After trying for the better part of 2019 to get pregnant with no luck, J.J. and her partner decided to put having a family on hold for 2 years in order to move from their home in Geneva, Switzerland to Myanmar (Burma) for a 2-year work assignment. Before leaving Switzerland and taking a 2 year break off of trying for a baby, they even froze embryos via J.J.’s generous health insurance in order to not have to worry about facing difficulty later down the road. To say that the next two years did not go as planned would be an understatement. A few months after arriving in Myanmar (Burma) in January 2020, J.J.’s employer evacuated her and her partner to Thailand due to the threat of facing a pandemic within a country with some of the worst healthcare in the world (they could not both be evacuated to their home countries since they don’t have the same passport(s), thus they were sent to Thailand). Due to an intense, prolonged bout of salmonella messing up her system during the month of March, J.J. unexpectedly found herself pregnant while living out of a suitcase during a global pandemic in Phuket, Thailand while they waited for the Myanmar borders to re-open. Early pregnancy was difficult for J.J. as she was nauseas 24 hours a day and had intense food aversions; the silver lining to feeling so awful was that she was working remote while in Phuket and could thus work from bed. Then, when J.J. was 11 weeks pregnant her partner, along with a few neighbors around their Airbnb, came down with mysterious body rashes, headaches and body aches. Their worst fears were confirmed when her partner and the others tested positive for Zika. In order to get out of the area where Zika was obviously active, J.J. and her partner fled Phuket for Bangkok via a long 12 hour journey in the car while still suffering from intense “morning sickness”.

international birth story

Many urine, blood and antibody tests were performed in order to rule out the possibility that J.J. had contracted Zika anytime during the 11 weeks she had been pregnant before leaving Phuket. Not feeling comfortable staying in Thailand as her pregnancy progressed, J.J. left Thailand to spend her 2nd trimester in the German village where her father lives. She spent the next few months missing her partner (who stayed in Thailand) but otherwise having a very peaceful 2nd trimester working remote, taking long walks along the Rhine River listening to the Birth Hour, and getting quality time with her father and German family. A doctor in Germany also finally confirmed that she had not contracted Zika at any point during her pregnancy in Thailand. Then, a 2nd wave of COVID-19 in August 2020 confirmed that the Myanmar borders would not open anytime soon and therefore J.J. and her partner reunited in Europe in September 2020. Determined to have a vacation before welcoming a child into their family, J.J. and her partner spent the month of October in Greece before returning to the Geneva, Switzerland area in November to have their daughter. While seeing an OBGYN for a check up in Athens, a toxoplasmosis test was performed because stray cats are so rampant in Greece. Unfortunately, that test came back positive; this did not help J.J.’s already fragile mental/emotional state after having already dealt with Zika.

The same week J.J. was meant to sign off from work and have a month of pre-partum tranquility and birth preparation, J.J. experienced preterm premature rupture of the membrane (PPROM). After checking into the hospital and receiving antibiotics to avoid infection, their daughter Zoé was born 2 days later (exactly 4 weeks early) during the height of the 2nd wave of COVID-19 in Geneva, Switzerland. While J.J. originally wanted to attempt an unmediated birth, because she went into active labor at midnight and labored for 9 hours without dilating past 2 centimeters, her exhaustion helped her make the choice to get the epidural along with a generous amount of Pitocin. After a post-epidural nap, J.J. woke up fully dilated, pushed for less than 5 minutes and Zoé was born at 2.7 kilograms (5.9 lb) and 47 centimeters long (pretty good for 4 weeks early!). Unfortunately, during the skin-to-skin period there was a chaotic, and frantic search for a retained membrane wherein almost 10 medical staff searched in vain for 20 minutes before finding and removing the membrane. Despite having a baby less than 6 lb, J.J. had 2nd degree tears on her labia and cervix.

newborn baby smiling

In Switzerland you are forced to choose the baby name within 3 days. Unfortunately, due to her early arrival and the COVID-19 restrictions only allowing her partner at the hospital 1 hour a day, they chose the “wrong” name for their daughter and ended up going with a different one when she was 2 months old (they’re still in the administrative process of changing it!), Otherwise, after 6 days together in the hospital together wherein Zoé was treated for temperature regulation and jaundice, J.J. and baby left the hospital in early December. Post-partum included some intense hormones (post partum rage), a difficult breastfeeding journey and pretty severe social isolation due having a pre-term pandemic baby in the middle of winter. A few weeks after the birth, J.J. and her partner were able to meet with the head midwife from the hospital in order to fully debrief with her the events before/during/after her daughter’s birth (she had a full, minute-by-minute transcript of the birth); this service is offered routinely to women in Switzerland that didn’t “love” their birth experience and at least for J.J. and her partner it helped immensely in better processing the birth of their daughter.

At 3 months post partum, the same day J.J. and her partner received Zoé’s passport in order to return ‘home’ to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), the Burmese military staged a coup d’etat and imprisoned the democratic leaders of Myanmar. Therefore, J.J. and her family now live in Thailand and will return to their ‘real’ home in Switzerland at some point next year.

J.J. Fleskes Bio

I am a 35 year old German American (raised between Florida and Massachusetts) and have been an ‘expat’ for the past 12 years in Germany, Nepal, Switzerland, Singapore, Myanmar and Thailand (though Switzerland has become my primary home base). I work in the international NGO domain as a project manager and business development specialist. I live with my partner of 5 years and our 11 month old daughter Zoé in Thailand. Connect with her on Instagram @jjfleskes.

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