music, which they started playing for her in the NICU.
The Gardiners are grateful for the care Sutton received at Texas Children’s Hospital and for the online community that has supported them since his diagnosis. Their daughter’s viral photo has inspired them to share her story on their Facebook page, My Cleft Cutie, in hopes of offering comfort to others in similar situations. The couple agreed that they want parents whose children are diagnosed with cleft palate to know that “everything is going to be okay.”
“While things are scary and may seem dark in that cold initial period of diagnosis, it is actually a beautiful thing that is 100 percent treatable and manageable,” Courtney said. “These kids are just phenomenal and strong, overcoming so much at a young age.”