It’s complicated

By Published On: July 1st, 2011

If you find yourself dealing with a complicated or high risk pregnancy, know you are not alone. We spoke with some experts and moms who have been there, and here’s what they have to say.
mom_yellow_treesBe proactive in your healthcare
Though it may feel like everything is out of your control, remember that this is your body and your baby. “Find a good doctor who will take the time to answer your questions—and make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with,” says Kelly Whitehead, a mom of two in Vernon, New Jersey, who was so inspired by her own experience with preterm labor that she is writing a book to help others.
“If you aren’t happy with the care you’re receiving, then walk.” Whitehead found comfort in conducting her own research and gathering as much information as she could about her condition.
Most complicated and high risk pregnancies require the care of a perinatologist, a specialist in maternal and fetal medicine. While your obstetrician will usually be your primary care doctor throughout pregnancy, a perinatologist will conduct high-level ultrasounds and consult with your OB about your care. “Seek a doctor who provides medical care with compassion, but is led by science,” advises Vincent Berghella, MD, director of maternal and fetal medicine at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. “There are 3,000 new articles a month on obstetrics and gynecology, and you need someone who is keeping track of emerging medicine.”
Make taking care of yourself top priority
This is one time in your life when it is perfectly acceptable—and perfectly appropriate —to put yourself first. Follow your doctor’s orders, get help with household duties, tune out work, let go of volunteer commitments, eat well, rest well, and do what you need to do to ensure optimal health for you and your baby.
Bed rest, though not prescribed as often as it once was, can be one of the most common obstacles women with complicated pregnancies have to face. Due to a history of preterm labor, Gissella Diaz-Williamson, a mother of three in Atlanta, was on bed rest for at least 20 weeks in each of her pregnancies. Total it up, and that’s more than a year on the sofa. “It’s difficult to be stuck at home and watch the world go on without you,” she says, “but you just have to give in to the process and trust you’ll get through it.”
Focus on the positive
A complicated pregnancy brings with it a great deal of anxiety and stress. It’s normal to feel sad, worried and even guilty, wondering if there was something you could have done differently. You may also wonder, “why me?”
Jamie Rodriguez of Boston experienced preterm labor at 23 weeks and endured 12 weeks of hospital bed rest until the delivery of her twins. “I spent a lot of time at first mourning my pregnancy and the ‘normal’ things I couldn’t do, like registering for gifts, attending baby showers, and setting up the nursery,” she recalls. “However, I tried to stay away from a ‘woe is me’ depressed attitude and instead focused on the positive.” The positives, looking back, were the close friendships she made with the hospital staff who became almost like family to her during her stay, and the strengthened bond she shared with her husband as they spent time talking, playing games, and passing the weeks away in a small hospital room. Of course, the greatest reward of all is her children, who are happy and healthy 2-year-olds today.
Rodriguez and others stress the importance of celebrating each milestone and small passage of time—these are successes in and of themselves. “Try to get some joy out of your pregnancy, and remember that the odds are on your side, even if you’ve had a loss before,” reminds Whitehead.
Reach out for support
While it is often difficult to ask for and receive help, the moms we spoke to stressed that you can’t go it alone. When friends and family ask what they can do, be honest about what would really benefit you the most. While flowers and cards are nice, practical help with household chores like preparing meals, running errands, or cleaning the house is probably what you need most.
Don’t neglect caring for your emotional needs either. It’s important to talk about how you are feeling and not bottle up the normal frustrations and fears you may have. Many women turn to online communities and pregnancy support groups to bond with other expectant moms who are going through or have been through a tough pregnancy. While on hospital bed rest, Rodriguez found Sidelines, an international high risk pregnancy support network that matches women with a “buddy” who has experienced a similar situation. “I felt like no one understood what I was going through,” says Rodriguez, “but my ‘buddy’ knew what it was like to be in my shoes.”
Rodriguez’s buddy was Angela Danison, a San Francisco mother of four who currently volunteers as a coordinator with Sidelines. She too experienced a very stressful twin pregnancy and long hospital stay. However, she feels richer for her experience. “I had to learn to let go and focus on what was important,” she says. “I think I became a better mom because of what I endured.”
Now a volunteer with Sidelines herself, Rodriguez seeks ways to share her story with women who are struggling through difficult pregnancies. Both women find being a “buddy” a therapeutic way to put their experiences into perspective and enjoy helping others celebrate when they too make it to the other side.
For additional information and helpful resources, read our baby buzz post, What complicates a pregnancy?