This lopsided life of mine all began while I was living my childhood dream and I looked in the mirror one night and saw the face of a woman I didn’t recognize. Her lips couldn’t form a smile and her right eye wouldn’t close.
Later in the emergency room, I first heard the medical term for my malady: Bell’s Palsy. It was early December 1988; I was 25 years old and eight months pregnant with my first child when, in one fell swoop, the palsy invaded my facial nerves, causing the right side of my face to droop.
As a television reporter and weekend anchor, my face was no longer deemed camera-friendly. Swoosh, bam, thank you, ma’am, but go home and have your baby and, when you recover – as most people do – find a babysitter and resume your broadcast career. My news director may not have said those words exactly, but it was exactly what I planned on doing.
I was three years into the career I’d dreamed of since the fifth grade. Back when I was 10, my dad bought me a Radio Shack cassette recorder and I went door-to-door interviewing neighbors and friends about anything from their thoughts on the weather to whether children should get a day of recognition like mothers and fathers do – I may have been a bit biased about that second one.
I was a nerdy, quiet kid, but there was something about holding a microphone that made me feel 10 feet tall and wise. People, who may not otherwise talk to me, would speak to the mike in my hand without hesitation.
I went on to earn a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, landing my first TV reporting gig in San Angelo, Texas, followed by a move to a slightly larger market in Midland, Texas. I was moving on up in my career, just as I had planned.
On one assignment to cover the visit of Pope John Paul II to San Antonio in 1987 (pictured at top), I ran into a news director from the Austin station where I had interned. He said he was surprised to see to me because a lot of interns end up in other careers. I was shocked. This is what I had trained for. Why would I be doing anything else?
Time to face the facts
A month after the Bell’s Palsy diagnosis, my beautiful, healthy baby was born. I loved the long days being home with my son those first few months, but I also longed to return to the work I loved while remaining the best mommy I could be, for us. Only my face was not cooperating. Things had improved: I no longer had to tape my right eyelid down so it would stay closed at night, or use eye drops to keep it moist in the day, or hold my bottom lip up so I could drink from a cup without drooling, or insert ear plugs in a crowded room so the sounds weren’t deafening. But my face was still noticeably asymmetrical, especially on camera, and my speech remained slightly slurred. Forget on-air work or voice overs.
With all the years that have passed between then and now, there have been plenty of what-ifs. What if I’d pursued a desk job in the newsroom, maybe being in charge of assignments? What if I’d gone ahead and had the surgery that my neurologist told me involved more risks than benefits for my condition? What if I demanded to be on-air regardless of my lopsided face? What if I’d never gotten Bell’s Palsy?
What if answered
What if? Whatever! This is what happened. I switched to a career in marketing, allowing me to use my journalism degree in a surprisingly satisfying way. I had three more children – even after my doctor told me the Bell’s Palsy could worsen with subsequent pregnancies – motherhood mattered to me more than an uneven face, even more than anything actually.
And hence, here I am today, a marketing mother blogger with a site that can be accessed at lisamarlin.com or at thislopsidedlife.com – two addresses, same homepage. The ever-growing collection of essays posted here is not about the life I once dreamed of – how could I have ever imagined this? Blogs didn’t exist back when I was 10! But it is what I trained for most of my life; after all, I began writing stories even before I held a microphone, around the age of six or seven.
Why would I be doing anything else now? This is my what if.