Pregnancy can be joyous and exciting, but it can also be scary and intense. Those of us who have endured high-risk pregnancies know just how hard it can be to cope with pregnancy, especially when your health or your baby's health is at an elevated risk. So, how do you get through a pregnancy when you're at a higher risk of things going wrong? Or, worse, when they actually do go wrong? I asked 10 moms to share how they got through their high-risk pregnancies in order to find out.
I had a pretty textbook pregnancy and childbirth the first time around. So, when my second pregnancy became complicated, I totally freaked the hell out. For me, being "high risk" meant a ton of extra doctor's appointments, tests, procedures, and extra opportunities for bad and scary news. From experience, I can tell you that it totally sucks to go through the aforementioned without being able to have a cocktail to take the edge off.
I had hyperemesis gravidarum — severe nausea and vomiting — that made the morning sickness I had during my first pregnancy feel like a beach vacation. Then, I developed preeclampsia and was put on strict bed rest. Every morning I would see the maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist or my midwife for a blood pressure check, urine protein analysis, and, at least once a week, an ultrasound and non-stress test (NST). Each time I went, for almost six weeks, they would say the same thing: "Next time, we'll probably have to admit you for induction or c-section or you or your baby might die." I got so anxious about delivery, I started bringing my hospital bag and extra pillow with me yo my weekly visits, just in case.
In the end, the things that helped me cope were the same things that help me cope now that I'm postpartum with a newborn: surrounding myself with family and friends who get me, letting little things go and knowing the world wouldn't end if I let my toddler watch TV or left laundry in baskets on the floor (it's still in baskets, five years later), throwing myself into work and silly TV shows, because it took my mind off of the really scary "what ifs," and trying to stay calm.
Still, and even though I had support, it was the seriously hard to cope with a high risk pregnancy. So, I wanted to learn what other people did to make it through, and asked some other high-risk pregnancy survivors how they got through those painful, scary, and uncertain months. This is what they had to say:
"I was put on hospital bed rest for three weeks for high blood pressure at the end of my pregnancy. I ended up having to have an early c-section at 34.5 weeks, for my high blood pressure and because my daughter was diagnosed with an intrauterine growth restriction. After delivery, my daughter spent 21 days in the NICU for persistent pulmonary hypertension and severe respiratory distress. The thing that helped me the most was being in the last class for my Master' degree at the time. I stayed really busy."
"I took things day-by-day, but I was constantly worried that anything could happen at any moment, so I could never tell what was 'just being pregnant' and what was abnormal. Not being allowed to work out for nine months took a crazy toll on my self esteem, as did not being able to be intimate with my husband. At the same time I actually felt a lot of pressure to hide the fact that I have a uterine anomaly, because it really freaks people out and makes them either handle me with kid gloves or judge me for being 'broken.' My husband actually avoided telling his mom that I was high-risk, because he knew if she found out why, she'd feel like it's yet another thing to hate me for. I was very vague about it and my cerclage placement, saying, 'I'm high risk and I had to have a procedure done that forces me to take it easy,' and [my mother-in-law's] first thought/sentence out of her mouth was, 'Oh you went through fertility treatments to get pregnant.' Umm, no.
I joined a group of women who have uterine anomalies where I could ask about any of the weird symptoms that come with our conditions, because there isn't a ton of information out there sometimes. That's helped a bit. It also helped to just be real with myself and stop trying to do it all."
"I've had two high-risk pregnancies. The first was only high-risk because they suspected complications, which never came to be. With my second, I had a large blood clot near my placenta. How did I get through it? By not having a choice not to. There wasn't an option to 'check out by freaking out.' Living every day was my only option. I spent a lot of time with my toddler, and tried to not get too attached to this baby. I just kept moving forward."
"I've had three high-risk pregnancies, and I'm the middle of my third and craziest. My first child was diagnosed with autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD) when he was 10 months old. Because of his diagnoses, when I got pregnant with my second, I was automatically thrown into the "high-risk" category. At 18 weeks, I had an amniocentesis to test for ARPKD, which came back positive.
With my third (and surprise) baby, they found a blood type anomaly at 12 weeks, so I needed blood tests every two to four weeks. At 19 weeks I had another amniocentesis to test for ARPKD, and it was positive a third time. The chances are one in four in each pregnancy. It's so hard knowing that all three of my kids will need new kidneys and livers at some point in their childhood. At 28-weeks pregnant, a large, benign brain tumor was discovered on the base of my brain. This threw everything into a tailspin. I now follow up bi-weekly with my neurosurgeon and neurologist, see my regular OB-GYN every two weeks, and see my MFM every two weeks. I don't know if I will be able to push during delivery or need a scheduled c-section. This just makes me so disappointed. I keep trying to see the bright side, but it's so hard.
All in all, I appreciate most everyone's care and concern for my child and my wellbeing. My MFM doctor is very calm and thorough. He's very direct, and I appreciate that. He spends time explaining why things are how they are. I always felt my care was top notch, and that I handled [my babies'] diagnoses very well. My own issues, however, I'm having a harder time with. It's hard to let go of control and feel like I have no choices anymore in this birth. It's hard to let go of what I wanted and accept what I need. I have cried a lot. And I'm having a hard time connecting with this baby. My family and friends have been so supportive, but it makes me feel sad so I don't like to talk seriously about it. I joke about it and pretend it's not happening. I go to work and do my job and focus on others instead of myself. It's definitely a weird feeling. I feel like I should be excited and nesting and all that, but I just feel disappointed and sad and scared."
"I had severe anemia when I was pregnant with my son. I nearly bled out with his birth. I was hospitalized for five days because I couldn't keep my levels high enough to stand upright, let alone be released, and had to get three liters of blood during my stay. During my pregnancy, I had to get a ton of IV iron infusions. It sucked. I got through it because my husband was amazing and would bring me books and sit with me for the three hours it took each time."
"I was considered high risk from the beginning of my last pregnancy because of my age, a previous miscarriage, and gestational diabetes. I was on medication from the beginning to minimize miscarriage risk. At 12 weeks, my nuchal translucency (NT) scan came back as high-risk for Trisomy 18/Edward's syndrome. I had two Harmony blood tests, which both failed, and was strongly advised to have an amniocentesis. Due to the miscarriage risk, though, and given that we'd lost twins at six months gestation with my previous pregnancy, I declined.
We had our anatomy scan early and discovered that [the baby] wasn't growing correctly. We were also warned that [the baby] may have a heart issue. I was chastised by the specialist because I was "too fat" for the ultrasound to be effective. That really didn't help my mindset at the time. At 24 weeks, [my baby] was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). I had to be at the hospital every two days for a NST, as well as seeing the doctor weekly, the endocrinologist every two weeks, and have a growth ultrasound every two weeks. At 26 weeks, my blood tests came back as "borderline" for preeclampsia, and I was put on bed rest. Not an easy thing with a very active toddler, and I'm beyond thankful for my mum, who came over every day to help out. At 36 weeks, my fluid level was found to be too low, and if I hadn't already been scheduled for a c-section in four days, they would have induced me. I spent those four days in a state of panic. Thankfully, our daughter was born completely healthy, if a little small, although we're still waiting on all of the results of her blood tests.
What helped the most was not thinking too much. Any time I let myself think about what might be, I freaked out. I did a lot of reading, both kid's books to my older child, and my favorite, old 'comfort' books. I joined a book club. Having all the monitoring, while annoying, also really helped. I could hear her heartbeat, and see the movement on the monitor. The ultrasounds were good, too, but I found I got more worked up before them, scared that something would go wrong. I also made friends with a lot of the staff at our antenatal clinic. They helped me get through it, too."
"My endocrinologist once told me that 'my womb was uninhabitable' because I am a Type 1 diabetic. When I got pregnant, I was considered high-risk due to my diabetes. I would leave my appointments crying, because she criticized me constantly, like for not finding out the gender of the baby, for eating, etc. It was so awful that I found a new doctor in my third trimester. I made it through by advocating for myself and finding a medical team that I liked. The second time around was much easier than the first, because I was able to do just that."
"I had three high-risk pregnancies, each one more high risk than the last. I was high risk due to having had gastric bypass previously. I had preeclampsia with the first and was induced, the second [pregnancy] was higher risk because of the preeclampsia with the first, and [my son] was a breech preemie. My third [pregnancy] took all of the two previous pregnancies into account, plus I got the bonus of permanent kidney damage. The thing that helped me the most was having local friends, family, and a lot of internet friends in due date clubs, and other groups on social media to rely on."
"I put myself in therapy."
"I was pregnant with twins for my high-risk pregnancy. Baby B was diagnosed with Selective Intrauterine Growth Restriction (SIUGR) with an intermittent cord flow and, then they developed Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome about 10 weeks after diagnosis and were delivered at 31 weeks. I coped with my high risk pregnancy by talking only to a few select close friends. I kept it off Facebook. I didn't even talk to my mom. There are times when internet support is enough for me, when it's enough to hear that people are thinking of me or praying for me. The two weeks between finding out something was wrong with Baby B and finding out what was wrong and what that meant were so terrifying that I didn't want to share online. The seemingly empty platitudes felt offensive.
I couldn't think long term any more. It sounds trite, but I took it day-by-day. I wouldn't think about what might happen until I was given more information at the next appointment. I joined support groups, then left them, because people say awful sh*t when they don't know what to say. My own mom told me it would be better to terminate than risk Baby A being born with a developmental disability because his brother died in the womb. I come from a pro-choice family, I'm pro-choice, but that was the wrong thing to say.
I tried to believe in God again. I tried to seek comfort in a plan, but faith couldn't help me. I ultimately put my faith in my doctors and, hard as it was, tried to accept that I was not in control. I was torn between being so in love with my boys and being afraid to love them too much in case they didn't make it. Even after we hit the magical 24 week mark — viability — I couldn't think of names for them."