Navigating A High Risk Pregnancy
It’s a thing most moms do: telling their birth story. Like an initiation ritual, or a right of passage. I was sharing mine with my daughter’s preschool teacher, going on about giving birth in a teaching hospital and the veritable audience in attendance when she told me she was in the hospital for 4 months. On bed rest. In the hospital. 4 months.
She carried her twins to full term - healthy boys - but from the outset it didn’t look like that would be a likely outcome. Hers is not my story to tell, so I can’t go into all of her details. But it got me to thinking about how our different baby experiences unite us on a continuum of shared smiles and tears, hormones and fears.
I had a relatively uneventful pregnancy both times, if you discount the mighty scare of fetal heart valve problems that turned out to be a crappy X-ray. But in an effort to support all you sisters out there who are currently pregnant and need more information on not-so-uneventful pregnancies, here’s one woman’s story, and her book, on her high risk pregnancies.
Kelly Whitehead wrote High-Risk Pregnancy – Why Me? Understanding and Managing a Potential Preterm Pregnancy. While her story is compelling in its own right, the book is also backed by fetal and maternal medicine specialist Dr. Vincenzo Berghella, a top pre-term birth researcher.
By the way, while bed rest may seem an antiquated prescription, every year, 1 million U.S. women with high-risk pregnancies are placed on bed rest to protect their developing babies. Despite that, every year, about 500,000 newborns – one of every eight – arrive too early, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Enduring a high-risk pregnancy can be an overwhelming experience of stress, fear and unknowns, leading to more questions than answers. Many of these moms adhere to strict regimens of bed rest, face major changes in lifestyle and relationships, and are subject to dozens of doctor visits and even surgery or medications to protect their unborn children.
For them, birth may not be the joy-filled event most families expect. Whitehead knows this all too well. Her first child died following his premature birth. During her next pregnancy, she spent 4½ months in bed worrying over and trying to protect her daughter.
Whitehead’s book is both a medical reference and provides emotional support for mothers-to-be, with Whitehead providing answers in layman’s terms to the myriad medical questions families have. She also shares coping strategies she discovered, along with what she’s learned through benefit of hindsight, and insights from other mothers.
• Try to enjoy being pregnant. Don’t miss out on this experience because you’re high-risk. Do the normal prego things, even if you have to modify them: Shop online, get a belly cast, shoot expanding-belly photos, and savor those kicks and body changes. Don’t forget or stop dreaming about the actual birth and your desires for what it will be like. I regretted missing out on so much while carrying my daughter. Rather than enjoying the pregnancy, I kept focused on the end and my hope she would survive.
• Don’t let your emotions become your enemy. Say goodbye to guilt – this is not your fault! It’s okay to be bitter, angry and upset at the world, and to hate “normal” pregnant women, but it isn’t going to change anything. So go get mad, yell, and cry, and then move on.
• Pelvic rest sounds easy, but it isn’t. It’s not fun being forced to become a nun, so don’t. There are still ways to enjoy intimacy; you just need to get creative. Think high school – remember how much fun necking was? Try body oil, a massage … whipped cream? Sexy lingerie is still hot, even if you’re pregnant. Flaunt your new assets — they surely went up a cup size or two.
• Educate yourself about your situation. Don’t go reading about every other possible scenario out there; you don’t need to worry about problems that aren’t a likely issue for you.
• Ask and you shall receive. It may sometimes feel as though people have forgotten about you, but the reality is they’re busy and they have no idea what’s it’s like for you. If you want company, reach out and invite someone over.
“Keep your chin up and keep hoping. Healthy babies are born every day to families who’ve walked the same path.” Whitehead says.
A little about her: Kelly Whitehead is a microbiologist who has worked in research and development for more than a decade. She’s also a doula – a woman who provides support during the labor and birth process. She is the mother of Madison, 6, and Drew, 2.
Dr. Vincenzo Berghella is certified in obstetrics/gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine, specializing in high-risk pregnancies. He’s a physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, a professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and a widely published researcher with more than 20 years experience in reproductive health care for women.
photo credit: Modern Home Modern Baby