Supporting mothers and empowering children with artist Katie Manning

Katie Manning is a talented artist whose first child was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palette. By drawing cleft affected children and meeting the mothers, she is opening up emotional conversations which otherwise may never happen. This post is part of my #makingwaves series – intrepid and inspirational women with an uplifting story to tell.

“That was the moment I realised I needed to draw cleft affected people…”

We were strolling along the seafront in Walmer when the @cleftwarriorwoman said those words to me. It was somewhat of a thunder-clap moment. I looked at her with recognition because I fully understand, as a fellow creative, what it means to find your calling, to put your finger on exactly what makes your heart soar and, even better, can make the world a better place.

Katie and I had only just become acquainted and yet, we felt like old friends. She’d braved the three-hour trek from Oxford and had sprung from her car like a cooped up jack-in-a-box clutching a bunch of daffodils which she warmly presented to me. I expressed concern for the meagre jumper she was wearing during a fairly blustery March evening on the Kent coast. In a maternal way, I wrapped her in my Dryrobe and we started our walk and talk towards the seaside town of Deal.

Katie Manning is a talented artist whose first child was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palette. She spoke openly to me about being a first-time mum faced with these complications. However, the most heartfelt part of her story is her discovery that her and her daughter’s struggles were because of responses to the trauma. It has been a process which Katie, as a mother, was entirely unprepared and unequipped for.

“As soon as you get the diagnosis, you’re in a different camp,” Katie told me, battling against the coastal wind, and I nodded receptively, not in pretence of knowing anything about her plight, but merely to encourage her to talk further. “The body never forgets,” she continued. “It remembers everything it has been through, even in utero. Trauma occurs in situations where we feel unsafe. To release it, we need to understand why it’s there. We can release it in a non-destructive way but that’s the thing, nobody was talking about it when my daughter and I were going through it. That’s what I want to change. That’s how I want to help the cleft community, mostly mothers like myself, because it is through supporting mothers we can empower the children.”

Katie’s art does exactly this. By drawing cleft affected children and meeting the mothers, she is opening up emotional conversations which otherwise may never happen. Furthermore, Katie is working towards becoming an Integrated Trauma Informed Coach, equipped with the skills and experience to guide people along the same path she also walked with her daughter.

“No journey is the same, but the experiences are shared,” Katie says and this time I concur wholeheartedly with this principle. 

We enabled a section of Katie’s portraits, printed onto silk scarves, to flutter in the sea breeze. The soulful eyes of her sketches gazed intently at me and I felt moved. Katie has a true gift for capturing these children’s souls and she has an incredibly worthwhile purpose in ensuring their journey is made easier than hers was.

I photograph Katie, my heart beating wildly as she stands in the waves, allowing them to push and pull and pummel her. She shrieks with glee. I worry, like I always do when dunking clients in the English Channel, that she’s getting cold, that she’ll get swept out to sea, but she is unwavering. I feel a huge sense of gratification because Katie is feeling everything that I wanted her to feel – the sheer joy of being daft and free, of doing something which we, as responsible and lucid human beings, never give ourselves a chance to do. She is throwing caution to the waves. Literally. 

“Empowering and exciting women need to keep meeting each other,” Katie said as we traipsed our soggy selves back to the carpark. “There is a big movement of women stepping into their power and challenging the patriarchal structures . We can finally be the role models that our girls need.”

Katie Manning is, as these portraits demonstrate, a true warrior.

Read other tales from intrepid and inspirational mermaids:

The Making Waves Project: “I started photographing women in the sea by chance when, during a family photo session, the pregnant mum put on a boho dress and stood in the waves. I thought, wow, this is powerful!”

Talking adventure with photographer, Girl In A Yellow Jacket: “I came to England because I was looking for adventure. I had £50 in my pocket. No job. I didn’t know anybody at all. It was a crazy thing to do on my own.”

“Celebrating Life and Acknowledging Loss with Imogen Tinkler: “You can’t out-run grief. It follows you like a shadow.” Dedicated to all the parents, babies, siblings and families touched by a premature baby.

How sea glass changed Archie Archer’s life: “My whole life I’ve had these bonkers adventures. Now I feel as though I’m living. I could never leave the sea.”

Empowering women with fitness and mindset coach Cat Pellow: “I’ll never forget the moment someone shouted, “Fat Cat!” at me across the road.”

Never Giving Up, with World Champ Paralympian Sailor Hannah Stodel – “Sailing was a way for me to be normal. Nobody looked at me like I was disabled.”

Pushing Boundaries with Channel Swimmer Abhejali Bernadova – “It’s definitely all about the mind. Our mind limits us too often…”