Mighty Blog

Minnesota woman born with cleft lip and palate learns to love smile

Cori Nesmith, a patient and volunteer at Children’s Minnesota and senior at the University of Minnesota, shares her experience as a woman born with a cleft lip and palate.

Cori Nesmith

Did you know July is Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month? In honor of this special month, I’ll share the journey I’ve taken thus far as an individual born with a cleft lip and palate.

“Check out this picture; this baby has got a mustache,” a high school classmate said to me while browsing the Internet. The image on his computer screen was all too familiar. The infectious and wide smile of the baby in the advertisement made me realize just how far I had come. I was completely shocked that my classmate of 12 years at my small northern Minnesota school hadn’t made the connection that I was born with the same condition as the baby on the screen.

My parents had a difficult time feeding me, as I did not have the lip strength to suck on a bottle. My mom said that it would take hours just to get a couple ounces down.

Cori Nesmith
Cori Nesmith as a baby

Throughout my childhood I had many more operations. These childhood surgeries mostly were to improve my speech, which was subpar as the structure of my mouth was completely different than a typically developing child. I participated in about 12 years of speech therapy.

I was quiet as a child because I didn’t like the sound of my voice. I was embarrassed to talk, not because other kids picked on me, but because I picked on myself. Humans are their own worst critics. As my teenage years approached, I had a difficult time accepting myself and seeing my own personal beauty.

As a teenager I had many reconstructive surgeries. Reconstructive surgeries were hard for me because although I knew I would benefit from getting them done, I thought there was something wrong with my appearance that needed fixing. I thought that the world didn’t accept my crooked nose and scar. Although I was struggling with appearance issues, I tried to find humor in my situation. I forever have bragging rights for being the first person in my grade to get plastic surgery! #toocooltohandle

The summer before my junior year of high school, I had a major surgery to move my upper jaw forward because of palatal scar tissue that stunted its growth. Surgery was difficult and painful, but I learned two valuable lessons:

  1. Don’t ever try to liquefy pizza. Ever. It can be done, but it tastes awful and is a total letdown.
  2. Family and friends are extremely important. Without my family, friends and boyfriend, I would not have gotten through the recovery. They shared the burden with me and made it 100 times more bearable.

I always have had an affinity towards music. In high school, I participated in band and choir. Despite my abnormal mouth anatomy, I was able to grow as a promising young singer and saxophone player. When you have the passion for something, anything is possible.


CHILDREN’S SERVICES: Cleft and Craniofacial Program


Cori Nesmith
Cori Nesmith wants to be a music therapist.

Now I’m a senior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in music therapy and minoring in psychology. My primary instrument is voice, and, although I can’t do some of the typical singer warm-ups due to my anatomy, I’m fully functional in every other way, thanks to my doctors, nurses and therapists who have had an incredible impact on my life. I hope I can have that positive of an impact on my future clients as a music therapist.

Learning to accept myself for who I am always has been hard, but every day I’m getting better at taking the bad with the good and rolling with it. My experience with a cleft has made me stronger, more compassionate and patient. I know that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazing.

I have come so far, but my journey is just beginning. My cleft does not define me, but it has redefined my views of the world. A person’s smile says so much about them. My once-“mustached” smile means the world to me — and I wouldn’t change a thing.

“Don’t let the world change your smile. Let your smile change the world.” — Unknown

Cleft and Craniofacial Clinic Family Fun Day

The fifth annual Cleft and Craniofacial Clinic Family Fun Day takes place July 29 at the Kiwanis Boy Scout Camp at Marina on the St. Croix. The event is open to patients of the Cleft and Craniofacial Clinics and their family members of all ages and emphasizes fun, friendship, team-building and fostering resilience among patients with clef lip and palate and other craniofacial conditions. Participants can register for the event or call the clinic at (612) 813-6888 for more information.