Deciding to have a baby when you are living with MS can be a tough decision. Or not. If you’re like me, you know you want a baby under any circumstance. Whatever the case may be, I hope that by sharing my story, I can provide what I longed for when my husband and I were making our plans; that being a positive experience to support the decision we had already made. While everyone has a completely unique and unpredictable MS path and all-of-the-above is true for how any pregnancy might play-out, each telling offers an inside-line of possibilities. Here’s mine.
Everything about planning to have a first baby is filled with question marks even without MS. How long will it take to conceive? (How to take the reckless bliss out of marital recreation) What will being pregnant be like? (Puking, constantly pee-ing, and walking like Frankenstein’s monster….) Will it be a smooth delivery? (How the HECK are they gonna get that baby out of me!) and How will it change our lives? (Will we ever have reckless bliss again?) When MS is part of the equation, the question marks are bigger, bolder and have potentially long term implications. What about all of the meds that make my life livable everyday? If I don’t have bladder control now….? Will my MS be worse after I have the baby? Will I be able to care for a new born? a toddler? a teenager…? Okay, wait a minute, no one should be thinking about a teenager when considering to have a baby…. although it may have a significant impact on rising populations! ☺
The year was 2000, and there were a few things I had decided already about how my pregnancy would go – I would stop my Copaxone while trying to conceive- although the prospect scared the *!#@ out of me. At that point I had been on it for 7 years and it was doing remarkable things to improve my everyday with MS. There wasn’t much that was known about the effects of the drug on pregnancy and I wasn’t taking any risks. Adding to my comfort in this decision was that once I got pregnant I would likely feel much better than I do normally. It is known that the immune system is naturally suppressed during pregnancy to allow for a foreign entity (ie. the baby) to coexist inside you. And so, the said immune system no longer randomly attacks the precious myelin that keeps our neurons functioning healthy! (note to self: if true, explore surrogate motherhood as vocation!)
I was afraid of what my MS would look like without Copaxone or the benefits of a pregnancy-based suppressed immune system. So it was the “in-between time” that had me worried. With the over-speculation and hyper-assessing I take to anything; I read, and wrote and thought. And talked. And talked. And talked. For me, rehashing and reconsidering any and all possibilities gave me a sense of control over any situation. Silly mortal!
So I stopped the Copaxone, (My neuro told me it would take no more than a week for it to be totally out of my system) and immediately starting working the ovulation predictors. (Say goodbye to spontaneity) I wasn’t going to waste a moment. I knew that the quicker I got pregnant the better. It’s a crazy game trying to enjoy the process (if you will) with so much riding on it! (if you will!) Luckily it only took us three months to conceive and my health didn’t falter. Check.
What came afterward was all good. I had a wonderful time being pregnant. Okay, maybe that’s slightly sugar-coated. But the truth is as they predicted my immune system took a break. And all my cells came together in their pregnant bliss and rejoiced! My energy was up and I could walk farther than ever. Of course I dealt with the normal joys of pregnancy: nausea, headaches, heartburn and the inevitable transition in to the incredibly enlarging woman. But all paled in comparison to the normal MS symptoms that I had become so accustomed to. What really tickled me at the time was that I was treated in such a way that would be very helpful in my every day life with MS. I was offered a seat wherever I went and always made aware of the closest bathroom. We went to see Chicago on Broadway and I was escorted to a super-secret bathroom in the mezzanine. Wow! I immediately began to consider ways I could develop a prosthetic pregnancy suit for just those scenarios in the future. Think of the possibilities!
When the big day came I delivered Madeline after 6 hours of labor, 2 of which were “hard” then ultimately cushioned with the once-removed feeling of an epidural. (Someone is having a baby here… though I’m not clear on who! ☺)
Then we got home and wasn’t so easy. Recovering from delivery and having to learn how to do EVERYTHING is challenging for everyone. The breast-feeding, the diapering, the clothing, the bathing, the burping, the sleeping or rather the not sleeping, all created a veritable tornado of learning and uncertainty. Luckily it was cemented together with the unbelievable love you can only know in your baby. Keith and I spent all day and night in that first week marveling at our perfect little person. Nothing could have prepared us for that emotional magnitude. This couldn’t possibly be what everyone else is doing!
And while I was coping with post-partum depression and fear I would not be able to physically do everything a new baby required, we found the support we needed and tried to be patient that the rest would come.
16 days later was 9/11.
Whatever feeling of parental mastery we had gained shriveled in our fear of the world we brought sweet Madeline into.
• • •
When all is said and done my greatest hurdle was emotional. I never had the MS relapse that was often sited in the “literature”. And though I had challenges that were uniquely MS, none were above and beyond my ability to cope at that time. The depression that began after Madeline was born, merged with the anxiety that we all felt after that September day. And though my pharmaceutical cocktail continues to include ingredients that address these issues, I can’t help to wonder what that graph would have looked like had those two events been further on the timeline.
When I began this entry, I thought it would be an opportunity to share my experience with pregnancy and childbirth from an MS perspective. What I hadn’t realized was that irrevocably intertwined in my (and Keith’s) most precious life experience is the residual impact of that tragic day. It’s impossible to think of one without the other and so much sadness and resentment surrounds that pairing.
If anyone reading has questions about having a baby with MS — please feel free to contact me and ask the details that didn’t make it into this final version. Right now, I’m carried away in the other place this writing took me, trying to weed out the memories I want to magnify and lose those I long to forget.