Olipop's Journey
Olipop's Journey
Olipop's Journey - Episode 1


Olipop’s Journey, Episode 1

Welcome to Olipop’s Journey, a podcast dedicated to not just supporting and empowering parents of deaf or hard of hearing children in South Africa, but offering us a community to connect with one another. I am your host, Bianca Wasserman, and in this episode, our very first episode, I’m going to chat a bit about me, my and our family’s journey, and my motivation to do this podcast. Firstly, I’d like to start out by stating I never thought that I would be one to start a podcast, but here I am pushing myself way out of my comfort zone.

As nervous as I am, I’m also so excited to see where this new adventure will take not just me, but each and every one of you taking the time to listen to this podcast. So a little bit about me, your host. I was born in South Africa and I lived here until I was about the age of 11.

My family then emigrated to the US where I stayed till I was 21. After completing my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon, I came back to South Africa for what was supposed to be about a six month holiday. Well, life happened and I never returned.

I actually started studying a complementary medicine called Specialized Kinesiology and absolutely fell in love with it. Today, I am a qualified professional Specialized Kinesiologist who has my own practice where I see clients and also teach seminars on Specialized Kinesiology. A bit more about myself and my husband, Daniel.

We met in 2010, started dating two years later, got engaged in 2014 and married a year later. Starting a family was always something that I was eager to do almost immediately after getting married. Things, however, didn’t work out that way.

In 2018, after a visit to the States, we decided that we wanted to emigrate. In February 2019, while on holiday one evening in the Kruger National Park, we were having a conversation about putting a pin in trying to get pregnant, as we had been trying for a couple of months before that. Well, as Murphy’s Law works, I found out that I was pregnant the very next day.

I was absolutely thrilled and excited. The pregnancy, unfortunately, however, was not a very easy pregnancy, especially at the beginning. I was put on bed rest almost immediately after finding out that I was pregnant and this continued for a large part of the first trimester as I was being treated for what was called a threatened miscarriage.

Thankfully, by the second trimester, I was feeling much better. Fast forward to November 2019. We had sold our house, closed my business, packed up our belongings and moved to Muizenberg in Cape Town.

It would be, in my mind, a perfect midwife-led hospital birth. All of which ended in a fast realisation that you can’t plan everything when it comes to birthing a baby, which is in fact true for parenting as well. 41 weeks and six days of pregnancy and the day finally arrived that we got to meet our little man.

I’ll spare you all the details, but ultimately after labouring for about 21 hours, pushing for three, Ollie arrived via an emergency c-section. I’ll never forget first laying eyes on him. They held him close to me to see him after they took him out.

He was just this long lanky little man with these huge eyes just taking in the world around him. He didn’t cry at all. Shame.

The poor thing was so exhausted and he was not able to breathe on his own, which ultimately meant a 36-hour NICU stay. I unfortunately started bleeding more than they expected, which made the whole birth anything but calm and tranquil as I would have wanted it to be. With the birth being a rather traumatic experience, we were very excited to go home and get out of the hospital on discharge day.

All packed and ready to go, Ollie strapped into his cool new Doona car seat. A woman arrives at our room door and says she’s here to perform Ollie’s new-born hearing screening. I remember looking at my husband and just politely turning her down and stating that we would do it at a later stage.

Knowing what I know now, I would have absolutely insisted on it, but also in hindsight, I am so glad everything worked out the way that it did. Due to the nature of our birth experience, there was no way that Daniel and I would have been able to handle the news of Ollie’s hearing loss that day. It did, however, plant a seed.

A seed about worrying about Ollie’s hearing. In the 10 days of Ollie being earthside, I remember questioning if he could hear. I did express my concern to some friends and family and they all assured me that his hearing was absolutely fine.

I am so lucky that he sleeps through so much noise and really I’m just being a paranoid first-time mom, so stop worrying so much and just enjoy this time. Fast forward to six weeks later and my husband and I are sitting on the couch in our living room and the door slams. Fast forward six weeks later, my husband and I are sitting on the couch and the door slammed shut from the wind.

We both got such a big fright and jumped and our little boy Ollie didn’t even flinch. I remember this mild panic setting in inside, thinking he’s just sleeping really deeply or maybe did he not actually hear that, so I asked Daniel to get up and slam the door again. Again, the same thing happened.

Ollie showed absolutely no response whatsoever to the door slamming and just like that, our journey, Ollie’s journey, Ollie Pup’s journey started. We are now just over four years from that day, that day the door slammed and so much has happened. It started with false hope and being told that it’s most likely just fluid behind his ears, to countless tests, the official diagnosis, the hearing aid trial, early intervention, cochlear implant candidacy, cochlear implantation surgery, switch on, so many therapy sessions, occupational therapy, speech therapy, specifically auditory verbal therapy, social workers, psychology appointments and all at the same time, so many uncertainties about all our decisions and whether or not we’re doing the right thing for our child and worrying about what the future might hold.

Oh and on top of all this, did I mention this all happened in March 2020, you know, the month the world literally came to an end. Through all of this, the one thing that has kept me sane, the one thing that has given me hope, the one thing that has made me feel not so alone on this journey was meeting parents who were also on this journey. I remember spending nights feeding Ollie and then getting on my phone and joining every possible Facebook group that had anything remotely related to being a parent of a deaf or hard of hearing child.

Getting to chat to other parents or reading other parents’ stories and comments who are either at the same place in their journey or maybe a week or a month, a year, five years, ten years further along was so comforting. They spoke about all the aspects of the journey entailed, all the highs and the lows, the celebrations and the disappointments and let’s be honest, the downright scary moments that we experience. Most of these support groups and even people that I befriended were living overseas.

Luckily, I did meet another mom who funnily enough, her daughter and Ollie had the same due date and she was born two weeks before that due date and Ollie two weeks after it. We were also able to attend one parent support group meeting at the Carl Du Toit Centre before lockdown and it was truly amazing. It was great to listen to parents in person just speak to us honestly about where they were in their journey and also the feelings and emotions that it brought up for them.

Just before Ollie turned two years old, we went to US for six months. We were able to experience how things worked for deaf and hard of hearing children and their families there. The importance of parents supporting parents was reiterated to us.

When we came back to South Africa, I started searching. I found a few organizations who claim to support families of children with hearing loss. Some of them I wish we had found sooner in our journey and others never got back to me.

While all this was happening, I started Ollie Pop Toy Shop. Yes, Ollie Pop Toy Shop does sell Ling and LMH sound puzzles and toys but the driving force behind starting this company was much more than that. It was to make parents and therapists lives a little bit easier.

I recall after the initial diagnosis, there is so many decisions to make, so many appointments to keep and I wanted to take care of this tiny part of the journey. I remember being told to go out and find the toys associated to the sounds. It may sound silly but it caused so much stress.

I couldn’t find age-appropriate toys to represent each sound. I couldn’t find robust toys that would last and I couldn’t find natural and safe toys that I would feel comfortable having my six-month-old put into their mouth because let’s be honest, every six-month-old puts everything in their hands into their mouth. So I had the first set of toys made just for Ollie and from there realized that so many more could benefit from these toys and started Ollie Pop Toy Shop.

Over the last year since officially launching Ollie Pop Toy Shop, however, I have realized that us in South Africa need more than just these physical toys and puzzles. I have been privileged to meet many parents who have shared their stories with me. In doing so, they also shared their frustrations with what they wish was more available to them throughout the journey, specifically in the beginning of the journey.

There are so many resources available in South Africa but as a parent in the thick of things, you miss that and I would like for Ollie Pop to really be a place to find all of that information. I’m not claiming by any means to be an expert in all of this but just as someone that can offer some guidance who has been there, I started sharing our story on Ollie Pop Toy Shop’s blog but I want the podcast to be a place where it’s not just about our story but where parents who would like can also share their story. I want to interview professionals who are experts in their own fields and have that information readily available.

So join me for at least once a month for now, I am setting myself realistic goals, where together we can dive into all of this. Some episodes will be more informative than others with factual information being shared while others will be a lot more cathartic with personal stories being shared. I would like the first couple of months to replicate a bit of the journey that we have been through.

So there’s no better place than to start but at the very beginning and that would mean chatting and becoming more aware of the importance of new-born or early hearing screenings. Our first episodes will include interviews with an audiologist, early interventionist and also a fellow cochlear implant mum who is spearheading new-born hearing screening in the Western Cape. The motivation for this podcast is to create a community, a place where a parent of a deaf or hard of hearing child can come and listen to the stories of other parents, feel encouraged and supported and even gain some knowledge from experts.

This is not just about our journey, my journey or Olipop’s journey but also about your journey and your child’s journey. Please reach out on any of our Olipop Toy Shop social media platforms on Facebook or Instagram or email us at info at ollipoptoyshop.com. So that’s info@olipoptoyshop.com  with questions or topics that you would like us to cover. This is after all what each one of you as our listeners and members of our community also needs and wants.

So whether you’re a new parent or you’ve been on this journey for a while, I hope you’ll find something here to encourage, support and help you feel connected to others on a similar journey. There is after all no reason that we should do this journey alone.