Sitting behind her sewing machine, a 12-year-old is making comfort dolls for children with scars from surgeries early in life.
Charlotte Gould was born with a cleft lip and palate, a birth defect that leaves a split in the roof of a baby's mouth. Charlotte was only a few months old when she underwent her first of many surgeries to repair the cleft palate that left behind a small scar above her lip.
"There was a lot of anxiety knowing that your child is not going to be born perfect and all of the hardships and pain that they would have to go through," said Nicole Gould, Charlotte's mom. "But from the minute she was born, we knew that something was incredibly special about Charlotte."
"I always had a stuffed animal to keep with me during the surgeries," said Charlotte. When she received a sewing machine as a gift when she was 7, Charlotte's first order of business was to make a stuffed doll that had a matching mark.
"I made my first doll that looked like me. I put long brown braids in it, glasses, and I even added a scar," said Charlotte.
The small stitch inspired Stitches by Charlotte, a small business where Charlotte sews surgery-companion dolls for children who have had to undergo medical surgeries early in life. Each doll is specifically tailored to each child with matching scars.
"There was this little boy, Theo, who didn’t want to wear his eyepatch for medical reasons," said Charlotte. "When I put an eyepatch on the doll, Theo wanted his eyepatch on, too."
Charlotte and her family would hand-deliver the dolls to children in the hospital, and even the occasional doctor.
"[There's] a lot of comfort to know that there is a doll that looks like me, that has everything about me," said Charlotte.
In 2020, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlotte put her production of dolls on hold to help first responders.
"When the pandemic started, I realized that I needed to stop producing dolls and start producing masks," said Charlotte.
"The whole family, grandma’s involved, cutting fabric, and Charlotte was just a machine, behind the sewing machine for hours a day," said Gould.
Charlotte and her family have sewn more than 400 masks for Valley nurses.