I can’t believe this is the second to last Supermommy for now! I am so very honoured to be the person these incredible women chose to share the stories of their journeys, and in some cases the journeys themselves, with. For those joining us now, you can read all about my Supermommy series here and be sure to go back and read all of their stories.
So many of us suffer through very difficult pregnancies, while our friends and families around us have no idea. To some of us, not enjoying pregnancy is something we feel ashamed of; so we hide from the world and wait for it to pass.
Today’s Supermommy is one of the main reasons I started this blog. Shafeeka is somebody that is beyond precious to me, who experienced a traumatic pregnancy and birth and early mommyhood without me ever truly understanding what she had been through. Because I was not pregnant or a mommy, she did not feel like she should share this part of her world with me at the time. When I fell pregnant she spoke often of how lonely the experience was without other mommies to share it with, and that is one of the main reasons this site exists today.
I met Shafeeka in the queue the day we went to register at CPUT and we were inseparable from that day. You never saw one of us without the other on campus. She is definitely the sister of my soul and everything about her inspires me.
She is incredibly smart, strong, stunning, supportive, loving, loyal, determined and humble. She is a dedicated wife, an incredible mother, a friend who would do anything for you, a daughter who recognises the huge influence her parents have had in her life and her daughter’s, a woman who draws energy and passion from her career, and a spiritual person who strives always to better herself and serve others.
Although our age gap never affected our friendship, it did bring out the mommy in me which always worked really well for us I am so incredibly proud of, and not at all surprised by, everything she has accomplished. And I have never stopped learning from her, especially when I feel stuck in my role as mommy to Charly. This is one remarkable woman who manages to keep all the balls in the air and find the perfect balance in her life, no matter what the universe throws at her.
This is her story
Shafeeka met hubby Niyaaz 12 years ago on the first day back to school at age 16. They shared a firm Islamic upbringing, which Shafeeka credits with preparing her to face most of what she has thus far. They live in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town with their gorgeous daughter Hanaan, within walking distance of both sets of their parents, who provide them with an unshakable support system.
Shafeeka was married for 3 years when she fell pregnant, and while they were not trying to fall pregnant, they had not been preventing it either. Pregnancy was a very difficult journey for her, and although she never suffered any of the “normal” pregnancy symptoms, she was hospitalised in every trimester of her pregnancy.
In her own words
My pregnancy was difficult, there’s no sugar coating it. You’re always told about the joys… and don’t get me wrong, it’s the joys that keep us sane and alive; but I always share the ‘not so great’ bits in the hope that we as women realise just how much we go through and just how STRONG we are, despite what we often tell ourselves.
I found pregnancy particularly tough since I had no friends who had kids before me and, although my mother and mother-in-law offered great support, I really longed to connect with other mommies-to-be, preferably people I knew.
Although many of my friends would normally call me a ‘socialite’, during my pregnancy I did not want to see people, let alone make new friends. I became withdrawn and constantly cried to be alone. I think everyone around me knew that I had started digging a very deep and dark hole towards depression, but it wasn’t until Hanaan was 3 months that I was diagnosed.
At only a few weeks pregnant Shafeeka had to be rushed to the hospital with breakthrough bleeding and had a traumatic night as she waited to find out if her baby had survived.
In her own words
We found out I was pregnant very early in 2012 and wanted to keep it under wraps until I was at least 5 months due to my fear of anything bad happening; but then I had breakthrough bleeding while walking on the beach with my siblings and friends. I was rushed to hospital and they could not find the heartbeat in the emergency room.
I was admitted and in the ward my bed was between two women, one who had lost her baby and one who had given birth at 15 years old and was suffering with engorged breasts. I did not know which way I was going to go, so I could just wait until they were ready to perform another scan. Needless to say, that night I did not sleep a wink. The following day a scan confirmed that the heartbeat was in fact there and I was told to take it easy.
At the point in pregnancy where everybody said the worst had passed and she would begin to really enjoy her pregnancy, Shafeeka started suffering terrible pains that eventually led her to major abdominal surgery.
In her own words
In my second trimester, I experienced a lot of pain as my belly stretched which was labelled ‘growing pains’ by the GP. After weeks of worsening pain, I knew something was wrong. I was sitting at work, and I kept on feeling this sharp, stabbing pain in my stomach. I called my dad and asked him to please take me back to my GP, now convinced that this cannot possibly be ‘growing pains’.
On our way to the surgery, I inspected my stomach, as I did every day, but this time, I applied a bit more pressure than I usually would and as I pressed to the right of my belly button, I was beside myself with a pain I had never felt before. My amazing doctor suspected peri-umbilical hernia (hernia next to the belly button) but because he was a GP and I was pregnant, he did not have the equipment, let alone the skills, to fully examine me for a hernia.
I was rushed to hospital where I saw the equally fantastic Dr. Allie Ebrahim, a surgeon at Melomed Gatesville. He examined me and confirmed the diagnosis. I was advised to have it removed since it could be a strangulated hernia – where an opening in the stomach lining occurs (or worsens due to pregnancy), fat escapes, the lining closes around it, and the oxygen to the affected area is restricted, causing strangulation and in some cases, gangrene.
When Niyaaz got to the hospital, Dr. Ebrahim, sent me down to have a scan to show me exactly what it looks like, but the sonographers said that there was nothing wrong. At one point, I had two very confused sonographers, both examining me, who showed me, on a screen, in black and white that the surgeon should not be operating.
They sent a report to Dr. Ebrahim which stated their claims and he looked me in the eye and said, “You have strangulated, peri-umbilical hernia, and you need to undergo an operation to remove it”. I was 25 weeks at the time and all I heard was ‘You’re pregnant and I need to cut your stomach’ – I cannot describe what I felt when I asked him, ‘What can go wrong? Can I lose my baby? What if I wait until after I give birth?’.
He said that the pain would get worse, and that it could affect my organs and my baby if I did not undergo the operation. I trusted him. Maybe because I found some comfort in the fact that he was the same surgeon who removed my baby brother’s hernia when he was a toddler. Maybe it was because we shared the same religion, and our values and principles were similar. Maybe, it was just because I knew something wasn’t right.
I asked him when I would need to make the decision and he told me, in his expert opinion, I would need the op the same day. I knew I could lose my baby, and because I had never gone under before, there was no way to tell how my body would react to the anesthetic. I had a few minutes to make the decision. Niyaaz’s words still echo in my mind when I think about that moment, “We may be able to have kids in the future, but there will never be another you.” I agreed and had the op at 4:30pm that same day.
I had no choice but to be brave and TRUST that all would be the way it was meant to, even if that meant that it wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. It was about an hour long procedure, and I recall my last words to my doctor, “Wake me and just tell me that my baby is ok”.
I woke up and before anyone could tell me anything, I felt the baby kick and although she was kicking on my cut from the inside, causing the most excruciating pain I have ever felt – She was alive – I cried…and cried… because of the pain, and because she was there. She was kicking more than ever, letting me know that she was doing alright. Tears streamed down my face, but every move was agony.
For an hour, before they realised that I was in fact lying on my drip, preventing the pain relieving meds from entering my system, I was riddled with the most unimaginable pain – yes, worse than birth. A 5cm cut, on my growing belly, with a gymnast inside. After the plastic tube was removed from under my then 70kg body, I felt some relief and recall asking for a gatsby before falling asleep. I thought I had passed the hardest part.
The next day, my doctor sent the porter to collect me. I then realised that I had undergone an op for a hernia, I had completely forgotten that I may have had a strangulated hernia. When I got to my surgeon’s room, he greeted me and held up a plastic jar with a 2cm BLACK bean shaped thing in it – It was indeed what he had said. I was booked off for two weeks and was discharged the same day.
Because I was pregnant, I was not allowed to take any meds. I even refused Panado, which wouldn’t have helped me in any way – in my opinion. I recall leaving the hospital, barely able to walk, and sitting in a wheelchair was even worse. I could not bend my body to sit, I walked a step a minute and held onto my belly with tears streaming down my face. Porters came running asking to assist, but there was nothing anyone could do.
The 20 minute ride home was unbearable, and the following 5 days were just as hard. I got home, and I had to stay in bed, in between getting bathed by Niyaaz. He cleaned the wound every day and attended to my every need.
Again, when I thought I saw the light at the end of a very difficult few days, I developed a cough. Cough + cut on a growing belly and NO medication = back to the pain I felt post op.
The pain subsided at day seven, but due to a fast growing stomach the cut didn’t heal very well. Eventually, after a few weeks, I was back with a bang, just grateful that it was over.
The third time she was hospitalised was to give birth, a planned and excited stay. The baby’s due date was 29 September and, due to the hernia surgery, her gynae was worried about allowing her to go even a day past that date. The baby was estimated to be big, and Shafeeka wanted to have a natural birth, without drugs, which the doctor was afraid might cause complications. He was afraid that the wound would open with all the pushing, so she had two choices – either she could be induced on the 29th and have a ‘natural’ birth or she could carry the baby until her water broke, but then she would need to have a c-section.
In her own words
I wanted to birth my baby as ‘naturally’ as I was physically able to, so I opted to be induced. When I got to the hospital at 7am on 29 September 2012, the contraction monitor picked up that I was already experiencing contractions, but I didn’t feel anything yet.
Everything that happened afterwards lives vividly in my mind, and although it has cemented my ‘plan’ on how to do this next time (haha), if I had a choice, I would never do this again. This is probably not in order, because I don’t recall what came first – there was just too much going on, but this is what unfolded in the following few hours.
I was given an enema and my water was manually broken. My contractions were crippling, and had me all over the room, even on the floor. Niyaaz tells me that I was totally out of it, almost unable to speak, with my eyes shut most of the time.
This carried on until about 3pm, when the nurse suggested they contact the anesthetist to administer an epidural. I said no, but at this point, I was unable to see straight. My gynae arrived and all I remember is the look on his face. He seemed worried. When the anesthetist arrived, Niyaaz had to hold me up so that he could provide some pain relief. Niyaaz almost passed out – he hates needles. I didn’t feel a thing because the pain I was feeling everywhere else was just too much. By 4:15pm, my gynae said it was time to deliver my baby. They used steel forceps, a vacuum suction, a cut, more steel forceps, and more suctioning, and my baby was still not ready.
Although the epidural helped with the pain, I could still feel them doing whatever it was they were doing to my nether regions. At 4:30, I heard my gynae say that they had tried everything to get the baby out, but I would need to have a C-section in 5 minutes. In my mind, I asked for the strength to be able to push, and heard Niyaaz next to me. He said, “You’re almost there” – and at 4:45pm, Hanaan, whose name in Arabic means ‘affectionate, mercy, loving’, was born.
My body went into shock and I was shaking because of the epidural, so much so that I could not really hold her. Niyaaz took her and they started to stitch me up again, after they had to remove a section of the placenta that broke off inside me. They later said that she also came out facing up, which was what made it harder on me. And because she kept on showing and then going back in, they could not see that the forceps were harming her more than anything else. She arrived with bruises all over her face and ears, which only cleared when she was 6 months old.
Two days after we left the hospital, we discovered that Hanaan had jaundice so back we went, but luckily for us, she did not need to be admitted. We managed to treat it at home, which was a great relief.
It was a traumatizing experience albeit rewarding. If I had the choice again, I’d wait until the baby is ready and would not recommend induction. This time, because of my prior operation, I felt like I had no choice if I wanted to deliver my baby naturally, but for me, there was nothing natural about that.
Being a new mommy
Shafeeka faced the difficulty of a newborn who barely slept and a diagnosis of postpartum depression.
In her own words
Although I do know that depression reared its ugly head in my second trimester already, the birth and all that followed definitely affected the severity of it. When Hanaan was 3 months old, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
As a baby, Hanaan was an incredibly difficult sleeper. She slept for 60 minutes at a time, and that was at night, she barely ever slept during the day. Until she turned 9 months she refused to be held by anyone at night, including Niyaaz, so even though he wanted to help, (because she was bottle fed), he couldn’t without her screaming for hours. At ten months, Hanaan started sleeping for 3 hour stretches at a time and things started to look up.
The first few months were tough. I battled depression, debilitating migraines which started after she was born, and a 80kg body. But after a grueling 10 months of just rolling with the punches, I slowly started to feel like me again.
Going from a fairly relaxed household, with just Niyaaz and I, who were very spontaneous and took road trips over a weekend if we felt like it, to having a baby, was a big change which nothing really prepares you for. You know that, ‘sleep while you can’ thing? … yup… that.
A difficult path & more hospitals
Hanaan has been hospitalised three times since she was born. Although they have been incredibly blessed that the causes weren’t actively life threatening, seeing your baby go under anesthetic and undergo surgery three times is too much in my opinion.
In her own words
Hanaan had recurring throat infections, so the doctors recommended her tonsils be removed. She also suffers from chronic constipation and was hospitalised to alleviate the discomfort associated with it. Since the operation more than a year ago, she is still drinking Movicol every day to help her pass stool. Her final procedure was to remove her adenoids, which were enlarged and restricted her breathing, causing chronic sleep apnea at night. At the same time, her surgeon also inserted grommets.
For us, and I’m sure for any parent, a single hospital stay is one too many, and although she has spent some time in hospital, whenever we end up there, we realise just how lucky we are. We’ve seen kids not able to eat by themselves, or dress themselves, so when we look at the bigger picture, there’s nothing to complain about really.
Hanaan will be three in September and is one of the most amazing children I have ever met. She is incredibly intelligent; full of life and spirit and energy. She is beautiful and gentle and a real testament to her incredible family. From a very biased aunt to a very biased mommy
In her own words
It’s always difficult describing your own child, but I will describe her the way everyone who knows her does.
Hanaan, at the age of two, is incredibly smart, with a vast vocabulary, putting most adults I know to shame with her grammar, often rectifying those around her. At 12 months, she was able to speak in full sentences.
It took Hanaan one hour to go from nappies to potty trained and in big girl pants. Our reward system came in the form of stickers, charts, a new wardrobe and a ‘panty party’ – an actual party where we invited her friends over (there’s always a reason to celebrate)! Niyaaz says I take it too far sometimes… no such thing!
Hanaan is besotted with animals, fast cars, and books and hopes to have her very own horse. She takes after her father who loves fast cars and we recently took her to Killarney to watch drag races. She absolutely loved it! She has two cats at home; our rescue cat Bella and her daughter Chunky, who by the way was born on Mother’s Day the same as me; four birds named, Sky, Barney, Twinkle and Storm, and a cat at Niyaaz’s parents house, which she believes is hers too, the ever so cute Chloe.
Hanaan was also referred to as possibly ‘gifted’ by a few psychologists who still want to administer the Griffiths Mental Development Test, I’m not so keen just yet. She is thriving at a Montessori school, where she spends four half days a week.
Through this challenging journey through pregnancy and parethood, Shafeeka has also been managing and growing a successful career.
Some of her amazing side projects and achievements, while working full time and being a dedicated wife and mother, include:
• Profiling of Lauren Booth, Palestinian activist, English broadcaster, journalist and sister-in-law to previous British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
• Head of PR for Coke Town, locally produced short film
• PR Director for Maher Zain’s South African tour
• I also belonged to a casting agency, and filmed an international commercial; I stopped after a year. I was no longer enjoying it.
• I was also profiled in the Sondag Son (2 page spread) focusing on my career and lifestyle
• We also do quite a bit of charity work through the car club Outlaws Cape Town; Niyaaz heads up the car club with a few managing members
• I am soon due to present a proposal which will be the start of a whole new journey for me
In her own words
Anyone who knows me, knows how seriously I take my career and the choices I make to get me closer to where I want to be. I studied PR at CPUT and started as an intern at a PR agency, Rabbit in a Hat in 2008. I spent 5 years there, which brought to light a pertinent realisation. I discovered that, while I learnt a lot, and met amazing people, I thought I loved what I did because I was good at it. Turns out, you can be good at something but not really have your heart in it. I’ve always been very open with my employers about finding what I love to do, while doing what I thought I had to do, if that makes sense. After 5 wonderful years, I parted ways with the company and the people I still have as friends, and joined a communications agency in Kenilworth where I currently hold the position of Copywriter and Creative Director.
I love music, I always have, and I knew I wanted to work within the music industry but never made a move, because when I started working, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do within the industry. That was until I came across a Swedish/Lebanese artist, who produces Islamic inspired music, Maher Zain and his representing label, Awakening Records who are based in London. I have never limited myself to one project at a time, and my career is made up of all the things I’ve ever dreamed of. After a few years of liaising with Awakening, I was involved in the concert that attracted roughly 15 000 people to the Athlone Stadium in 2013.
I don’t see my ‘job’ or career as something that takes me away from my daughter/family, but rather as an important part of my ability to contribute to their lives. It’s important for Hanaan to know that I enjoy work, and that it’s possible to do anything you want (I’ll probably take that back when she tells me she wants to be a race car driver).
I made a promise to myself that I will NEVER wake up NOT wanting to do what I do, so I make sure that every day has something exciting in it. And if it doesn’t exist in my life, I create it…
Having a sick child when you have to work is one of the most challenging things for me. I do consider myself very lucky though, since her day-parents are my parents and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They take and fetch her from school, she spends the afternoon with them, and sometimes does not want to come home. Her ‘mamma’ and ‘pappa’ are everything to her and she truly gets the very best from them. She’s their only grandkid at this point. She spends most of her time over the weekends with her second set of grandparents, ‘ma’ and ‘pa’ (Niyaaz’s parents) who spoil her a great deal too.
As a mom, I do still call, sometimes too many times, just to make sure she hasn’t taken a turn for the worst when she’s ill, but my mom is more than capable – she raised me after all and I turned out okay…
Where are you now?
I am exactly where I need to be.
As a mom
I think I’m doing alright. She often says “Mommy, you’re the best in the world” and that’s all I need to hear, really. She’s a real gem.
In your career
I am loving my ‘new day, new adventure’ theme for my life right now. I do absolutely anything I want, and push myself every day to take me one step closer to the ultimate dream. The dream, can’t be revealed right now, but invite me back in a few months and I’ll share all!
Growing your family
Right now, there is no plan, but also no preventative measure 😉 Hanaan really does keep me on my toes and if I had a choice, I’d wait another year or two before I have another child. I think, for now, because I know with absolute certainty what I want to do for the rest for my life, I’m focused on that, and once I make that official, which is hopefully in the next few months, we can chat again…
Words of Wisdom
To mommies who are having difficult pregnancies
This is by far the hardest thing I had to tell myself – “All as it should be.” I controlled the things I could, such as what I ate, when I exercised, and resting when my body needed a break. The things I couldn’t, I had to let go of. Look after yourself and reach out for support from those around you.
To mommies who have experienced difficult births
If you’re reading this, you survived, so well done, momma!
It’s important to note that when you’re feeling low, never tell yourself that your feelings don’t matter. Do not try to wish those feelings away. Reach out to your support system, or a support group of mommies who’ve been there. Sharing your experiences may help you to understand what you’re going through.
I know that often we try to ignore our feelings, because we ourselves can’t really explain how we feel. It takes a lot to reach out, but it’s harder to suppress or deal with bottled up emotion all by ourselves and the consequences which follow. Sometimes a good talk or hug from a special someone can go a long way.
For me, it was Zumba and Insanity workouts with a friend, Abeda, who stood by me through it all. And then of course, the occasional rants over the phone with Mandy and lots of hugs when we did see one another.
To mommies struggling with small babies
It’s okay to be frightened. We’re not only frightened of the responsibility, but also by the mere fact that we’re scared. We get so consumed by the daunting task of caring for someone so tiny, and at the same time, we are overwhelmed by the newness of it all. It’s a lot to deal with, release some pressure…
It’s okay, really. We learn as we go, in every aspect of our lives, and motherhood is no different. While we pick up tips and learn from fellow mommies, we really have our own journey to travel, and no road is smooth, no matter what anyone says. Block out what you must, take in what you need…and think only about TODAY.
To parents on how to approach or prepare for your child going for surgery or being hospitalised
The most important thing for us was to find doctors/surgeons who made us feel comfortable. That in itself provides piece of mind.
Although this is easier said than done, try to remain calm, since your energy can affect the process. Go for second opinions, ask a lot of questions, speak to other mommies who have gone through something similar, and know that children are so much more resilient than we think.
We made sure we took Hanaan’s favourite toys and books with, prepared her favourite treats (frozen strawberries and peeled grapes) after her tonsillectomy, which she enjoyed with the ice cream they gave her.
To mommies on having and growing a career while being a mommy and wife and facing unforeseen difficulties
We all get knocked down from time to time, if we didn’t, would we know how strong we are? Probably not. As a mom and wife, it’s important to truly believe that the choices you make will benefit your family. It’s possible to do what you love, while earning an honest living and contributing to your household. When you have choices, consider yourself blessed, since there are those who do not have this luxury.
When I am confronted with a tough decision, I request a coffee/tea date with Niyaaz. It always helps to chat about the pros and cons, I even make lists, and I always feel tons better afterwards. Everything I do, I do with my family and Creator in mind. My family gets me going and my faith keeps me moving!
Thank you for allowing me the space to share so much of me and my world. To think that most of the events took place within a three year period. I write often, every day actually, but having to write about myself and the experiences which I believe shaped me more than anything else, is empowering. I’ve been asked by a few blogs and a magazine about my birth story, but it never felt quite right. I am honored to be able to share this here, first, with one of my favourite people in this world, and then with you, her readers. Thank you for the awesome blog and may it continue to be an amazing, and safe platform for woman. Thank you for always being there for me and my family. We love you guys so much.
This amazing strong mommy faced an incredibly daunting pregnancy, she sat between a mommy who had lost a baby and a young mommy suffering the aftermath of being a new mommy while unsure if she was still carrying her baby, she had to choose to have major abdominal surgery knowing she might lose her baby, she recovered from that surgery without any medication to manage the unimaginable pain of her fast growing ever kicking baby tap dancing on a surgical cut, she endured hours of excrutiating labour with an occiput posterior facing baby, she endured the trauma of them trying to get her baby out over and over using forceps and suctioning and manual intervention, her placenta broke off inside of her sending her into shock, her baby was born covered in bruises and marks which lasted months after her birth, that beautiful baby never slept while she battled with postnatal depression and then she had to face her baby girl going into surgery three times.
She is a Supermommy.
And mommies, she is planning to do it all over again at some point as they have every intention of having another child… And she still hopes for a natural labour. So, to those of you who are suffering through a difficult pregnancy or who have recently survived a traumatic birth or who are wading through the mire that is early parenthood, know that the trauma really does fade when you are faced with the incredible blessing that is your child. Know that the love you feel will transcend any suffering or pain you might have been through. You will survive, you will thrive and it is all worth it. Not only that, the time will come when you will want to do it all over again.
Shafeeka, contrary to all of the above, there really are no words to express how in awe I am of the woman you have become, the mother you are, the wife you are, the driven and inspired careerwoman you are. To watch how you face the world with such positivity, such belief and hope for the future, such determination to shape the world into the better place you envision it to be; in spite of every challenge and hurt thrown at you; is simply and overwhelmingly inspiring. I am grateful every single moment of every day to have you and your amazing family in our lives. You are the definition of a Supermommy. Thank you so very much for trusting me with your story.
There are so very many mommies out there who feel so incredibly alone in their journey and challenges through pregnancy and parenthood, so many who feel they have nobody to turn to, nobody who will understand, and who feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. YOU can make a difference to that mommy by simply clicking on the buttons at the end of this post and sharing Shafeeka’s journey and her inspired emergence on the other side.
Sending all the love xx