With Father’s Day just around the corner, Singaporean families may be planning various ways to celebrate at home with Dad. Despite the quarantine measures, it’s not too difficult to put a party together and celebrate good times with good food and merry-making.
But perhaps what’s really needed (now more so than ever), is giving thanks for the presence of the main man in your life: your first superhero as well as the father to your children.
A devastating time
We know that our June Mum of the Month, Magdalene McWhorter, will be doing just this. She was 4 months pregnant with her first child Naomi when her husband Johnny, then aged 27, was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
The young couple went through a trying period, dealing with an unexpected late stage critical illness and a first-time pregnancy simultaneously. “It was devastating to say the least. Johnny started chemotherapy soon after we found out and his sessions only ended when Naomi was 2 months old,” shared 29-year-old Magdalene, who works in sales and business development. “He had major surgery too when I was nine months pregnant and he had to be hospitalised for a week.”
It was tough times for Magdalene, both physically and mentally, so much so that she even neglected her own self-care. “I spent almost all of my time and energy on Johnny so I didn’t focus much on my pregnancy or preparing for the birth,” she recalled. Her baby ended up being breeched and she delivered via Caesarean section.
Fortunately, the surgery went smoothly and recovery was painless and fast – a much needed reprieve for this overly-taxed Mum. Her husband was also able to be present during the birth despite going for fortnightly chemotherapy treatments, which often made him feel sick for at least a week. “We picked a date where he would be the “healthiest” in between his fortnightly chemo,” said Magdalene. “So that he could enjoy Naomi the longest when she was born.”
But post-birth, Magdalene didn’t have a healthy spouse to share parenting duties of caring for a newborn together. Johnny’s condition had worsened and he had to be hospitalised when the baby was only two weeks old. Naomi turned out to be a “poor latcher”, who would fall asleep on the breast after a few minutes, so Magdalene ended up mostly pumping her milk instead of breastfeeding directly. This ended up being the working arrangement as she mostly spent time with Johnny at the hospital.
“At that time, I only had bandwidth to focus on either my husband or my child. I chose my husband,” she confessed. “I would stay with him at the hospital and pump my milk to bring home for my mom to feed Naomi. I remember wearing the stomach binder at that time, as I was still recovering from my C-sect.”
But happier times were ahead. Johnny’s cancer went into remission, much to the relief and delight of his family. Soon enough, baby number two, Nate, entered their lives two months ago.
Breast and bottle feeding
Although Magdalene started both children on the breast, it soon became apparent that they were destined for the bottle.
While Naomi was a poor latcher, her second baby Nate took very well to the breast initially. Magdalene was also more prepared the second time round and was in a better frame of mind to engage with lactation consultants in the hospital to get the breastfeeding advice from them.
“Nate was great on the boob since birth and I latched him all the way!” enthused Magdalene. “But when he was 3 weeks old, we found out that he was allergic to cow’s milk. So we had to give him soy formula while I eliminated dairy from my diet.”
This was a huge challenge for the poor Mum, who counts among her weaknesses, cakes, desserts, bubble tea, and basically everything that has dairy. “It is truly pure mother’s love that motivates me to keep up with my dairy-free diet,” she declared.
As her diet slowly changed, she had to express her breastmilk and slowly reintroduced it back to Nate as he had started to take the bottle. This was when she chose to use Hegen bottles and the breast pump. “It’s been great,” she raved. “Easy to use and convenient, especially when I’m pumping.”
Lessons learnt and shared
Coping with a critical illness would surely leave an indelible mark on a person and it has been no different for the McWhorters. “I think that because of Johnny’s cancer history, our kids are at risk of getting cancer too,” explained Magdalene. “So he’s been very particular about Naomi’s diet. For example, he doesn’t like her to eat processed food. He himself doesn’t eat red meat either.” Three years on, she feels he might be a little more relaxed now.
Magdalene is also mindful that she depended a lot on her family for help and support back when Johnny had cancer and was very ill. “When I was pregnant, any time I couldn’t sit by him during his chemo treatments my parents would accompany him instead,” she recalled. “Also during his hospital stay, my parents would be there for him when I had to go home to rest.”
Her advice to others facing the same situation is to not be afraid to turn to others for help and conversation. “Even if it’s just to rant or talk about your sorrows. I had to be the Energizer bunny in front of Johnny, to be positive and cheer him on. But deep down, I was so broken. I can’t tell you how many times I hid in the toilet, crying quietly so he wouldn’t hear me.”
In these isolated Circuit Breaker times especially, it’s even more important to retain some form of human connection with others. Hegen offers both pregnant and post-partum mummies a platform to share and support one another on Telegram channel, Hegen Mums. If you think you need specific support, do connect with someone at AWARE or the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO).