Maybe that’s because Roxy has learnt, the hard way, not to take anything for granted. When baby Adrienne was born in January this year, Roxy heard the words no new mother wants to hear: “birth defect”.
“Adrienne was born with congenital hypothyroidism (CH), a condition where the thyroid is either defective or, as in Adrienne’s case, entirely absent,” she explains. Completely undetectable during pregnancy, Roxy learnt of the condition only after Adrienne’s cord blood was tested and revealed that her levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) were alarmingly high – three times as high as they should be. When Adrienne was just two days old, a radiologist confirmed her paediatrician’s fears of CH.
Any new mother knows the confusing mix of happiness, terror and awe that accompanies the birth of a child. Add to that the news that your baby has a potentially life-changing condition, and it’s easy to understand why Roxy felt a draining cocktail of emotions – from devastation to guilt. “Only one in 4 000 children is born with CH,” she says.
While you may be aware that the thyroid is involved in metabolic function, in babies the hormone thyroxine (which is secreted by the thyroid) is responsible for ensuring normal development – so, if it’s absent, the consequences can be severe and include mental and physical disabilities.
On her blog, Roxy admits, “I felt as if I had failed to bring her into the world safely and healthily … I felt like I had failed this one task I was given. The most important task I’ve ever had to complete. And I hadn’t gotten it right.”
Her guilt and confusion were compounded by the fact that she had tried to do everything right during her pregnancy, from taking folic acid to exercising. The reality, though, is that no one knows precisely what causes CH – even the most textbook pregnancy may culminate in a birth where the baby’s gland is absent. There is nothing she could have done – or done differently – to prevent the condition.
Roxy says that she is slowly coming to terms with this, and is working through her anxiety. “I am feeling a lot better than I did in the early days,” she says, describing them as a blur. “I was so stressed by Ady’s diagnosis that I can hardly remember the first two weeks of her life. Combined with my raging hormones, I really struggled. I cried constantly.”
Thankfully, the diagnosis has come with a simple cure. CH can be controlled with just one pill a day, crushed and put on the inside of Adrienne’s cheeks. The condition is also monitored with blood tests every three months. “With the amazing care of Ady’s paed and endocrinologist, she’s going to be just fine.”
It’s a happy ending to a story that started out happily, too. Roxy met her husband, Neil Shraga, when both were in high school. “Our paths crossed again just after my matric year and we’ve been together ever since,” she says. The decision to start a family was an easy one. Neil had wanted kids “for the longest time,” so after a lot of talking, the couple realised it was time to go ahead.
The pregnancy was smooth sailing, as was the birth. “With the help of my incredible doula and gynae I gave birth naturally – not without an epidural though! I gave in to the pain 24 hours in, with another four hours still to go.”
Seeing her baby for the first time was a moment “too emotional to comprehend,” Roxy says – and she still hasn’t quite come to terms with just how miraculous her daughter is. “Adrienne is the most amazing baby. Have you ever heard of a baby who doesn’t cry when she’s having blood drawn? That’s Adrienne!” Generous with her smiles, Adrienne loves bath time – her special time with her dad.
She’s also consistently surprised by the power of natural instinct. “I have never considered myself a maternal person. I was never broody, but this feels natural to me. I think it’s inherent in every woman – the ability to know what’s best for her child.”
Roxy’s advice for other mothers walking a difficult road with their babies is to surround yourself with a solid support structure, “Whether it’s your friends, family or doctors. And you must never feel guilty about asking questions – ask as many as you want. It is both your right and responsibility, on behalf of your child.”
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.