When Lacey Buchanan heard her son cry in the delivery room for the first time, she was elated. Until that moment, she hadn’t known if he would make it this far or what condition he would be in when he arrived. She reached out to hold him for the first time. But then, nurses held back. Something was wrong. Seriously wrong. And it was far worse than doctors feared.
Buchanan had a happy childhood in Woodbury, Tennessee. For her and her big brother, it was a life full of fun and stability, with a lot of support from her mom and laughter with her dad. Then, when she was only 15, she met Chris. The pair dated throughout high school.
Buchanan and Chris married in 2008. Then, just before beginning her law studies in Nashville in 2010, the couple learned they were expecting a baby. “I was pretty excited,” Lacey told the Daily Advertiser. “People said, ‘Oh, you’re not going to law school now.’ I said, ‘Of course I am.’ It was scary, but I was excited.”
Buchanan learned she was expecting a boy at her 18-week scan. The idea made the expectant parents even more excited, and they immediately named their child Christian. The excitement, however, was short lived. A week later Lacey received a phone call from her doctor.
There was something wrong with the baby. At the ultrasound, doctors noticed an abnormality with Christian’s development. They saw that he had developed a cleft lip and palate. Not knowing the severity of the defect, doctors told the couple not to Google the condition.
A cleft palate occurs when the mouth roof remains unformed, creating an opening into the nasal area. The severity of the condition varies, but can include speech and hearing problems, ear infections and feeding difficulties. Cleft palate can often be corrected with surgery.
As the pregnancy progressed, however, Christian’s condition worsened. Every fortnight, a new scan would reveal an ever-deteriorating picture. But, even so, doctors had no real way of telling how severe the baby’s case was. “It was really, really bad was all they told us,” Buchanan explained to Tennessean in 2015.
Christian was born by cesarean on February 18, 2011. A c-section was necessary because of the severity of his cleft palate. In fact, doctors didn’t know if the baby would be capable of breathing unaided. A team flocked to the medical marvel. “It was a pretty high-tension event,” Buchanan later admitted to Daily Advertiser.
Nonetheless, Buchanan was ecstatic when Christian arrived. Describing the moment to Daily Advertiser she said, “It was pretty fantastic from my perspective because he immediately started crying. It meant he wasn’t intubated and was breathing on his own.”
“I’m super excited, ecstatic, crying, asking what color is his hair, eyes, who does he look like, is he OK,” Buchanan further recalled. But no one was giving her the answers she wanted. And when she asked to see him, doctors held back. So, her husband went to check on their newborn son.
When Chris returned, Buchanan knew something was very wrong. As she explained, “I could tell by the look on his face that he was really upset. I said something about Christian’s cleft not being as bad as I thought, but he said, ‘No, it’s bad.’”
Buchanan had an opportunity to hold her son before he was taken to intensive care. When she did so, he was swaddled in a blanket and his eyes were covered with gauze. And when she saw her baby again later that day, his eyes were still covered. Doctors only offered vague answers as to why.
“We knew there was something wrong with his eyes, but we didn’t know what,” Buchanan later explained to Daily Advertiser. “I don’t think I saw underneath his bandages for a day or two. Then a nurse asked me if I wanted her to remove them.” Buchanan was not ready for what she saw.
Buchanan and her husband knew that Christian’s cleft palate was severe. They knew that his mouth wouldn’t close. They knew his nose was isolated from the rest of his face. And they knew that sections of his skull were also visible.
What the couple hadn’t known was that Christian was born without any eyes. Indeed, Buchanan’s son had a condition called Tessier Cleft Lip and Palate. “His face,” she described to Tennessean, “wasn’t knit together.” It’s a condition so rare that doctors estimate only around 50 people in the world have it.
As the stunned parents grieved for the life their newborn son would never know, Christian underwent surgeries to insert a feeding tube and fix the holes in his head. Despite having known about their son’s condition, they hadn’t been prepared for a blind child, and were at a loss as to how they would raise one.
As well as the challenges of her son’s disability, Buchanan faced fierce criticism from strangers. She and her husband wanted their son to experience the world even though he couldn’t see it. But people would stare when she was out shopping, and some accused her of being selfish for not aborting her baby.
All Buchanan wanted for everyone to understand, however, was the love she and her son had for each other. So, in 2012, she made a video where she shared a series of handwritten notes telling her story, with all the tears of joy, sorrow and anguish it provokes. It has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube.
Christian is now a happy, healthy six year old, and has a younger brother, Chandler, born in 2013 without cleft palate. Christian attends school and is a budding musician. Buchanan graduated law school in 2016 and published a book, Through the Eyes of Hope, about her experiences raising Christian.
Buchanan still faces criticism for how she raises her son, which she addresses on a blog. On it, she wrote, “What I have done for Christian and what I do for him, is give him a happy, high quality life where he is loved beyond a shadow of a doubt… that’s what mamas do.”