by Micaela Fassina
Since February is Heart Health month, here’s a story for you. My name is Micaela and I survived a heart attack.
I was 44 years old, with 5 children between the ages of 5 and 13. I was relatively healthy, and trying to get into better shape. I was doing aquafit 4 times a week and learning to play hockey in a weekly mom’s clinic offered by our local hockey association. There is no history of heart problems in my family, I don’t smoke, or drink excessively, and I try to eat as healthy as 5 kids and a busy schedule let me. I’m a stay-at-home (or in-the-van) mom: at the time of the heart attack we were in the middle of a kitchen & 2 bathroom renovation and had 4 kids in soccer, 3 kids on swim team, 2 kids in diving and one in synchronized swimming. (Before you say anything, we do not force our children into any activity they don’t want to do – this was all their choice.)
On July 18, 2017, it was business as usual. The kids and I were at our community pool for their daily lessons and my aquafit. However, a child (not mine!) had been sick in the pool and it was closed while it was being shocked with chlorine. So lessons were dry-land, and the moms decided to do “land-fit” instead. I set aside my iced coffee, fully expecting to finish it in half an hour, and sat down to do some sit-ups. Except I couldn’t pull myself up for even one! Ok, on to lunges. Three lunges in, I experienced the strangest thing I’ve ever felt: an explosion radiating out from my chest going down both arms and up my neck into my jaw, and at the same time, a vice clamping down on my chest, all of it painful. I figured it was heat stroke, or sun stroke, or dehydration, or something. I went to sit down, but was now feeling nauseous and I knew something was very wrong. We had just recently lost an acquaintance to an undiagnosed heart attack, and my symptoms mirrored his. So I called my mom to come get the kids and then lay down in the grass. In the 10 years we’ve been members at our pool I never once lay down, so next thing I knew I was surrounded by concerned friends and lifeguards. They called 911, while my sister-in-law called my husband. Other moms were trying to keep my kids occupied and out of the way; apparently one of my kids was swinging a baseball bat around! Two of my kids refused to be distracted and sat watching me at my most helpless. I tried to reassure them, but was so sapped of strength that I could barely talk.
I never lost consciousness and my heart never stopped, but my memories of that time are disjointed and surreal. I remember trying to crack jokes to lighten the mood, and being disappointed that the firemen that answered the call weren’t better looking. I kept on eying my iced coffee hopelessly, wishing I could finish it. A friend rode to the hospital with me, and I made sure that she had grabbed my cross-stitch to bring along, just in case. By the time I was going through triage, I was already feeling better and was hoping it was just an embarrassingly strong case of indigestion. In fact, when my husband arrived at the ER, he didn’t have to ask where I was; he just followed the laughter.
Tests after tests were run: blood work, multiple EKGs, CT scan, ultrasounds and X-rays. Everything was coming back negative, except for one item in my blood work: my troponin levels were rising. Troponin is an enzyme released when the heart has been damaged – proof that I had suffered a heart attack even though I was perfectly healthy according to all other test results. After a night in the ER, it was decided that I would be admitted and sent to have an angiogram, which is a procedure where a catheter is fed through an artery in your wrist (or groin) into your heart. Dye is then injected through the catheter while you watch live X-rays images of your heart pumping. If necessary, this is also the time when stents would be inserted. It took a while, but the cardiologist finally found the remnants of a 30% tear in a secondary artery, which had already scabbed over and was healing by itself. Two days after the actual incident, I had an official diagnosis: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD.
SCAD affects mainly, but not only, otherwise healthy women of child bearing age. There are no specific or consistent symptoms or warning signs. Some people experience the same pain I did, while others compare it to severe and lingering heartburn. SCAD can be a minor tear like mine, or a full-blown rupture requiring bypass surgery, or instantly fatal. It can recur, but why in some and not others is a mystery. Because SCAD is a rare diagnosis, there is currently not much research or information.
I’m currently on a daily regimen of blood thinners, beta blockers and baby aspirin for at least one year. But there’s nothing I can really do to prevent another SCAD from happening, since no-one can tell me why it happened in the first place! They have ideas: it might have been stress from the reno or over-exertion, or the heat, or my not having had breakfast that morning, or Mercury aligning with Pluto, or Zeus arguing with Poseidon on Mount Olympus… I sometimes wished I had been a smoker or morbidly obese, because at least then there would be a reason for the heart attack, and something concrete I could do to prevent another one from happening. And that is another source of frustration: trying to make people understand that SCAD is different from a “traditional” heart attack. My mother is still trying to rationalize what happened; she remains convinced that there must have been something in my life I could have done differently.
My life since SCAD has been different, but the same. It took a couple of months for me to feel “normal”. I was not allowed to exercise for 3 months, after which I did a stress test (12 minutes on a treadmill) and got the all clear for everything except heavy lifting and isometric exercises. I’m seeing a psychologist for my PTSD, and thanks to social media, there is a great on-line community of fellow survivors offering support and understanding from around the world.
My latest cross-stitch project
The initial recovery combined with the medications left me exhausted for quite a while. I have to watch myself and my stress levels, and make sure I have more “me” time and that I don’t over-extend myself – too much. With 5 kids currently in hockey, swimming, music and drama, there are days when I have to be in multiple places at the same time and I don’t know which way to go. But that’s what family, friends, a good support system and carpooling are for. And when I’m having a bad day, it’s ok to say, “I can’t do this” and go hide under the covers for as long as I need. Every time I hear of a woman my age passing away suddenly and for no known reason, I wonder if it was SCAD (Dolores O’Riordan springs to mind). But ultimately, I’m learning to not dwell on the what-ifs and the what-might-be. The most important thing is that I am alive and well right now, and still rocking the mom-wife-daughter-sister-friend thing.
Micaela Fassina, Supermom of Five Montreal, Quebec
by Micaela Fassina
Last summer, a fellow mom and I left our kids with the hubbies and went to see the movie “Bad Moms”. In a theatre full of other escaping moms (and an occasional dad) we laughed so hard we cried. And during the drive back to reality, we spoke about our “bad mom” moments. But it got me wondering why moms have to be labelled like this, and why we need a movie like this to make us start talking about the pressures of modern motherhood.
I think many moms can agree that the (often self-imposed) pressure to be a perfect mother can be overwhelming. Not only do you have to raise your kids according to the latest accepted standards, but you must only feed them home-made meals from locally sourced organic food. Your children must be able to read before starting kindergarten – easy enough since you can spend all your time teaching them in the many hours they are not watching TV or on any electronic devices. Once in school, lunches and snacks are nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and legume-free. After-school activities are scheduled in a relentless barrage of arts, music, culture, and athleticism. And the special events are Pinterested to within an inch of their lives.
I remember one Halloween when I baked and frosted about 150 pumpkin- and witch-shaped sugar cookies for my preschooler’s and kindergarten student’s classes. Looking back on that late night of frosting hell, I can only ask myself why did I felt the need to do this? Was it for my now 10- and 12-year old children (who don’t remember these cookies – I asked), or was it to impress the other overachieving moms? And I assume that many of these other overachieving moms were caught in the same vicious cycle as I was. We were all feeding off each other in some classroom version of “keeping up with the Jones’”, except the Jones’ were really only our own expectations.
On the flip side, one of my better bad mom moments happened when my older son fell face first down a jagged icy mountain of plowed snow (which I warned him not to climb) at the bus stop one morning just as the school bus turned the corner. After assurances that he was ok, he got on the bus, even though his face was covered with surface scratches. Of course, a half hour later I got a horrified phone call from the school as soon as they saw him, and had to drive to school with a tube of Polysporin.
They say the best comedy is based on real life. “Bad Moms” is an exaggeration of both sides, but it resonates with so many mothers because they see themselves, or other moms they know reflected in the on-screen characters. Halloween cookies excepted, I don’t do the perfect mom thing; but I don’t think I’m a bad mom either. I figure that as long as I raise my children to be well-adjusted and (in public) well-behaved, I’m doing OK. My children were in disposable diapers, and ate store-bought baby food. They watch TV and know how to find YouTube on all our devices. If they forget to bring something to school with them, I don’t run to deliver it. If they do not complete homework, I do not make excuses for them to their teachers. Their after-school activities are not forced upon them, but picked by them – if they ask to do it, they can do it. Teaching them to be independent and letting them learn from their mistakes will serve them better in the long run than me “helping” them by doing everything for them.
Pictures from both extremes: my homemade jams & cakes, and the kids doing their things (my daughter dressed herself).
Micaela Fassina, Supermom of five Montreal,Quebec
by Micaela Fassina
First of all, I have to say that I have never, ever called myself a Supermom except in the most derogatory manner. Other people call me Supermom all the time, which made me uncomfortable because I think that I’m just surviving, treading water, trying to keep from drowning under all my various obligations. But let’s take a closer look.
If sheer quantity of children defines a Supermom, then I qualify. I am a mother of five children, ages 12, 10, 7 and 4-year old twins. But that wasn’t planned. We had already gotten rid of all our baby stuff after kid #3 when we found out we were expecting twins and had to get it all back times two! Don’t get me wrong; I love every single one of my children and couldn’t imagine my life without them. But being a mother of five was not part of my game plan when I graduated university. I know a mom of seven (yes, seven – no multiples!) who was trying to convince her husband to go for #8. I would call her a Supermom, because she actively pursued this life and thrives on it (at least in public).
Maybe it’s volunteering that makes a Supermom. All my children attended the same co-op preschool, of which I am now the treasurer after doing a stint as the co-chairperson. I also do my assigned duty days (doubled now because of the twins) helping the teachers in the classroom. When my oldest was on the competitive swim team, I was a timer at her meets. I spend one afternoon a week in the elementary school’s library.
If kilometers logged while chauffeuring children to activities makes a Supermom, then I guess that’s me as well. This year, all 5 kids are playing hockey, the eldest started an after-school drama, the 10- and 7-year-olds are also in Kung Fu, and the twins are taking winter swimming lessons. We just finished a summer of soccer for 4 of the 5, and swim team and diving at our local pool. I rarely have to drive more than 50 km away from our house, but I’m always in the car.
Is the ability to multitask like a boss the ultimate Supermom qualification? Well, as I am writing this, one of the twins is coming to me crying because the eldest “pulled my dress”, so now I’m typing with one hand as I comfort & snuggle a preschooler. Oh, and the oven is preheating so I can cook dinner.
Reading this over, I still don’t think I’m a Supermom – not unless I consider that I am surrounded by other super people: my husband who coaches hockey and soccer, and both sets of doting grandparents as well as aunts and uncles, who are willing to lend a hand whenever necessary (which is often). That, and my jumbo kitchen calendar (if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist), keep me afloat enough that I look like I know what I’m doing.
But if there’s one thing that makes me feel like a Supermom, it’s the fact that my kids love me & think I’m the best mom ever (even if I yell too much, and am often the worst mother in the world). When they tell me that I’m the best cook, or look to me for validation, or come to me when they are hurt or need their tears wiped, that’s when I know I’m a Supermom in their eyes. Ultimately, that’s the only label that matters, no matter what other people might call me.
So, no matter how you are living your life, with one kid or seven, single mom or with a huge support system, if your kids love you (and they do!), you are a Supermom!
Micaela Fassina, Supermom of five Montreal,Quebec