Mary Z

Age at interview: 39
Brief Outline: Mary was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate and has an unrelated genetic condition, skeletal dysplasia. Mary is a graduate and has followed a career in education as a teacher, and she has an interest in science, travelling and crafts.
Background: Mary is a graduate and has followed a career in Education as a teacher. Mary is single and is White Irish.

More about me...

Mary was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate and has an unrelated genetic condition, skeletal dysplasia that has restricted her growth. 

Mary’s mother was not able to breastfeed her daughter at birth. Mary’s mother fed her by having a special plate put into her mouth and she was then spoon fed milk. Mary feels that her mother would not have been well supported having a cleft child born in the 1970’s. Mary was one of six children and felt well supported at home where there was an emphasis on reading, music and the arts. 

Mary had her palate repaired over the course of a few operations in her early childhood and she remembers spending a lot of time in hospital throughout her childhood having various operations on her palate and nose. Mary also received speech therapy until she was about 7 or 8 years old. 

Mary went to a co-educational primary school up to 11 years of age and was then sent to a single-sex Catholic secondary school until she was 16. Mary then went to a college of further education between 16 and 18 years. At puberty Mary became more aware of the way she looked but she was not aware of being bullied at school. Mary had to take quite a lot of time out of school to attend hospital appointments and to undergo and recover from orthodontic surgery. However, there came a point when Mary decided she did not want further surgery as she was content with her looks and she could function well.

Although having treatment for a cleft has been challenging for Mary it has not impacted on her educational achievements. Mary is a graduate and has followed a career in education as a teacher. Mary also has an interest in science, travelling and crafts.

Mary Z was born with a cleft lip and palate and she also has skeletal dysplasia. She considers that her cleft is not a defining feature and reached a stage as a teenager where she refused further cleft treatment.

That I didn’t have any associated problems. So, you know, I guess mine has been a fairly straightforward case. But it’s just like with anything that makes you look different, I think you just have to get on and do what you want to do. You can’t let what other people think or, you know, how other people treat you hold you back. And that’s not to say that there’s been times people have made comment about me, I would say, you know, it’s more likely they’d comment about how... the fact that I’m very small or, you know, what a small person. You know, I’ve had some very cruel comments made to me regarding my size, but you can ... you hear it and, yeah, sometimes it does hurt, and I’m sure it’s the same with people that have a cleft lip and palate, that perhaps are more visible than mine, but you can’t let it be the reason that you don’t do something.

So it’s not a defining feature?

No it absolutely isn’t. And I think the way things are now with surgery getting even better, I mean as a teenager I met a plastic surgeon and they discussed what else they could do for me.

OK hmm.

And my decision was very practical: I said that I’d had enough surgeries in my life and I didn’t want anymore, that I could breathe well, I could eat well, I could speak well, and that really visibly on the face of it most people didn’t really notice that there was anything else different about me, and I chose not to pursue any more surgeries.

How old were you at that point?

I think I was in my early teens. I think I was maybe 12, 13, 14, that sort of age group, perhaps when it mattered most to me how I looked. But I wasn’t prepared with the pay-off, you know, I’d had, as I mentioned, other surgeries, and some of them were quite enormous and had been not so great, and I just thought, “No I’m not prepared to go this way.” And, yeah, when I became older, like when I was at university, there were times I thought, “Maybe I should have opted to have my nose changed,” you know, and it was probably a notion maybe in a moment when maybe socially I didn’t feel as confident as I had at other times. But... it passed and I certainly never felt that... the need for... you know, my fear of surgery and my unwillingness to undertake the surgery far outweighed my need or, or willingness to change my face, you know. As I say, it might depend on how different you feel you look.

Mary Z has been a secondary school teacher for 15 years and also holds a headship qualification.

I have been a teacher for about 15 years.


Yeah so I’ve, you know, been very fortunate and capable in school, and I have... my degree is in biochemistry, and I have a masters in science communication, and I’m obviously a qualified teacher, and I actually work as a vice-principal in a school, so I also have headship qualification as well. So having a cleft lip and palate certainly hasn’t held me back from doing what I want to do in any way, shape or form.

Do you teach in primary or secondary?


Are you in primary or secondary?

I’m secondary, yeah, so some people would argue that you’re working with, you know, the harshest critics, you know. I work with 11-16 year old teenage boys. Yes I’ve had the odd occasion where a child has perhaps mimicked what I’ve said, but I’ll bet you everybody has done that with a teacher, so I never took that as a personal, [laughs] a personal thing, or anything related to having a cleft lip or palate. And it’s never ever... it’s never held me back, you know. I suppose I’ve been lucky in that I didn’t have any, you know, hearing or heart issues associated with the cleft lip and palate, and I know that’s not the case for everybody. 
Previous Page
Next Page