The Innocent Pregnancy
I’ve had 3 pregnancies. The first was my “innocent” pregnancy, and it’s something I wish for all moms-to-be. I took one home pregnancy test. One. I dutifully waited 10 weeks for my first appointment, and sailed through without complications for most of the pregnancy. Sure, there was some discomfort, but nothing unbearable. I never even got morning sickness, and I’m pretty sure I did, in fact, glow. I didn’t understand at the time why so many other pregnant women were irritated with me.
Not all women get off so easy. While most women expect some morning sickness, some discomfort, and some swelling, no one expects pregnancy to be a psychological or physical challenge. After all, it’s natural, right? Well, nature is a harsh mistress and many women experience what is generically known as a “difficult pregnancy.”
Some of the most common causes of a difficult pregnancy are as follows:
- Pregnancy complications (of which there are many)
- Severe symptoms (such as hyperemesis gravidarum—extreme morning sickness)
- Bed rest
- Pregnancy after a loss or infertility
- Developmental abnormalities or concerns about the fetus
Pregnancies 2 and 3
My 2nd pregnancy occurred during treatment for infertility. Sadly, I lost twins at 6 and 9 weeks gestation. My pregnancy didn’t last long enough to really become “difficult,” but my anxieties were certainly a precursor of what was to come.
By the time I got pregnant again a year and a half later, I was, of course, thrilled. But from the get-go, the memory of the previous loss and the long, intense infertility treatments took their toll. I was nervous I would have another loss. I had spotting, and became even more anxious. I analyzed every twinge and every cramp. Physically, though, I had only minor morning sickness and fatigue, but my mental state made those normal symptoms worse.
As the pregnancy progressed, I had a catalog of physical issues that made this pregnancy much more difficult than my previous ones. The first was that I was dealing with what’s called an iso-immune pregnancy. Basically, my blood had an antibody that could attack the baby (I got the antibody from a previous blood transfusion). I had titers drawn monthly to check my antibody levels. Aside from this, I also had a hernia, one episode of preterm labor, major swelling, and painful varicose veins splattered across my legs like a Jackson Pollock painting. I was also exposed to chicken pox (I wasn’t immune) when my 4 year old got shingles. It was just a cascade of problems. Women deal with much worse than this, but at the time, the constant issues were very trying.
By the end, I was doing weekly non-stress tests with a couple of bio-physical profiles thrown in for good measure. I was miserable. At 38 weeks, my blood pressure spiked and I was sent in for an induction due to pre-eclampsia. To top things off, after delivery, I developed an unexplained, life-threatening hemorrhage that required a 3 day stint in ICU.
Luckily, my difficulties ended for the most part once I recovered; my baby was healthy except for some treatable jaundice. For moms facing health problems with their infants, however, the difficulties of pregnancy carry into motherhood.
Coping with a Difficult Pregnancy
In retrospect, I can see all the things I did wrong. None of the health issues was my fault, but I could have done more to protect my psychological state. Here are a few tips for moms-to-be struggling through a difficult pregnancy
- Talk to your doctor!
Even if you feel silly, bring it up. My doctor and nurse-practitioner were excellent at soothing my fears. And for those of you with physical issues, ask for relief. After suffering silently for too long, I finally got some pain medication for my hernia. Friends of mine with severe morning sickness got drugs that allowed them to eat. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Look for support.
Counselors, focus groups, and online communities can be great places to connect with other women going through similar problems. Sometimes, an understanding ear can make a world of difference.
- Try de-stressing techniques.
If you are cleared to exercise, try yoga, which can be really relaxing. Acupuncture, meditation, and prenatal massage are also wonderful options. Even a funny movie or book can provide welcome distraction.
- Do your research…
but try to avoid Dr. Google. There is a lot of misinformation out there, as well as a lot of horror stories. When my son had shingles, I was terrified after reading online about the effects of chicken pox on pregnant women. Once I spoke to actual experts (an infectious disease specialist and a perinatalogist), I felt much better about my particular case.
Although we are led to believe that pregnancy is always a magical time, for some of us, it’s frightening, uncomfortable, and painful. All we can do is take it day by day and do our best to take care of ourselves and our babies.