We’ve known that Isla will need multiple operations since our 20 week scan. At the beginning of October, we received Isla’s first surgery date for lip closure – 23rd November 2016.
The run up to the date of the operation was a fraught time. I was worried about how she would cope in the lead up to and after surgery, being separated from my toddler and how we would feel when we saw her new smile for the first time. The cosmetics of Isla’s cleft had never bothered us, it was always about the impact it had and continues to have on her, but we loved that face from the moment we first saw her and it was about to change. Most of all, I was worried about how I would hand my daughter over to a relative stranger and walk away.
On the day of surgery, we arrived on the surgical ward at 7am. Isla had been fasted since 3am and I had packed my trusty Je Porte Mon Bebe ring sling in anticipation of a difficult wait. We had a very long 5 hour delay and by the time of surgery, Isla had been fasted for 10 hours. She coped remarkably well and even fell asleep in the sling for part of the wait. I would have struggled without as I ended up pacing the ward with her in the sling for many hours.
We spent 3 nights in hospital after her operation and having the sling on hand meant I was able to eat, wash and sterilise her bottles and still keep her calm. We had to adapt some ways of putting the ring sling on as she was attached to monitors but we had used similar methods when she was in NICU so it was not as daunting. As expected, she only wanted to sleep on us and once we got home, it was important that we were able to keep some normality for our toddler who had struggled with the separation.
Isla developed a nice little quirk of rubbing her newly stitched lip on my top when she was in a tummy to tummy carry. I felt anxious that she would rip her stitches or in the very least hurt herself so I sent my fellow sling library consultant a message and she reminded me of some other carries that might be useful (see – even consultants need professional help!) For a few days, I carried Isla in a seated sideways position in our ring sling (video tutorial here – credit to my lovely friend & fellow sling consultant Emma Palmer!) to make sure that she wouldn’t cause any problems with her stitches and the novelty soon wore off!
Palate repair surgery soon came around. As before, we took both our Connecta and JPMBB ring sling. Also as before, we had a very long delay and took turns to pace the ward. Isla was older and more aware this time so it was more difficult to amuse her but she did exceptionally well yet again, better than us! Daddy carried her down to theatre in his favourite connecta and once again, we had the difficult task of leaving her in the hands of her very skilled surgeon.
Since her palate repair, Isla has unfortunately had feeding difficulties and came home with a nasogastric (NG) tube in place. We have had to quickly learn the different challenges of an older baby being tube fed. She has pulled it out numerous times which makes doing any tasks very difficult as you can’t take your eyes off her for a second. In the sling, I can monitor what little hands are doing whilst still being able to play with toddler/prepare her feeding equipment/walk the dog. She has also understandably been very unsettled and being close to one of us has helped us all to retain some normality.
Isla has many hospital appointments and is sometimes wary of nursing staff. Carrying her has provided reassurance and convenience to me of being able to navigate hospital corridors and stairs! Carrying has provided us with many benefits and has certainly reduced stress levels all round.