Four years ago yesterday, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. in a small apartment in Boston. We dressed ourselves, dressed our little girl, took pictures of her huge smile and headed to Boston Children’s Hospital. This was our third time putting Layla underI thought perfection was the goal. I was young and naive. anesthesia, and I guess you could say we were pros. At 6:30, we clothed her in the tiniest hospital gown you can imagine and tried to keep her distracted from thoughts of food and drink until 7, when she was finally wheeled off, a very small person in a much-too-large bed.

Yesterday, about five years ago, my life was pretty much perfect. We were blissful newlyweds, quite besotted with each other and excited, albeit a little clueless, about the fetus growing inside of me. I remember sitting on the couch beside my husband, who I thought was the most perfect man in the universe, and discussing our soon-to-be-born perfect baby.

“I want her to have your lips and my nose,” I remember saying clearly, and we laughed, feeling somewhat smug in the neat little package of life we got to live in.

My life had been smooth, almost idyllic. Occasional fights with best friends and some teenage blues, but really, nothing too traumatic. Great childhood, check. Amazing friends, check. Found the right one, check. Beautiful marriage, check. Pregnant, check.

I don’t want to say I deserved it because I don’t believe G‑d works that way. But with hindsight being oh so terribly clear, when our first child was born with a cleft lip and palate some six months later, my vision of a perfect life was shattered.

What terrified me was my interpretation of the way my child was born. Throughout my pregnancy, we had spoken about the concept of love and how it translated into a physical being. This child would be a direct manifestation of our love. It was such a sweet, perfect sentiment. But now that manifestation was born imperfect. What did that say about us? Where was the perfection I had assumed we had?

It was the start of a long journey. I learned that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and imperfect lives. There is no such thing as perfection because that would mean we have achieved all that we were sent down here to achieve. That would mean no room for growth and change. And what is life without growth and change? What is a marriage without work and challenges and the sweetness of building something as a team? What is a child without lessons to learn and mistakes to be forgotten?

I thought perfection was the goal. I was young and naive. I thought a perfect life was within reach but the truth is, it never is. As we rebuilt Layla’s mouth, nose and palate with several surgeries, I, too, rebuilt my understanding of myself, of life. I learned to accept disappointment. I learned to expect change. I learned to see flaws, in myself and in others, and to choose to live with them while they were being worked on.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk said: “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” A broken heart means that there has been life, there has been love, there has been passion. There have been lessons learned and memories made. There is what to work with; there are dreams that have been dashed and new dreams to be dreamt of.

It isn’t coincidence to me that each year the “anniversary” of Layla’s lip and nose surgery falls rightA broken heart means that there has been life, love, passion when she starts a new year of school. The day that she gets a fresh start, where she heads into a new year with her friends, where her vibrant personality shines and blossoms. For her, the memories are in her child brain and don’t affect her day-to-day life. She gets to prove to the world, and to us, that her rough patch at the beginning of her life doesn’t have to determine the life she builds for herself.

There is so much she has taught me and so much I am still learning. She makes every single day exciting; she adds vitality to every room she enters. She loves life, she exudes positivity, she finds pleasure in the simple things. And, of course, she has taught me the most valuable lesson: to be realistic about my expectations for life. I have a little sign on my nightstand. It reads: “Life does not have to be perfect to be beautiful.” There is so much beauty to be seen. Don’t let the darkness steal it away.