• Katy Rigg

Zoe and Annabelle - 10th April

Zoe’s baby girl, Annabelle, was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. They have had quite a journey as a family in her short little life already, but Zoe has found many positives to cling onto throughout the covid pandemic. She was keen to share her lockdown baby story in order to praise the charity CLAPA for the support they have given her since Annabelle’s birth, and to raise awareness in the public domain about cleft lips and cleft palates. It’s a wonderful story full of so much LOVE.

We gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Annabelle, at the beginning of April, two weeks after lockdown in the UK started. Our pregnancy had not been a straight forward pregnancy, as at our 20-week scan, we were informed that our baby had a cleft lip and cleft palate. Further into the pregnancy, we were informed that the baby was measuring large so we were having additional scans and appointments to monitor the cleft and the size of our little girl. Our consultation appointment was on 16th March; this was at the start of rumours of lockdown taking place and we were actually told by the consultant that it was not the best time to be having a baby. I remember thinking, "Well, we didn’t know that a global pandemic was going to hit 9 months ago!" We were warned that during the birth staff may be in their full white attire, with full mask and all I could think of was astronaut suits!

Leading up to the pregnancy, I had three sweeps; the first was done in our local GP surgery and the others were done at home. Each by a different midwife and all with their mask and gowns on. The sweeps did not work and when I was booked in for an induction, I was informed that my partner would not be allowed in with me until I was in the delivery suite at 4cms dilated. I was already aware that I would be kept in due to our baby having a cleft (we didn't know the gender of the baby until birth), so I had the stress of packing. Once we were in the hospital we couldn’t leave so I packed and repacked our hospital bags dozens of times. The morning of the induction (at 3am) my waters actually went, so my husband dropped me off at the hospital and, because he was not allowed in at this stage, waited in the car park for 3 hours whilst I was examined and given the okay. I had a mini case for me, a holdall for the baby and a bag of treats to keep me going. I also had one bag for my husband, as once he was in, he couldn’t leave…little did I know at that time, that his crunching whilst I was in labour would annoy me! Walking into the hospital, it must have looked like I was moving in or going on holiday with all the bags I had.

My husband was allowed in the delivery room at 10pm. He was able to stay with us until a couple of hours after the birth. He was not rushed at all. All midwives and surgeons had their masks on but all were lovely and I completely forgot about the pandemic.

After the birth of our little girl, (7lb 2oz - nowhere near as big as they thought from the scans) she was taken to the Special Care unit. Our cleft nurse had said she would not need to go to the Special Care unit but in this circumstance, we were glad she was, as being in the unit meant that her dad could visit once per day for an hour. The cleft nurse came out to check the baby was okay and feeding well. I did want to breastfeed and was fully aware with a cleft baby I wouldn't be able to, but I could express and bottle feed, yet I was unable to do so, and with the pandemic, there was little support. In fact, I was told whilst in the hospital that it may be because of my small boobs I couldn't produce! We were discharged a week later, but over the next few weeks, we were admitted to hospital a few times. These weeks we found very hard, especially as there were no visits to the house allowed from midwives, Health Visitors, Cleft nurse, family or friends, no GP appointments and no baby classes for support. Our baby was tested for sepsis, diagnosed with silent reflux, given a course of antibiotics, and treated for a suspected milk allergy (this still has not been confirmed). The times we took her to hospital (as we had nowhere else to turn) she was kept in and only one parent could stay with her and once you were in the hospital you were not allowed to leave and return.

Having my husband off for the first 4 months of our little girl's life has been extremely helpful, as he has been able to help with the hospital visits and the feeds, as well as witnessing many of her firsts, from her first smile, giggle, roll to her finding her voice and her feet!

Our baby girl is 4 months old now, and this should have been the time of her first operation. However, with COVID, operations have been delayed and so we are waiting for a date for her first operation, but this only gives us longer with her wide smile that we have fallen in love with. We are hoping that a second lockdown won't be enforced and prolong the operations further.  We are aware her second operation, which will be to repair the soft palate, needs to be complete by 13 months otherwise it could impact on her speech.

Throughout this process, the Cleft team and CLAPA (Cleft Lip and Palate Association www.clapa.com) have been very supportive. CLAPA is a charity that had staff furloughed and continued to operate with minimum staffing and financial support. We managed to order specialist feeding equipment from them during the height of the pandemic. This was received promptly, and with face to face contact being limited, they now offer support via monthly online 'Coffee Chats' focusing on different topics for instant supporting diagnosis, feeding and weaning and surgery. These have been extremely reassuring to me and I appreciate how a charity has adapted to the virus to continue supporting parents with cleft babies and children.  

At our 20-week scan, when we were told about our baby having a cleft, one of my concerns was taking her to baby classes (I now look back and think how stupid I was for this to be a concern). I cannot wait to take her, but we will just have to wait a bit longer for them to open when it is safe to do so. I will also need to warn the class, as she does have a good set of lungs on her!

With the ease of lockdown, I have now managed to get some professional photos of our gorgeous girl, which I am thankful for as I really wanted photos to be taken before her operation (and again after her operation) so I can show her when she is older, and when explaining the cleft, I can let her know just how beautiful she is with or without it. 


 

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