Now that the excitement from today’s total solar eclipse has finally passed, I’ve got some new excitement for your newsfeed: in-home maternity photos! Cassie is one of the very first friends I made when I moved to Tennessee. I was so excited when she asked me to take some in-home couples photos of her and Cory! What makes these photos even more unique is the fact that they are living in a remodeled camper on their newly acquired land! Living on this land is not just an adventure for these two, it’s a lifestyle they had to adjust to due to something that is becoming more and more well known: a mammal allergy contracted through a simple tick bite. Yes, Cassie has alpha-gal allergy! It’s a real thing!
Cassie and Cory have overcome a lot of hurdles that most expecting couples do not have to face. Because of the extremity of Cassie’s mammal allergy, lots of measures have had to be taken. I thought we could take this opportunity to educate more people about the complications that come with an “alpha-gal pregnancy,” or just alpha-gal allergy in general, as well as provide a resource for any other expecting mothers who may be in the same boat.
According to alpha-gal.org, “Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or Alpha-Gal for short, is a delayed allergy to mammal meat affecting a growing number of the population. This allergy is initially caused by a tick bite. Since the reaction to eating mammal meat is delayed by several hours, the proper diagnosis is often missed or misdiagnosed. People who are afflicted with the Alpha-Gal allergy have to be constantly vigilant about the ingredients they consume, because an allergic reaction can be severe and life-threatening.” Definitely scary, right?! I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been bitten by a tick!
While reactions vary, Cassie has a very severe reaction to mammals. Triggers for her can be anything from consumption, fumes, dust, cross-contamination (orally or physically). Reactions from those triggers can include hives, rashes, itchy skin, achy joints, foggy brain, burning of skin, throwing up, stomach pains, diarrhea, anaphylactic shock, etc. These reactions can be delayed and can occur anywhere from immediately to ten hours after contact!
As you can imagine, alpha-gal has heavily impacted the ease of her pregnancy.
“Medical staff is my biggest struggle. Those of us who have lived with alpha-gal for most of our lives know way more about it than the doctors. It’s a tough balance trying to find staff that will accept that you know more about this particular subject and therefore need to work as a team with the patient. We were changing OB/x up to around 35 weeks because of this (not surprising) issue.
“Medicines contain animal bi-products. Hospitals are triggers for our allergy with fumes, dust, cross-contamination, and medicines. Trying to set up a safety plan for this with medical teams have been tricky, yet we are hoping the team we are with now are all on the same page as us. If you are pregnant with AG, don’t settle until you find the staff that works best for you and your allergy. It’s a game changer.”
Obviously, this allergy determines what one can and cannot eat. Cassie has been dealing with this allergy since she was a little girl, so she has tons of experience in this department.
“I pretty much have what’s safe for me down! They asked me not to use EPI Pen during pregnancy if at all possible so I have stayed away from trying new foods for the time being. Only reactions I’ve had so far during pregnancy were sneak-ups like people grilling in our neighborhood, or people saying their houses were safe for me but really weren’t. We’ve stayed home most of the pregnancy to avoid those type of reactions since I’m still in a new area with people who aren’t quite familiar with how best to accommodate for my allergy and keep me safe. And we’re finally in the country! That lessens fume reactions since there are less houses!”
Before Cassie reconnected with Cory, she had planned on moving back to her hometown, finding a small chunk of land, and living in a tiny home or a camper. Life has a way of changing our plans! When these two reconnected Cassie’s plans worked out even better than she ever imagined! They now are living across the street from where they first met, 12 years ago when they lived two doors away from one another! Awww!
“It feels so good being back in the country full time after living in the city for 12 years! And camper life is the best life. If it wasn’t for us having a little one on the way I’m sure we’d just live in this… less to clean!! We do however need a little bit more space so have just started building a house on the land. He wanted a shop house and I wanted a farm house. We met in the middle and are building a barn house.”
I asked Cassie to brag on Cory a little bit. From what I have seen, he has been a super-star during not only her entire pregnancy, but their entire relationship! Their relationship started when Cassie’s brother wanted to take his boat out for his birthday. The day of Cassie showed up and Cory was there too – he had heard Cassie was going. A week later, he invited her to camp out during July 4th! “That’s when the fireworks happened.” Cassie and Cory have been together ever since.
“As Cory always says (about alpha-gal allergy), “It’s not that difficult to accommodate for.” Which he’s right, it really isn’t. The most difficult thing we face is closed-minded and unkind people, which luckily is rare since I choose not to be around people like that. This pregnancy naturally forced us to have those bumps and interactions, of course. Pregnancy is tough as it is: your body is going through so many changes as well as your life is about to change drastically. When you add on an extra stress like a high risk factor, it makes things beyond difficult. Not to mention having to deal with a new community of people (I just moved back to my hometown) and a medical community who are all not familiar with this high risk allergy. Naturally that leaves one with extra fears and anxiety during this time. With this being a storm of emotions, management, big decisions and reworking boundaries, Cory has been the constant peace during the storm of it all.
Pregnancy was a surprise to us both! We have both been excited since day one and getting even more excited with his arrival date getting even closer! This pregnancy has quickly opened Cory’s eyes to how difficult it is to manage this allergy with closed-minded people surrounding us. He has been my voice of reason and constantly reminding me that my safety is more important than others being uncomfortable with choosing to understand and accommodate. During this time we have switched doctors multiples times, spent so much time researching and have even had to rework and created new boundaries with community to help keep us safe now and the days ahead.”
“He is the definition of a bad-ass human. The biggest advocate for me, my safety, and he makes it possible for me to be fully present and enjoy life without worrying about my allergy. He doesn’t take anything less than how people should respond to helping one stay safe with an allergy. He’s a wonderful partner and already the best dad I could ever have imagined for a child.”
I think it’s safe to say, these two are relationship goals! They’re basically both super-humans and little baby Oak is one lucky human to have these two as parents.
After hanging out in their camper for a while (which I’m kicking myself for not taking photos of the outside of the camper!) we headed to the field behind their tree line for some natural bump photos. I tried not to be too paranoid by ticks!
I asked Cassie to give advice for any current or future alpha-gal mothers! Here is what she had to say:
“Remember, you and your family are your top priority. You deserve to enjoy life and to be present for all of your life moments. You don’t have to be in reactions all the time. You don’t have to be drugged up all the time. Cling to what is good. Surround yourself with people that preach that to you. Make decisions that are best for you and your family. Even if it means switching OBs at 35 weeks, making your hospital stay a private stay with no visitors, and going far and above to make sure you are heard by medical staff that you will have a safe stay and good experience. You know what’s best for you, do that!!! People who love you will respect you and your decision to do what’s best for you. People who don’t respect that aren’t worth having in your life. Your life doesn’t revolve around your allergy, it’s just a tiny part of it. Surround yourself with people who keep you safe and live a life with you that reflects that.”
Some resources Cassie has found helpful are Robert Wood Johnson and her Facebook support group. Robert Wood Johnson will research all medicines, which is a huge stress relief when dealing with alpha-gal allergy! They will also work with doctors or high-risk pharmacists at the hospital to make sure safe medications will be used.
Cassie lived almost her entire life without knowing anyone else with her allergy, and therefore no support! She says “Having a support group has been a game changer. Reach out for help!! There are a lot of other Alpha-Gal survivor mommas who have or are doing the research. Connect!!” I’m positive Cassie will be more than happy to connect with any future momma’s with alpha-gal to offer her advice, resources, and support!
As we walked back up to our cars and the camper, Cassie really wanted to try and get a photo with Turk, their resident turkey (duh). This resulted in probably my favorite photo from this entire session. I’ll close with that!
Oak, we are so excited to meet you! You really lucked out with such unique, creative, caring individuals for parents! I can’t wait to see what you will add to the world as you grow!