UK – For most mothers, the moment when they first see their child after giving birth is filled with love and affection. But for Charlene Machin, it was a moment of terror – for her son had been born with half of his face missing. The 33-year-old had given birth to twin boys Oliver and Harry, but doctors discovered baby Harry had been born with a severe facial deformity.
She said: “I’d only just recovered from giving birth by caesarian to the twins. Doctors had whisked Harry straight off after his birth and I hadn’t been able to see him.
“The doctor lifted his hand to his own face, and made a sweeping gesture across the left side. ‘It’s as though his face has been erased completely,’ he told me. He has no eye on that side, no ear or nostril. I started crying and kept saying I was sorry to Mark. I felt like it was my fault.”
“I saw him the following morning and I was so shocked. Half of his face was missing, it just wasn’t there. it was like it had been rubbed out.
“As I cuddled him for the first time, waves of terror swept over me. How could I possibly love this little boy when he looked like this?
“People assume that maternal instinct kicks in as soon as you hold your child for the first time. But mine didn’t. I didn’t feel anything, just emptiness. I fixed a smile on my face, but behind the smile, I was in pieces. I just couldn’t love my son when he looked like this. Instead I just felt grief – grief for a life that I felt had been taken from me, a normal life that should have been Harry’s.”
The Machins had been thrilled when they had found out Charlene was pregnant with twins. At 32 weeks, Mrs Machin’s waters broke and she had to have an emergency caesarian to deliver the boys as Oliver was in a breech position. After being born, the boys were taken off by doctors to assess them. It was hours later when doctors returned and explained to them about Harry’s condition. The baby was transferred to Hope Hospital in Salford, Manchester, where scans ruled out any kidney, spine or heart problems and stayed under medical care before he was allowed home.
Now, seven years later, Mrs Machin has overcome the dread and sadness she felt when she first heard the news about Harry. Her sons are energetic, adorable and the best of friends – with Oliver fiercely protective of his twin brother.
And she has learned to overcome her initial horror at her son, and accept him for the loveable, brave boy that he is.
“I just went through the motions with him, feeding and changing him. But still I couldn’t feel anything for him. And I couldn’t bring myself to take them out in the double buggy. The occasional time that I did dare to venture out, the double buggy attracted attention. People came over to ask about the twins, and when they saw Harry, some even ran away screaming.
“It took me a long time to start loving my little boy. It was two years before I finally loved him properly, like I’d always imagined that I would love my children. I gradually came to accept what he looked like. The turning point came for me when he was 18 months old and I took the twins out to shopping. As soon as I walked in the store, children came running up to look at the twins, and I walked through the store with them behind me, staring and pointing.
“I’d had enough. It was time to help Harry face the world. I swung the buggy round. ‘This is Harry,’ I said. The children asked what was wrong with him. So I told them. And afterwards I felt stronger. Instead of trying to hide my son away, I’d faced it head on, and I felt better.
“From then on I got more confident taking the twins out. It still isn’t easy. I can’t predict how people are going to react to him. Adults stare and whisper and sometimes children scream and run away from him.”
The boys are firm friends, and Oliver stands up to anyone who stares or makes comments about Harry, Mrs Machin said: “It is difficult for Oliver to deal with and my heart goes out to him. Recently we were a child’s attraction in Birmingham and I heard Oliver say to a group of children ‘He’s my brother. It doesn’t matter what he looks like’.
“It breaks my heart to hear him. I’m pleased that Harry will always have Oliver there to help him through, but it’s a lot for Oliver to take on. It has knocked his self confidence, but he’s so protective of his brother. I’m very proud of them both.”
Harry has had three operations on his face to reposition his eye socket and in July last year he had a ten-hour operation at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool to remove the front of his face and skull and to reposition his brain. This year he is due to have his eyelid stretched and a prosthetic eye fitted.
“Harry and I have such a close relationship now. I’ve got no shame in admitting that I couldn’t love my son when he was born. I don’t want people to think that it’s easy to love a child straight away like this. But I want my story to give hope to other mums who may find themselves in my position. Because don’t give up hope – I’ve learned to accept Harry’s deformity and the love I have for both my sons is so strong. And I’m very proud of what Harry and I have achieved together, to make that bond between us as strong as it is today.”