Posted inEditor's Pick

Recovering My Fifth Sense

Kavita Das | Longreads | January 29, 2018 | 4,512 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Nonfiction, Story

Recovering My Fifth Sense

Kavita Das recalls learning to self-advocate as a patient with a cleft palate — and as a child in a family full of doctors.
Illustration by Zoë van Dijk

Kavita Das | Longreads | January 2018 | 18 minutes (4,512 words)

Just two weeks before my birth in November 1974, my parents moved into their first house, a split-level ranch in Bayside, Queens. They had been in America for less than a year, having first emigrated to England from their homeland of India so that my father, a gastroenterologist, could pursue his Ph.D., and my mother, an obstetrician-gynecologist, could receive additional medical training.

While my mother was giving birth to me my father was home raking leaves, because it was fall and leaves need raking, and because fathers were not considered crucial to child birthing in Indian culture. I came into the world around midday, a glowing, healthy, baby of six pounds, seven ounces.

In the hospital, after the nurses had brought me to my mother’s bedside, she began to give me my first feeding. As soon as I started to hungrily suck on the bottle, milky formula began trickling out of my nose. She wiped it away and began again, but the formula, once again, leaked from my nostril. That’s when she suspected that, although I had been spared the perceivable deformity of a cleft lip, nestled between my plump cheeks and hidden behind my rosebud lips, was a cleft palate.

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