A zip like Mum's

Me and my daughter have shared similar ordeals - and now a very special story...

Published by: Kim Willis & Jai Breitnaur
Published on: 24th February 2011

Arms above my head, I smiled as Mum pulled off my vest, making a silly noise as it came free.
This was our nightly routine. With a steaming bubble bath behind me, fresh pyjamas waiting on the side, and the promise of a bedtime story, I could have been any girl in any town.
Except I wasn’t just any girl...
Tracing my finger down the huge, bumpy scar running from my neck to my belly button, I looked up at my mum Carra and sighed.
‘Tell me again?’ I asked, as she lifted me into the soapy water. ‘Tell me about my zip.’
‘All right,’ Mum chuckled, pouring a jug of water over my dark brown hair. ‘When you were four, your heart got very poorly. We took you to the doctor and he fixed you – then he zipped you back up.’
‘Zzzzzzup!’ I laughed, imagining the zip on a jacket. The story was one of my favourites.
Whenever friends at school asked about my scar, I repeated it word for word while they listened wide-eyed. It wasn’t until I was much older, I learned I’d had a hole in my heart and nearly died.
By the time I met David, 33, got married and fell pregnant with twins, I’d pretty much forgotten about my zip.
When I was just over five months pregnant, I was sick.
‘I’ve probably got a bug,’ I gagged, running to the loo.
But by the end of the week, I was still throwing up and had terrible chest pains.
David took me to St Peter’s Hospital, in Chertsey.
‘You have HELLP syndrome,’ the consultant explained after tests. ‘It’s linked to high blood pressure and can lead to liver failure. The only way to stop it is to deliver the twins now.’
‘B-but I’m six-and-a-half months pregnant!’ I gasped, clutching David’s hand. ‘They’re not ready!’
‘Yvonne,’ the consultant said. ‘If we don’t deliver, you’ll die – and so will the twins.’
The next morning, I was taken in for an emergency caesarean. Because I was under general anaesthetic, David wasn’t allowed into theatre, but he was by my side when I came round.
‘We’ve two girls,’ he smiled. ‘They’re in intensive care, I’ll take you to see them in a bit.’
A few hours later, I was strong enough. As soon as I saw my beautiful babies, I began to sob.
The older one Olivia was 2lb 3oz, her younger sister Ella just 1lb 11oz. They were in incubators.
‘Will they be all right?’ I asked the nurse, anxiously.
‘They’re very small...’ she said awkwardly. ‘But you can hold Olivia if you’d like?’
I nodded, and she gently placed my eldest, still attached to all the machines, in my arms. She was barely visible in the crook of my elbow, her wrist fitted through David’s wedding ring.
‘Can I hold Ella, too?’ I asked, but the nurse shook her head.
‘She’s too vulnerable. Maybe in a few days.’
Leaning over the cot, I smiled at her wrinkly face and patchy, blonde hair.
Two weeks later, my wish came true. Ella was still very frail, but it felt amazing to have her close. As David clutched Olivia to his shoulder, the nurse took a photo.
Next morning when I went down to see my babies, Ella’s stomach was swollen and her eyes had glazed over.
Before I knew what was happening, doctors and nurses were surrounding her cot, and I was being led outside. ‘We’re going to do some tests,’ the doctor tried reassuring me.
An hour later, he came to see me. ‘Ella has a bowel infection called necrotizing enterocolitis,’ he explained. ‘We need to transfer her to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton for surgery.’
Me and David rushed to the car to follow the ambulance. The new hospital was 60 miles away, nearly a two-hour drive. It was heartbreaking to leave Olivia, but she was strong.
Our poorly girl was in surgery for three hours, and had 10in of her bowel removed.
‘We’ve left her open, with her bowel sticking out,’ the surgeon explained. ‘We need to monitor how things go, and this is the best way.’
Placing the little bunny I’d bought for Ella next to her incubator, I whispered goodbye and we drove back to Olivia. The photo of the four of us had been put inside Olivia’s cot.
‘Now she’ll have her family with her even when you’re visiting Ella,’ the nurse smiled. The next day, we put a copy of the photo in Ella’s cot.
It was another two months before her bowel was put back inside her, and six months before she came home. Olivia, who’d been released three months before, came with me every day to visit her sister, but they’d never even touched each other until their first night at home.
‘They said to lay them head to toe so they’re close enough to bond, but won’t smother each other,’ I told David.
An hour later, when I checked on them, I couldn’t help smiling – Olivia had turned herself round and was laying face to face with her sister, one hand protectively on her Ella’s back.
Ella and Olivia are three-and-a-half now, and inseparable. The only thing that makes them different is the big, bumpy scar across Ella’s pelvis.
‘What’s this, Mummy?’ she asked one day, as I undressed the girls for their bath.
I just froze, didn’t know what to say – until the next day when Mum made a suggestion…
‘Ella, this is your zip,’ I explained. ‘Look, Mummy’s got one, too…’
Her face was a picture, just like mine had been all those years ago.
The zip story had fascinated me until I was well into my teens, and now Ella has her very own lifesaving zip – just like her mummy.
Yvonne Anderson-Bassey, 40, Woking, Surrey