It seems almost silly to be writing this post at this point, but I’ve made it this far so for the sake of completeness we might as well do it.
So, December started with lots of early morning activity as my roommate had started bleeding again. After the previous episode she had been told one more bleed and they would be performing her C-section, so that’s exactly what happened. I think he baby was just shy of 34 weeks at that point, so not ideal but not too bad. She came to visit me 2 days later to let me know everything had gone well and her daughter was doing fine, although would be in hospital for a while.
I spent a couple of days alone – in a room meant for 3 and then got two new roommates at once. One was only there for a single night – the next day she hit 37 weeks and went off for her scheduled C-section. The other woman who was from (I think) Somalia was due to have a C-section at 37 weeks on 27th December. She had somehow misunderstood though and kept telling me she was having hers the day after me, on the 17th. She was so upset when the doctor explained that no, that would be far too early, and her baby needed to stay in until the 27th. She had two other young children and she told me they called every night crying because they wanted mama to come home.
My final two weeks leading up to the birth were relatively uneventful. Someone else came in who was also having foetal surgery for spina bifida and I was able to talk to her a bit about what to expect. I saw her again after Zyma was born and she was already up and walking around within a couple of days… and off the IV meds after a week! Of all the others I met who’d had the operation I think she bounced back the fastest.
Finally, 16th December came around. We had actually made it to precisely 37 weeks as planned! I was first on the list for the C-section that morning, so barring emergencies I would be in surgery at 7 a.m.! As it turned out there was an emergency, so Zyma was born at 8:01 a.m. on 16th December 2021. We had been warned before hand that the immediate crying after birth is just a movie cliché, but the very first thing Zyma did was let out a wail just to let me know she was there. Jan stood to watch her being taken out and told me the surgeon immediately tickled her feet to see whether she would react… which she did. Z was then taken away to a side room while I was sewn back up – it took a little longer because they discovered a weak point on the incision from the foetal surgery so they repaired that while they were in there. Unfortunately Zyma couldn’t be brought to me because she was having trouble breathing by herself so Jan went with her to the neonatology unit while I was taken back to the room on the labour and delivery ward and immediately attached to a milk pump. At some point Jan came back and I as taken to see Zyma still in my bed. It was a surreal moment. She was on oxygen so I couldn’t hold her – just put out a finger and stroke her. I couldn’t believe that tiny little human was mine! The bed and I then travelled back up to the ward I had been on previously. The post-natal ward is actually one floor higher but so many babies had been born around that time that people were being put on the pre-natal ward instead! It was nice for me because it meant I was back with the same familiar nurses/midwives who had been looking after me for the previous 5 weeks (plus my other two stays). After the numbness from the epidural wore off I was given a morphine injection for the pain which made me throw up my lunch! Thankfully by the day after the C-section I didn’t need morphine any more, just the oral painkillers they gave me. In the late afternoon Jan came and took me down to the neonatal ward in a wheelchair and I was able to spend a couple of hours with Zyma. I also tried to pump while I was down there. I was encouraged to pump every 2-3 hours during the day and 4 hours overnight. It took a few tries for my milk to come in – I remember being overjoyed when I actually produced enough to suck up into a syringe. We’re literally talking a few millilitres here… meanwhile the woman in the next bed was filling two entire bottles at a time and being told to avoid breastfeeding tea! So Zyma started life on formula that was supplemented with the breast milk I managed to get.
I was discharged 5 days after the C-section and up until the day before it was unclear when Zyma would be moving from the women’s hospital to the children’s hospital… then I got a call on the fourth morning of her life, a place had suddenly become available and they wanted to move her that afternoon. We both went down to see her off then Jan walked over to the children’s hospital and met the transport personnel at the neonatal ward there to make sure he knew where she was and get her settled in. Meanwhile, I went back upstairs for lunch and to pump. In the evening I was given taxi vouchers to go to the children’s hospital and back – it’s only about a 15 minute walk between the two hospitals but I was not up to walking for 15 minutes yet. It was so weird leaving the hospital after being mostly confined to my ward for 5 whole weeks! After visiting with Zyma for a while, I took a taxi back to the women’s hospital while Jan walked around the corner to the family room we had booked and which I moved into the next day after being discharged (again, I was given a taxi voucher to get me there). I was surprisingly emotional leaving the hospital after so long! Probably because I wasn’t actually going home yet and didn’t know when I would be. The building with the family rooms is about a 5 minute walk from the children’s hospital and the next few days were spent going back and forth. The COVID rules at the time were that parents could be present in the neonatal ward 24 hours a day but only both at once for a total of 2 hours (they weren’t literally clock watching though, so we may have snuck in an extra half hour here and there!). I still had to pump regularly (pumps were provided) so Jan was with her then, one day he had to go to Bern to sort out a new passport, he also popped over to the women’s hospital with chocolates as a thank you for the nurses over there and so we made it through. We tended to leave relatively late at night compared to the other parents, but usually we were back in the room by 10 p.m. I was still recovering from the C-section after all (plus prior surgery and 5 weeks in hospital). The lactation consultants came by and told me we were both basically doing everything right but because Zyma was so small her sucking reflex wasn’t strong enough to get anything out yet. She finally managed to get some milk from me before we left though.
We had been told to prepare for a stay of anywhere between 12 and 21 days, but apparently the doctors wanted to try and get through all the testing before Christmas so she actually had her last spina bifida tests on the 23rd, then she had to have a sleep study done overnight because her oxygen levels kept dropping while she slept. The result was that she needed to be out on caffeine. The hip ultrasound that was part of her spina bifida tests had revealed dysplasia, which we at the time thought would have to be treated in hospital for three weeks, but that could just as well be done in Basel. They told us Basel children’s hospital would have space for her from 27 December but if they agreed instead of her being transported from one hospital to another we could take her home and then bring her to the other hospital ourselves. Basel did agree and we were informed on Christmas Eve that she could go home the next day provided her oxygen levels stayed stable. So Jan spent the morning rushing to try and get everything we needed before the shops closed… bottles, formula in case breastfeeding didn’t work, nappies… the last minute things we had expected to still have time for. The next morning the nurses showed us how to prepare her caffeine and give it to her along with a bottle, we ate lunch in the hospital for the last time (until we returned for her first regular spin bifida check up in March), I fed Zyma… breastfeeding actually worked, although it took a while for her to get enough, Jan returned the room key and, finally, in the late afternoon, we were on our way! We didn’t actually arrive home until around 6 p.m. so we didn’t get much of Christmas Day there but at least Zyma was able to spend some of her first Christmas at home!
On the 26th, a friend came by to meet Zyma… her first visitor. I also opened most of the Christmas gifts (we hadn’t bothered the night before) and new baby gifts. Some people had actually sent her both… such a lucky/spoiled baby! Those first two nights are a bit of a blur. I didn’t sleep much, partly because she hadn’t yet learned the difference between day and night but also because I spent half the time checking she was still breathing when she went quiet and the other half wondering whether the noises she was making in her sleep were normal! But even though we’d only had her for a couple of nights it felt so wrong having to give her up again the next day… for what we thought was going to be three weeks. As it turned out, after performing their own ultrasound, the doctors in Basel didn’t think the hip dysplasia was as bad as feared and decided to send her home with a harness to try out. So on the 28th, just as I was getting ready to go to the hospital and take over from Jan, he messaged to say she was allowed home! By the time I’d joined him there, we’d had the discharge consultation with the doctors and I’d got enough milk into her for her to agree to go in the car seat it was already late afternoon, so again we didn’t have much left of the day. But she was home, and this time she would be staying.
The rest of the year was spent mostly at home getting used to being a family of three, although we did venture out for Zyma’s first little trip in the pram. And on New Year’s Eve we were in bed by 11 p.m.! I couldn’t tell you whether I was awake at midnight… I may or may not have been feeding her at that time, but the fireworks had already been going so crazy since about 9 p.m. that it was impossible to tell the difference! It didn’t really matter to us anyway. Sleeping next to the baby we’d waited so long for was the perfect way to see in the New Year!