Sometimes I wonder if we, as mommies, would be able to keep trying to fall pregnant, and face pregnancy itself and having a brand new baby, if we actually knew how much can be wrong, or go wrong, along the way. I know logically that the longing for a baby can be bigger than anything though, so I guess it wouldn’t make that much of a difference to the large majority of us.
I have known the stories of my chosen Supermommies for quite a long time in some form or another, but really getting into the questions and their answers, and researching what they have been through, has brought me a rather scary awareness of the seemingly endless obstacles you can face on this journey to parenthood.
Of course, all of these mommies also give me an incredible sense of hope that no matter what life throws in your path, there are ways to climb right over them and keep moving forward.
Today’s Supermommy is somebody who genuinely does not see herself as any kind of hero. She is somebody who has been knocked down repeatedly and she just gets up, dusts herself off and tries again. She has a tenacity that awes me.
The first thing she said when she read the introduction to this series is that her story does not compare to the other mommies mentioned; that they were so incredibly brave and strong and her story should not be on that list. I promised her that once I wrote this, she would see that she most definitely does belong on this list; and she is, in fact, one of the key people that inspired the series itself. I hope I have kept my promise to her.
I met Cassey when I was pregnant, on Twitter. We were often a part of the same twitter conversations with the same mommies, as we were all due within around 3 months of each other. Cass’s Keiden was due on the 25th of February to Charly’s 21st of February; and when we first started chatting we were both supposed to be having our babies at the Kingsbury Hospital (I later changed) and she lived only minutes away from me.
When Cassey had Keiden, we moved our chats from Twitter onto Whatsapp, and our chat frequency increased; and my first outing with Charly was to meet Cassey and Keiden in person. Cassey got me through a lot of my last weeks of pregnancy, through my early days of motherhood and pretty much right up to where I am today. She is the voice on the phone when I just can’t anymore. She is one of the most supportive friends I have ever had; and her endless ability to find the upside in a situation and to keep trying to find a fresh way to approach something is inspirational to me daily.
This is her story
Cassey and her husband Jerall have been together for 11 and a half years. They met in her first year at the University of Stellenbosch through a mutual friend, started dating in her second year, and were married in 2009. Cassey is a work at home mom (WAHM), who dedicates her daytime hours to entertaining and teaching an adorable engaging toddler who loves to read and climb on couches.
In her own words
Keiden has this cautious curiosity, he will just watch something new until he’s ready to get closer and find out more. We started with books and reading to him from the start, it was something I would do to try and get him to nap. I’d pop him into the wrap and just walk up and down reading whatever I was reading out loud. So now, he loves books…it makes my mama heart so happy. Keiden is such a chatterbox, and as soon as he could gurgle it started. I have this clip of him, when he’s supposed to be sleeping just chatting away to his mobile, it is the most adorable thing ever.
At night Cassey works for a company that provides tools to law firms and legal librarians – she “curates four to six bespoke alerts a day” (this translates into, she is really smart and has a BA(law) that means she can understand AND do that). She works between 20:00 and 00:00 most nights, and 01:00 – 02:00 on Monday nights – after full days with a toddler mind you… She also does freelance editing on Masters and PhD thesis work. And, she runs her own blog.
In her own words
I work at night once Keiden is asleep; sometimes I manage to do a little while he naps. My work week starts on a Sunday evening and finishes on Thursday evenings…barring any editing work I might have.
Their little family has recently moved back to Stellenbosch (a huge loss to me!), as Jerall is working for the University of Stellenbosch; which has also opened up studying for Cassey again. She has applied to do a Post Grad Diploma in Social Science Research Methods; and is hoping to follow that up with a Masters in English.
There wasn’t a supervisor available for what I want to do my MA on this year, so I have gone for the Post Grad for now. Once I have that MA, I will follow it up with a PhD. I want to be Dr Cassey, I think it has a nice ring to it 😉
A difficult diagnosis
At 25, Cassey was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is when a woman’s hormones are out of balance. It can cause menstrual issues and make it very difficult to fall pregnant; as well as causing unwanted changes to the way you look. If it isn’t treated, it can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
In her own words
I found out a few months before our first wedding anniversary. I had been gaining excessive amounts of weight, and I just knew something was off. I credit the amazing GP I had at the time for getting me to the diagnosis; he ran tests and couldn’t find anything, and instead of brushing it off, he said it was time to rule things out. He sent me off to a gynae; I hadn’t seen one before, I had just got pap smears done by a female GP; who then ran more tests and confirmed that it was PCOS as my GP had suspected.
It wasn’t explained to me very well at all. Google was my friend, and a blogger I was following at the time had it as well. Since then I’ve done a lot of reading up on it myself, and have often known more about it than the doctor I might be seeing.
Because I got my diagnosis while on the pill, I didn’t have the most obvious symptom that many women experience, irregular periods. For me it was more and darker body hair, and a massive weight gain.
At that time, I was convinced it meant I couldn’t get pregnant or that it would be years and years of struggle. Fortunately, a much better gynae got me to see that it wasn’t so. But, those first few months post diagnosis was so hard, I felt like my body had failed me, had failed Jerall and this imagined future of ours so badly.
Cassey was very blessed in that they did not struggle to conceive at all; because the diagnosis was made early, the medication had enough time to work and made a visible improvement in her condition.
In her own words
I am so unbelievably lucky that conception happened as quickly as it did, a couple of months after going off the pill; I’ve read so many stories of women who struggled so long to conceive. If it wasn’t for having seen the scan done to confirm PCOS when I got the diagnosis, and having seen the difference the meds I was on had made in other scans, it would be hard to believe I even had it.
Pregnancy & Placenta calcification
She had a relatively easy pregnancy, with only the usual aches and pains and food aversions. She was excited, and scared and everything in between, with all the usual “what were we thinking” moments of a first pregnancy and looming parenthood.
Everything was going perfectly until the 32nd week of the pregnancy. At this appointment they discovered that Cassey’s placenta had begun to age prematurely, which is known as placenta calcification, and her amniotic fluid was lower than it should be.
As the placenta ages, there is an increase of calcium deposits present and areas of the placenta begin to die. This result is it not getting enough oxygen and nutrients to the baby. It could also increase the risk of blood clots in the placenta, and the deposits can harden blood vessels and slow down the blood flow to the baby.
In her own words
It was a week before my birthday. I can’t remember much about the appointment; I have major pregnancy brain fog about it. I think it was probably because my doc told me we might just make it to 36 weeks, so I fixated on that.
I was told to take it extremely easy, to stop any exercise – not that there was much going on, third trimester in summer is killer – and to try not to worry. And I had to up my water intake substantially to try to increase my amniotic fluid.
Our biggest fear was that we wouldn’t make it to 36 weeks, and that Keiden wouldn’t thrive; which he didn’t at the end. We had weekly appointments from when the calcification was spotted, and in the space of one week it just went massively bad, so we had to have an emergency c-section at 36 weeks.
Although Cassey didn’t have a formal birth plan, she had really wanted and planned for a natural birth. The extent of the calcification didn’t even allow for them to induce as it was too risky; which turned out to be a good thing as he had his cord wrapped around his neck several times.
In her own words
I remember she said if he’s not out today he could die; we saw her at about 09:30 and he was born at 16:30. An emergency c-section is just damn scary. I mean you know there’s always a chance that it would be needed for your kid to come out healthy, but you tend to think it won’t happen to you… and then it does, and there’s no way you’re really prepared for it.
I felt like such a failure. My body let Keiden down, he didn’t get to do all his growing and then he didn’t get the natural birth he should have had. I know it’s silly, but I felt, and sometimes still feel, less of a ‘real’ mom because of it.
Group B Strep (GBS)
For those of you unfamiliar with it, GBS is a naturally occurring bacteria in the adult body that can come and go. Because of this characteristic, it is not uncommon for a carrier to never know that they have it or to display no symptoms. However, for women who are pregnant and test positive for GBS, the bacteria poses serious risks for their babies if antibiotics are not given intravenously at birth. In babies younger than one week, GBS can cause sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis, with mortality rates reported between 4.7 and 9 percent.
Cassey can’t remember whether or not she was given the antibiotics ; so she can’t say with certainty if Keiden’s odds of getting GCB were the 1 in 200 that is present when the drugs are given or 20 times higher at 1 in 4000 chance when they aren’t.
In her own words
I was tested for Strep B during the course of a routine check-up, so they knew I had it. They did a pee test off Keiden’s first wet nappy to see if he had it too. He did.
At the time I didn’t know much about it, just that it could be treated. When I researched more about it, that was when I started to avoid Google – Google is such a dangerous place for a worry-wort. But my doc reassured me all would be fine, and so did some folks who know about these things on Twitter. They gave Keiden antibiotics while we were still at the hospital, one shot a day for three days…in his teeny tiny foot.
He also had some fluid on the lungs, so he spent his first night in an incubator, but he got so upset that the nurses brought him to me during the night. I remember the paediatrician was not impressed with them for doing that. As a prem baby that came a full month early, he was tiny but generally healthy.
Keiden & another scare
Keiden was a generally happy baby, but he did not like sleep at all. Naps hardly ever happened, and he was definitely not a textbook baby in terms of sleep. He loved, and still loves, food. And Cassey expects he will be eating them out of house and home as he keeps growing.
At about three months they noticed that he had a hard lump under his arm, and as any parent would when finding an unexpected lump on their little baby, they were afraid of the worst. But luckily it was not what we as parents would go to first; it was a complication of the BCG immunisation given to newborns soon after birth in hospital.
The BCG shot vaccinates against TB; a no-brainer in South Africa where it is our leading cause of death. Because it is injected just under the skin, side effects at the site of the injection are common. A lump will normally develop at the injection site and simply dissipate over time leaving a small scar. Every 1 in 300 times, the vaccine travels up to a lymph node, and gets stuck there.
Cassey and Jerall were told that their 3 month old baby should have a surgery to drain the lumps, due to the location.
In her own words
The lumps are not unusual, but they are generally at the site of the injection and can be left to heal alone. Keiden’s were at such an unusual spot that we thought it was better to have it dealt with than left to just uncontrollably erupt. When the lumps appear in the neck or armpit; they can occasionally become infected, leading to an abscess.
We went for drainage, but because Keiden had a second one forming just as he went in for the first drain, he had to go in again about two months later. With the second op they also removed some more from the site of the first one.
His recovery went really well, he was fine. He had regular doses of Calpol, the dosage based on his weight. Both times he sailed through it all, except for when he came out of surgery, that was just absolutely horrid. Recurrence is unlikely, but every time Keiden sees a doctor or nurse we have them check the area thoroughly in case.
I think people should be told of the possibility when the shot is given, so as not to scare them half to death if it does appear. It is not life threatening, and kiddies illnesses are; so I don’t think it would prevent mommies from doing right by their kids.
For me, not getting a vaccination never even crossed my mind. He’s better off having a minor surgery than catching something that could kill him.
Cassey’s breastfeeding journey had a bumpy start, with her milk coming in a week late, latching issues and Keiden losing weight the first week out of the hospital.
But as with all things, she persevered, determined that this was something she would not fail in. And she succeeded better than expected. She began a slow weaning process this month, with Keiden having breastfed for 17 months.
In her own words
It started off so badly. I had inverted nipples, so Keiden couldn’t latch well. When the right nurse was there to help it worked a bit, but other nurses were awful and bullied me into giving him formula.
My milk took so long to come in that Keiden lost weight after leaving the hospital; man did I have the mom fails feelings then. I was a wreck, even with all the Espiride in my system (Espiride is the usual medication given to increase your milk supply, and is also a mood stabiliser). I stuck to it though, and eventually, with the help of a nipple shield, and an oh-so-amazing clinic, it worked out. I was being seriously, seriously stubborn about wanting to breastfeed.
It really helped that my doc, Keiden’s paediatrician and the clinic sister all said to give it a try, but if it doesn’t work, it’s okay to give him a bottle. Having a bunch of people tell you that it’s okay if it doesn’t work, because all that matters is baby being fed, takes a lot of the weight and pressure off. Even as a breastfeeding mom of a toddler, I think sometimes the “Breast is best” being pushed on new moms does more harm that good. Increased pressure is the last thing we need and the additional stress makes the milk production more of an issue.
We went to Bowwood clinic and it is just amazing. Deb just helped me calm down so much and the practical advice was invaluable; because K came early we missed the part of antenatal class with tips and tricks for breastfeeding.
I’m ready to stop now, and I’m hoping that he gets there soon, preferably by 18 months.
As I said, this is one determined and hardworking mommy who pushes herself every step of the way to be more and do more.
She was diagnosed with PCOS and defied the odds by falling pregnant. She was diagnosed with a dying placenta and warned she could lose her baby. She had her hopes of natural birth shattered with an emergency c-section; which left her alone without her baby or her husband when he was rushed to NICU instead of the quiet bonding time she had imagined. Her brand new baby got a preventable potentially fatal bacteria. She had to watch that baby undergo two surgeries before he was 6 months old. She is a full time mom all day and a working mom after hours and she will be adding Post Grad student in the next few months.
This approach to life is what has helped her overcome all her challenges thus far, and I have no doubt will carry her through any more she encounters.
She is a Supermommy.
For those mommies who are given a diagnosis of PCOS or something similar, don’t give up. Take the medication recommended and keep trying. It isn’t a guaranteed infertility diagnosis. You are a Supermommy.
For those mommies who feel like they failed their babies by not being able to give birth naturally – you sacrificed something important to you to do what is best for your baby. You faced fear and uncertainty and major surgery. You don’t get much braver than that. You are a Supermommy.
For those mommies who face superficial complications of vaccinations and still choose to do what is best for your child by continuing to vaccinate – you are amazing and brave. You are a Supermommy.
For those mommies who have to watch your child go for surgeries, regardless of the fact that there is no choice or what they are going in for – you are so incredibly brave. There is nothing bigger than our fear for our children, and facing it with a smile for your child is amazing. You are a Supermommy.
And breastfeeding. Mommies; it can be SO hard. I have yet to meet a mommy that says it came naturally to them or their baby. It takes patience and perseverance and you need to relax into it; all of which seems impossible when you are a brand new mom. You are not doing anything wrong, there is nothing wrong with you or your baby. Give both of you a chance to adapt to it. It is an amazing bonding experience, but it is not the be all and end all. Giving your baby formula is not giving up, it is giving them the nourishment they need if you can’t. Do what is right for you; that is always what is best for your baby.
Cassey, there are no words that can truly express how much I respect you and how much you inspire me. Your ability to keep pushing yourself to do better and be better is something I aspire to. You are an incredible mommy; watching Special K blossom into the amazing little kid he is because of your love and attention and dedication inspires me to be a better mommy. You take everything in your stride, you never ever give up or walk away from anything. You are amazing. And you are SO the epitome of a Supermommy. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, and especially with me. Love you my friend.
Mommies, all of you reading, please help me share Cassey’s story; her bravery, her stamina and her tenacity; with other mommies. I feel that it is important for mommies who haven’t heard of PCOS, placenta calcification, Group B Strep and the potential issues that can occur from the BCG shot, to read this so that they aren’t blindsided or overwhelmed by the scary names – AND, more importantly, that they can be overcome and survived.
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You may not have to wait a full week before your next Supermommies fix, but more about that another time. For now…
Sending all the love xx