Friday, March 13, 2009

Seriously??? Harelip?!?!?

I don't know if you all know this, but I am a HUGE Grey's Anatomy fan. HUGE. I may have talked about this before, but since Jack was born, I pay more attention to medical dramas. I hear more things. I know more of what they are talking about. I know when they are doing things wrong, and when things are inprobable. But I still enjoy it for it's entertainment value.

Well last night, one of the Doctor's said a very flippant remark, that has me bugged to the core.

Here's what bugs me. The fact that most people don't know it's offensive. The fact that McSteamy said it. People think he's cool. People want to be like him. The fact that my kid, has one.

I go deeper than just his flippant remark, I pretend it's real. What if the parents of that kid were walking by as he said that? What if the kid was being wheeled to post op, and heard him say that? What if I was sitting in our little post op room across from the desk, and I over heard the nurses talking about the kid across the hall with a harelip. I seriously... think I would rip someones throat out.

Now, I am fully aware it is just a TV show, and maybe my feelings are raw, because we JUST had surgery, but I'm still bugged. I put this up first on my facebook, and have had great conversation about it. Someone asked, "Why is it so negative?" And sadly enough, I didn't know. But I was directed to it.

Here it is:

This one is about: "Harelip" - The Dark History of an Unfortunate Word

(c) 1996 Wide SmilesThis Document is from WideSmiles Website - www.widesmiles.orgReprint in whole or in part, with out written permission from Wide Smilesis prohibited. Email:

The accepted and appropriate word that defines a birth condition in which facial tissues fail to fuse during gestation is 'cleft'. However, the parent of a cleft-affected child does not go far before hearing the term, 'harelip' instead. And we do not like that term. Why? Isn't it just a word? Most people don't mean anything negative by using it. Well, perhaps knowing the history of the term may help us to understand why it is so inappropriate. And so here, excerpted from an article from WIDE SMILES, is the dark history of the word, 'harelip':

* * * * *

In the 16th century, it was a French Doctor who, when discussing a patient with a cleft, first coined the phrase that would be translated, "Lip of the Hare". In English it was more comfortably shortened to "HareLip". It was an unfortunate pairing of similes. The good doctor was only reflecting that the lip was split, as is the lip of a Hare (and every other rodent). But unfortunately for those who were born with a cleft, the hare had also long been associated with witchcraft!

It was believed throughout the dark ages and even to relatively recent times that a witch would often take the shape of a hare. And if a hare were to frighten a pregnant woman, she would give birth to a child bearing the mark.

In the 17th century the hysteria surrounding witchcraft rose to a new and frightening level. And it was during that time that the hare had become a symbol of Satan himself. A woman bearing a child with the mark of the hare, or a harelip, at that time, was thought to have had to have had relations with Satan. And thus, the cleft-affected child born of a woman, say, in Salem Massachusetts during the mid 17th century, in the midst of witchcraft hysteria would have condemned his mother to a violent end. That baby would have constituted "irrefutable evidence" of his mother's unnatural liaison with Satan.

Fast forward now to the 20th Century. Many people still use the term, "HareLip" when they mean to say, "Cleft Lip". Do they associate our children with Satanism and witchcraft? No, surely they don't. But it is nonetheless a term that has persevered in our language, long after a more accurate, more appropriate term has been coined.

At the very least, the term, "HareLip" likens our children to a common field rodent. It is not a soft, fluffy bunny. It is just a rodent. At the very most it harkens back to a darker past. A past that would never have happened were it not for massive hysteria on the part of a superstitious and almost militantly religious population. A past that condemned our children as the Devil's Seed, and condemned their mothers to death.

Maybe it's because I'm from Beverly, the town just north of Salem. But this really got to me. I try to be upbeat, and educate people about Jack's cleft. I was so excited about "Smile Pinki" getting so much attention. But when things like this happen, I feel like we are taking 10 steps back. I have seen the documentaries from operation smile, that talk about children being shunned. I just saw this. But I feel like we have really come a long way, and then this happened.

I was saying on facebook, how annoying it is, that as upset as most of my friends with cranio facial conditions in the family and I are about this, it won't get the attention it deserves. It's not going to be a hot topic on The View, it's not going to be covered on all the entertainment shows, or even make it on the news. "McSteamy says HARELIP, sending many families affected by cleft lips, into an emotional frenzy! WHAT is the origin, WHERE did it come from, WHY are these parents so upset?" Ya, NOT going to happen. THAT annoys me. So I'll just write about it on my blog, and on facebook, and put it on You Tube. If I educate one person, I'll be happy. I just wish my voice was bigger, louder, prettier, skinnier, drunk, had an umbrella hitting cars, or wasn't wearing panties. Then maybe I'd get my point across.

I'll calm down soon enough. Maybe...


snakeriverwalton said...

Well said and well written. I have often wondered why Mead Johnson continues to use a bunny as their cute animal in their trademark, especially on the squeeze bottle box. I've written to them about it, but gotten no response. Keep yelling- your voice may be heard eventually. And I too am appalled they used that term in a medical drama- how stupid are their writers?

Shanna said...

Can I just say ditto? I don't like that term either. You would think that the writers would be smarter than that, but then again it is hollywood. What can we expect? They are not the smartest or most sensitive people on the planet. I guess all that we can do is try and make our voices heard and raise awareness.

Meg said...

its like when people make fun of OCD, well it bugs me too because my mother has it. I watched the episode but had to watch the video to refresh my memory. I wonder what McSteamy thinks about the comment in real life.

Sarah said...

It's sad that the show, was so lazy as to use that phrase. For a medical show, to use a bunch of medical jargon and probably attempt to actually be somewhat correct, how on earth did they decide that hairlip was better than cleft lip.

We in Minnesota said...

Thanks for the cool information.
Take a moment for yourself. Deep breaths. Love you.

annafowler said...

Jenny, very well written!

And your practically famous! People are referring to your blog left and right!

Lisa M. said...

The ER doctor in the Brigham City hospital said to me on Monday, when Ethan had his "episode" on the bus,

"He has so much brain damage already, it is redundant to test to see if this episode caused any more."

I am convinced the part of our population that is considered healthy and normal, are really the ones that need the most help.

I am sorry McSteamy used that.

I didn't know the history of the word.

You enlightened at least ONE person.

Keep raging.

(Underpants I would think, are optional! ha!)

Diana said...

Well said, my friend! I had no idea! I always thought it was because it left a thin scar on their lip... at least when I was a kid. Nowadays they leave less than that. :) I liked what one of your other comments said about being lazy to use a term like that. Educate yourselves, people!

Shell said...

As a mom of a child also affected with a cleft, I was appalled also that McSteamy said that. My husband and I were watching and I turned to my husband and said "DId he really just say that???" I also love the show. I found your blog by doing a search to see if others were as ticked as me! I love that you are educating others, rage on mommy, rage on... :)

Anonymous said...

i got caught up blog jumping tonight.

you DO know that mcSteamy is a big jerk, right? totally sexist and selfish? he's a jerk. that's why he said it. he's a character on a tv show. an idiot.

i had no idea about the history of it and i think you have educated a lot more people than you know. personally, i've never used the word, but i know now that i never will. ;)

Anonymous said...

your son is ABSOLUTELY beautiful, by the way. ;)

Anonymous said...

My son has a cleft, he's 6 months and it's not repaired yet, so we get quite a few comments when we're out, including 'harelip'. I never knew why it was called that, but am horrified now. Next time someone says it, I'll tell them what they're really saying by calling it that.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don't see how you can sit there and say it is offensive when you admit yourself that you didn't even know why it was until you had looked it up. But you were complaining about it being offensive and getting emotionally charged before you even knew. And the origins of the offense are centuries old. I think you just need to realize that if people who are affected by someone with a cleft lip don't even know why it is offensive to say "harelip" or "hairlip" then how can you expect the average person to know about it?

It is only offensive because you make it so.

You are probably only offended by it because you were told it is negative to use it, or because you saw someone else get upset by it. Your son will only see it as offensive because you let yourself get offended and upset by it. The word is only emotionally charged because you let it be. If you didn't react the way you did, your son wouldn't react the same way and have any reason to get upset when someone uses it in the future. You know why? Because the person using it is not doing so to be offensive - so it shouldn't be construed as offensive.

For the record, when people use it now they're not even using it as "harelip" but as "hairlip" anyway. And for the reasons that someone stated before; most people think it is because it leaves a thin (hair-sized) scar. Not because they're comparing the person with it to a hare. The word has changed. People do not use it to offend; people do not use it to mean that the children are like rodents; people do not use it to mean the mothers had relations with Satan. It only continues to carry negative stigma because people like you are the ones perpetuating that negativity, not those who use the word.

However, I will still be mindful of my use of the word in the future since there are apparently silly people like you who exist and will take it as a personal offense even though the word is now just innocent slang and because I mean no offense.

Margie said...

This is an old post now but I just came across it and I wanted to say 'thank you'. It's nice to know it's not just me that gets bothered by it (I have a cleft lip).

Last night they used the term on United States of Tara! Tara and her sister were talking about some boy from school and Tara said 'the boy with the harelip!?'. Grrr.

I didn't really watch Grey's Anatomy so I missed that one, thankfully.

To the last commenter... I first heard the term when I was 11. A kid in my class came up to me and said 'you have a harelip'. I didn't know what she was on about so I said 'no I don't, I have a cleft lip', and left it at that. I didn't know what it meant, but I didn't like it! It was just plain wrong, and I wasn't sure if I was being likened to a rodent or told I was supposed to have an exceptionally hairy lip or something... Either way, I was offended.

I asked my mum about it that evening and she thought it came from an old wives tale. I didn't hear any of the witchcraft stuff till I read it online years later, so don't presume people only find it offensive because of its history.

As Matilda said in her original blog post, the problem is not so much that people who don't know any better are using it, but that it gets perpetuated by the media, and it's very hard to educate against that!

Even without all its history, and regardless of how people think it's spelt, it's not a very nice sounding term, and it'd just be nice to lessen its usage.

We'll just have to continue doing it one person at a time...

Simon Hilton-Lewis said...

The term, harelip is only offensive because w allow it to be so. To pander to our childrens fears does not allow them to grow up accepting and dealing with their appearance. I grew up with this term, and never found it offensive, beacuse my parent did not use this as a focus. It is just a word!
Furthermore, I would like to correct you on the point of Rodents, as the term was coined in relation to the mouth of a Hare. Hare’s are NOT rodents. They fall into the family of Leporidae which comes under the umbrella of Lagomorpha, which is a taxonomic order. Lagomorphs differ from rodents in that they have four incisors in the upper jaw (not two, as in the Rodentia) and they are almost strictly herbivorous, unlike rodents, many of which will eat both meat and vegetable matter. However, they resemble rodents in that their incisor teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, thus necessitating constant chewing on fibrous food to prevent the teeth from growing too long.
We must learn to focus on the bigger picture rather than a silly word.

Anonymous said...

Just found out the word was hurtful today and came across this post. It's not something I think I've ever used, thankfully. And I'll make sure to not ever use it in the future. I think it'll make the world a better place if I can remember to be mindful of these sorts of things.