Guest written by Mandy-Lee Miller from PREGNANT IN CAPE TOWN
There are so many different kinds of families out there; married and unmarried and remarried and single, any age, sex, any number of parents and step parents or biological or adopted parents. There was one I hadn’t really considered the ramifications of until I rekindled a high school friendship when I was pregnant, and that is where one parent is home with the kids while the other works offshore (or in the navy, army or other jobs that require absence from home) for long stretches of time.
We all have the greatest admiration for single moms, and how amazing and strong and independent they are while doing everything themselves for their kids. We have huge respect for moms who are married or in relationships, and how they balance being parents and nurturing and maintaining loving relationships with their partners. What about the moms who are doing everything for their kids all alone half the time and trying to nurture and maintain loving relationships with their partners who are away every other month for weeks or months at a time?
Today’s Supermommy, Tessa, was in most of my classes through high school; we were friendly but not close friends. She was always sweet and sincere and smiling. We lost touch after Matric and then connected on Facebook in 2013, with her discovering my blog and reading all about the tough times in my pregnancy and being in exactly the same boat with her second pregnancy. You will often hear me say that finding Tessa was one of the very best things to come out of this blog.
Her baby G was due exactly one month before Charly and we had very similar pregnancy complaints; except she was already a mommy to the ridiculously gorgeous Georgia and her husband Gareth is Operations Manager (East African ops) of a large oil and gas services company and was away for a month every other month. I have no idea how she does it.
I would never have coped without Brett during my first pregnancy, let alone through the c-section recovery and becoming a first time mom. But Tessa did, and she made it through a second pregnancy with a boisterous toddler. I hope her story of strength and resilience and sacrifice for her children inspires you as much as it does me.
This is her story
Before becoming a mommy, Tessa’s greatest passion was psychology and counselling.
In her own words
I received my honours in Psychology from UCT. I worked in a few NGOs over the years and spent a lot of time volunteering at LifeLine as a counsellor/facilitator/supervisor. I thrived on deep, meaningful connections with people. I was also on a mission to understand myself! My 20s were my wild years and psychology gave me a deeper understanding of things that I was going through and helped me on a path of self awareness.
Relationship with Gareth
Gareth and Tessa have the sweetest love story. They knew each other in junior school and actually “went out” for a week or so in Standard 5 (meaning they held hands a few times and kissed once or twice). They lost touch after that for many years. In November 2010 after they had both gone through broken engagements, they reconnected on Facebook. Gareth was on an oil rig in Israel at the time and they chatted online for 2 weeks non-stop and fell madly in love before even meeting in person as adults.
In her own words
It was a complete whirlwind romance. He came home from that trip and we went to Mozambique on holiday a week later. We never looked back!!! I was pregnant 5 months later and we got married 7 months after falling pregnant. We had been together for a year by the time we got married and I happily walked down the aisle with a 7 month preggie belly.
Gareth’s job required him to work a 4 week rotation at that time – 4 weeks offshore, then 4 weeks at home. It was difficult at times, but his job pays well and we both decided the sacrifice was worth it in the long run; especially considering we were building our first house in Noordhoek at the time. Being apart was especially difficult during my pregnancy.
A First Pregnancy
Tessa suffered terribly during her pregnancy. She had chronic “morning” sickness from 6 weeks and reflux so bad that everything she ate made her physically ill. She was alone a lot of the time and was completing her Honours in psychology right up to the November, with Georgia due in January.
In her own words
I had nausea and vomiting ALL times of the day and night. Things improved for a few weeks during the second trimester, but then the third trimester brought horrific heartburn. I went through a bottle of gaviscon a day and could barely keep anything down.
I was also very stressed because this was my honours year, which came with a lot of pressure, but it was all worth it. I finished in November 2011 and gorgeous Georgie was born in January 2012. I am very blessed that my family are a huge support system for me, during pregnancy and beyond. I relied on them A LOT while Gareth was away (and still do actually!)
Even though Gareth was away so much, he was still incredibly supportive and mindful of what I was going through. It had some really heartbreaking moments for both of us, with him not being here for all the pregnancy milestones and ups and downs. But we were over the moon to start our family; it was one of the many dreams we shared.
Tessa had always harboured an overwhelming fear of childbirth, so with their circumstances as they stood, an elective c-section was a relief for her.
In her own words
Honestly natural childbirth has always terrified me; I suffered severe anxiety about the baby getting stuck halfway through labour and then needing to have an emergency C-section anyway.
Due to the nature of Gareth’s job, we also wanted to maximise the amount of time we had at home as a new family; we couldn’t really afford to “waste” a couple of weeks being overdue waiting for baby to come naturally. The birth went completely smoothly and we had a beautiful baby girl exactly as planned.
A new baby
Gareth had to leave for work when Georgia was only 2 weeks old, which was extremely tough on both of them. Tessa took her new bundle and moved in with her parents until his return. She found the recovery from her c-section to be relatively easy. Georgia was an extremely alert and beautiful baby, who was very sensitive, wanted mommy and only mommy, and never slept.
In her own words
It was devastating for Gareth and I to be apart during this time and so difficult for him to leave his 2 week old baby girl. He had to work as much as possible though, because we needed the money to finish building our new home. We have always tried to see the bigger picture in our lives, to look for the positive and to understand that this will mean we have to make certain sacrifices for now. We do our best to maintain this attitude, it helps us get through the toughest of our time apart.
Georgie and I went to stay with my parents, I could not survive without them!! Their kids and grandkids are their life and they go above and beyond to help us.
Georgia was a sensitive baby who wanted only me. As much as I loved that she wanted me, it was also exhausting as I felt I could never get a break. Not having Gareth there with us in the beginning made this feel a lot bigger at the time. She was born with her eyes WIDE open and has remained a bright, high spirited, inquisitive little soul since day one. She was always ahead of the game in terms of development and was talking in full sentences by the time she was 18 months old.
Breastfeeding was a bit tricky to start off with (the usual cracked/bleeding nipples), but I went to an amazing lactation specialist who helped me with latching and after that I had no problems at all. Georgia was obsessed with the breast. I fed on demand and she wanted to feed ALL the time. She refused a dummy or a bottle, as hard as I tried, which made things difficult at times.
She was such a horrible sleeper!! I found myself in a situation where she would only sleep if she was next to me with the breast in her mouth; she used me as a dummy. If I moved a muscle she would wake. Sleep deprivation became a huge problem and most nights were soul destroying. Many months later, when she was 8 months old, we tried sleep training out of desperation; I just wasn’t coping anymore. It was excruciating, but it helped to get her off the breast at night and her sleeping did improve slightly for a little while.
When she was 5 months old, Georgia was admitted to Constantiaberg hospital with RSV, a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages of small children. She continued to struggle with chest infections and was hospitalised again at 15 months. While Gareth was there the first time, the family were apart for the second.
In her own words
Thank heavens the first event happened when Gareth was home; it was one of the scariest times of my life. Georgia was placed in high care in the paediatric ward on oxygen for 3 nights. As tiny and as sick as she was, she still showed off her fierce little personality and the staff nicknamed her “Little Miss Attitude”.
She struggled with chest infections after that and we had another RSV scare when she was 14 months old, with another 3 night stay in Constantiaberg. Gareth was away this time, which was incredibly upsetting for us all; for me to not have him here and for him to not be able to be there for us. Luckily my parents were able to be there with me and we stayed in constant contact with Gareth.
Soon after this episode, she was diagnosed as having Infant Asthma. She is on asthma medication and an asthma pump daily. The paediatrician says she will most likely outgrow the asthma by the age of 7 or 8 years old. I truly hope so, as every episode scares me and I hate seeing my baby girl like that.
From birth, Tessa noticed a very small lump above Georgia’s left eye. At first it was so small that people dismissed it and said it was nothing, but as she grew, so did the lump. She took her to a paediatrician who said it wasn’t an issue and it would dissolve back into her head with time. Tessa persisted and they eventually were faced with surgery.
In her own words
It completely freaked me out. My mother’s intuition told me something wasn’t right. Eventually we took her to a plastic surgeon who confirmed that it would not disappear on its own. Fortunately it was a benign lump, but it was basically a lump of skin cells that would just keep on growing if it wasn’t removed. The surgery was scheduled when she was 15 months old.
Sitting in the operating room with her on my lap while they gave her the anaesthetic is a memory that I will never forget. We had scheduled it so that Gareth would be home and with us at the hospital and fortunately everything went smoothly. She was a bit out of it when she woke up and screamed for a while, but then just set up camp at the breast. During these times I was so grateful I was still breastfeeding; it was like a magic wand that calmed her instantly. By the next day she was back to her feisty little self and it was as if nothing had happened.
On daddy being away
As Georgia has gotten older, Gareth being away has affected her differently. It is a difficult thing for even the smartest of little people to understand. She adores her daddy and in some ways it is getting easier for her now that she can chat to him on Skype and understand the countdown until he comes home.
In her own words
It wasn’t until Georgie was about 18 months old that we noticed anything. She missed her daddy so much, having nightmares and calling for him when he was away; but when he got home she gave him the cold shoulder at first and it seemed like she was punishing him for leaving her. It would take a few days for the two of them to bond but after that they were inseparable again.
Now that she is older, she has a better understanding of what is going on. She chats to Gareth on Skype when he is away and we count the sleeps during the week before he gets back. She is now thrilled to see him when he gets home.
There is no easy way to handle the separation. Georgia is still extremely attached to me and I believe that it is because I am the constant in her life. She now knows that daddy comes and goes, but mommy is always there. Though the separation is extremely difficult, when Gareth is home, they share so much quality time together. He is available for her all day every day for a full month. In this way we are so blessed.
They wanted a big family and Tessa wanted 4 kids close in age; she is from a family of 6 as well. They decided shortly after Georgia’s surgery that they wanted to try for another, and a few weeks later they found out they were pregnant. Her second pregnancy was not that much better than her first; and this time she had a very dependent a toddler to contend with.
In her own words
I suffered from terrible morning sickness again, primarily during the first trimester; though it wasn’t quite as bad as the first pregnancy. The second trimester was much easier, but the third trimester brought back the unmanageable heartburn and I was back on my bottle of gaviscon a day habit. I felt more prepared emotionally and mentally for this pregnancy, perhaps because I knew what to expect.
It was extremely difficult toward the end though; dealing with an almost 2 year old toddler and being heavily pregnant. I relied on my folks a lot while Gareth was away; often going to visit and letting them entertain Georgie just so I could put my feet up and rest for a few minutes. In case I haven’t stressed it enough, I would be completely lost without them!
Even though I was, to a degree, used to Gareth being away; I think there were times when it was much more difficult this time around. Georgia was still sleeping terribly; the more pregnant I was, the more tired I was and the more she wanted to be with me. It was also during this time that she would wake screaming for Gareth when he was away, so I was beyond tired and the hormones were also sending my emotions all over the place.
I found trying to stick to some kind of routine while he was gone helped, but it was not always easy to do. And then I felt like every time I had settled her while he was away, he came home and we had to start all over again when he left. I had days where I wondered what on earth I had been thinking and how I was going to manage two small children by myself half the time.
A pigeon pair
They were so excited at the news that they were expecting a little boy and would have their perfect pigeon pair. Tessa was understandably worried about Georgia’s reaction to the new baby and, like so many mom’s before her, that she wouldn’t be able to love the new baby as much as she loved her firstborn.
In her own words
I experienced a lot of anxiety about how Georgie would react to the new baby. I was worried that she would feel left out, neglected or as though we did not love her anymore. She had been the centre of our universe thus far and things were about to change dramatically. Honestly I also wondered how I would ever love another baby as much as I loved her. I felt like she dominated my whole heart. These thoughts were very unsettling.
We prepared her as much as we could for the new baby. She knew she was getting a baby brother and was excited about it. We encouraged her to “love” my tummy as much as possible, sing to him etc. She was actually quite protective and possessive.
Part of the preparation for baby number two meant that Gareth had to take on a lot more responsibility for Georgia. It was challenging because she wanted mommy to do everything for her; Daddy was the playmate, not the caregiver. It may have been more emphasised in our situation, but I am sure it is an issue that a lot of families face.
The toughest part by far was that Gareth had to take over the role of putting Georgie to sleep, which only I had ever done. We had to do it to prepare her for being without mommy for the 3 nights I was in hospital. It took a few nights of strong resistance, hysterical screaming and crying which almost broke my heart, but after that daddy had won the battle and she was absolutely fine with him while I was gone.
Baby Boy Arrives
For all the same reasons as before, with the addition of having already had one, the new baby was coming via elective C-section only 4 days after Georgie’s birthday. They made the decision that Georgia would only come meet the baby on the second day to prevent her seeing Tessa right after the surgery.
In her own words
I bled quite a bit afterwards though and they had to give me meds to stop the bleeding which gave me horrible shaking episodes, but besides that it all went very well. New baby Gareth, named for his daddy, was perfect. I couldn’t believe I had ever doubted being able to love him as much as I loved Georgie. My heart simply overflowed with love the minute I saw my beautiful baby boy, who looked so very much like his big sister.
I missed Georgia terribly, but I was worried that it would scare her to see me unable to get out of bed with the catheter strapped in, so she didn’t come that first day. I was up, showered, ready and waiting for her on the second day. She also fell in love with her brother straight away and the visit was very precious.
She cried hysterically when she had to leave the hospital, as she didn’t want to leave me or the baby. My heart broke watching her daddy carry her out and hearing her screaming from the parking lot.
I felt a lot of guilt in those early days. Guilt that she was no longer the only one. Guilt that I shared my heart. As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt almost like I was betraying her by loving her brother so much. It was a huge adjustment period for all of us. Georgia struggled when she saw me breastfeeding baby Gareth. She showed us that she was upset, but fortunately she did not take her frustration out on the baby. She was very protective of him from day one.
We were very blessed that Gareth was home for 6 weeks after the birth, giving us some good quality family time to settle and find a kind of rhythm.
On Baby G
Baby G was different to Georgia from day one. Overall, he has been a lot more chilled than she was. He is a lot more open to people, and just a more relaxed baby in general. He walked very early, taking his first steps at 10 months, but didn’t crawl until 11 months old. He has been slow to start talking in comparison to Georgia. He is really teaching me to view each of them as unique individuals and NOT to compare them. This is an ongoing lesson, one I am very grateful for.
The first night he just slept and didn’t even want to feed. I panicked of course and spent the whole night trying to force feed him with the memory of Georgia setting up camp on the breast straight away, I assumed he “should” do that too. He started drinking well on the third day much to my relief and has breastfed very well ever since then. He is now 19 months old and I have only just weaned him 2 weeks ago.
Exactly as with his sister, our main issue with him is related to sleep. He slept well for the first few weeks of his life, but since then has been a shocking sleeper, even worse than Georgie actually. Sleep deprivation has been a major problem in our home, especially with two of them with sleeping issues and me having to manage them both without support most nights.
He woke every 45 minutes to one hour for most of the first year. Like Georgie, he refused a dummy or a bottle and was obsessed with the breast. He drank and used it for comfort all day and night. It was a nightmare. I have had to sleep train him a few times which does help a bit, but every time he gets a new tooth or gets sick we are back to square one.
Baby G also struggled with recurring chest issues as a baby and was diagnosed as having Infant Asthma just after his first birthday. He is also on daily meds, but has reacted well to them and very rarely needs his pump. Overall his asthma is not as bad as Georgia’s.
On daddy being away
Baby G is such a chilled, happy little guy. He simply accepts that his father comes and goes and when Gareth comes home he is thrilled to see him straight away; completely different from Georgie.
Life with two toddlers
From wanting four kids, Tessa has officially decided that two is enough. She has not had a full night’s sleep since her first pregnancy, and severe sleep deprivation and trying to juggle being a full time mom and maintain her own and the children’s relationships with Gareth long distance takes it’s toll. They are beginning to find a good rhythm as a family and Tessa is beginning to find small ways to include little gaps of time for herself.
In her own words
Honestly, I find being a mom the hardest job in the world. The sleep deprivation combined with the constant 24/7 work load is A LOT to deal with. Some days I feel angry, irritated, frustrated and exhausted. Yet other days I feel like I am coping well. It is a rollercoaster ride.
Both kids are very attached to me and now that baby G is a bit older, he poses more of a “threat” to Georgie. They compete for my attention, which can often end in disaster. They are very close though and Georgie is a great big sister.
When Gareth is away I try my best to stick to a good routine, which really helps a lot. I make sure that we keep busy, my kids are both so active. Fortunately we have a lot of friends with kids, so they have lots of playdates and outings. We also see my parents a lot which helps in a big way.
The most difficult part is not having time to myself. On a good day I will manage to get about 1 hour 30 minutes of alone time, while Georgie is at school and baby G is having his nap. We have a nanny 3 times a week which is also a big help. Baby G is happy to go for walks with her or play with her; though Georgia refuses to spend time with her, like I said, she is a feisty little woman who still only really wants mommy!
Being apart & Making it work
This kind of “long distance” relationship is heavily dependent on trust and ongoing communication to make it work. It also takes a huge amount of faith and a shared vision for where you are and where you want your family to be. Being alone for so much of your time is a sacrifice both of you make now for that envisioned future.
In her own words
We have the same vision for our family and being on the same page really helps. We are both so aware of the struggles that the other one is enduring whilst being apart, which bonds us together somehow.
We chat on whatsapp every day, so that it’s almost like he is just at the office. We also Skype while he is away, which is a big help for me and the kids. Even though he isn’t here, he is still very much clued up on what is going on at home on a day to day basis. Communication is key and we have a rock solid relationship.
As mentioned before, we realise that we need to make sacrifices in order to have a certain quality of life and for our future. We are both very grateful to the other for the roles we play in our family. He is extremely supportive.
I won’t lie; there are moments when I resent the fact that he is away so much. Of course I would prefer him to be at home every night with us, but I try to remind myself of the pros of his job, like the fact that we have such amazing quality time together when he is home. This helps us get through the times apart.
Gratitude plays a huge part in our lives. We realise how blessed we are to have found each other, to share the same dream for our lives and that we have two gorgeous, mostly healthy children.
There is something about having somebody so near and yet so far that I find truly heartbreaking. Yet there is something about finding the love of your life and sharing such a strong connection that not even long stretches of time apart can fray, that I find truly beautiful.
Because Tessa is somebody I share a huge part of my heart with, I have been her person on the other end of the phone when she has had the worst possible day with two sick children and no sleep for days and 20 more days before she can be held and comforted by the man that she loves and misses and calls husband. I have felt her heart break a thousand times as she has had to say goodbye to him or comfort her children when they just want their daddy, and I have seen how she keeps smiling and loving and growing and teaching these incredibly beautiful sweet natured loving amazing little kids what it means to love and be loved and work and sacrifice and invest for the future.
I have also seen how their whole family lights up when they are together; the deep and very obvious love and devotion that comes from the intense quality time they get when they are together and the appreciation they all have for that time. How often do we not appreciate the time with the people we love when we see them every single day?
Tessa faces everything with a positivity that puts me to shame. She gives her whole heart and soul to her children to ensure they never feel like they are lacking in anything. She nurtures and grows not only the relationship between herself and Gareth, but also the relationship between two busy and challenging toddlers and their father. She loves and misses the love of her life for a month at a time, but never lets her children see her cry. She runs from one child to the other all night every night and considers 3 wake ups each for them to be a good night. She has nursed them back to health, staying up all night with a feverish toddler while breastfeeding a baby who was struggling to breathe; with no hope of relief or backup the next day.
She is a Supermommy.
Tessa, you are amazing. I would not be the mom I am today without your love and warmth and advice and guidance and the incredible example you have set for me on what it is actually possible to achieve even without having slept in years. Your ability to see beauty and love and hope in the world no matter how you might be feeling, and to capture and share it with the world is an incredible gift. You are a remarkable mother who is raising the most special of children. You are a Supermommy.
Mommies, please share Tessa’s story. There are so many mommies out there with partners working away, who will share in her heartbreak and may have some learnings to find in her story – it really is as easy as clicking on the buttons at the end of this post and reaching out a hand to somebody who might be in need.
Sending all the love xx
Source: PREGNANT IN CAPE TOWN