Surviving a complicated pregnancy

By Published On: January 31st, 2012

Faced with a complicated pregnancy and wondering where to turn? […]

Faced with a complicated pregnancy and wondering where to turn? Kelly Whitehead, birth doula, high-risk scientist mom and author of High-Risk Pregnancy—Why Me? Understanding and Managing a Potential Preterm Pregnancy shares her advice and reassurance for moms-to-be facing difficult pregnancies.

ScaredManaging a high-risk pregnancy: Difficult but NOT impossible:
Every year in the US, more than 500,000 (or 1 in 8) babies are born too soon. A full-term pregnancy is when the baby is born between 37 to 41 weeks of gestation. Babies born before this time may suffer issues including: inability or difficulty breathing on their own (respiratory distress syndrome), feeding and growth problems, bleeding into the brain, an eye disease which can cause blindness (retinopathy of prematurity), neurologic disabilities, or hearing problems.
A high-risk pregnancy is a time of enormous stress, fear and unknowns, and even isolation, depression and a disruption of your entire life. Many of us with high-risk pregnancies lose even the basic of freedoms, from being able to work at our jobs, to having sex with our partners. Lifting a simple load of laundry, or our other children, are now huge no-no’s. Going through a tough pregnancy is an awful experience, I know. I’ve been there, twice. Managing a high-risk pregnancy after the loss of a baby is even worse; unfortunately I’ve been there too and sadly, so have many other women. Here are some tips for coping, managing, and hopefully thriving during this not-so-fun journey to parenthood:
Dealing with the “Medical Stuff”

  •  Understand your risk factors. The number one risk factor for having a premature baby is having had a prior early birth. There are numerous other risk factors including: smoking/drinking/illicit drug use (these are obviously controllable), cervical or womb abnormalities, carrying multiples, being a black woman, being obese or very skinny, getting pregnant less than 6 months after your last birth, conceiving through IVF, having placental issues, poor nutrition, certain chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, having had multiple abortions, or experiencing very stressful life events. Unfortunately, many women who have their babies early have no known risk factors.
  • Educate yourself in order to become a key member of your medical team and an advocate for you and your baby. It is important to NOT go around reading about every possible scenario or condition out there. Become knowledgeable about your situation/condition, only to minimize additional stress and fear.
  • If you’re not 100 percent satisfied with your doctor or if you’re struggling to get answers, get a second opinion. They should be there for you, to explain what to expect, as well as to provide support during this difficult time. If a doc isn’t meeting your needs, move on. (Yes—I’m saying fire them!) Since we spend so much time at our provider’s office, it’s extremely important that we not only have a provider who is knowledgeable about our condition, but one with whom we also mesh well.
  • Pay attention to your body and don’t feel bad about calling to ask questions if anything seems off. You are doing the most important “job” … baking that baby!

Coping emotionally

  • Time to lower your standards, girls. It’s hard, but to save your sanity, it has got to be done. Dirty toilets, prepackaged foods, unorganized cabinets, tumbleweeds blowing down the hallway … all OK.
  • It’s OK to be upset, to cry, to even morn the loss of your dream of having a “perfect” pregnancy. Go ahead—get upset, yell, cry and freak out. Get it all out of your system. Then move on so you can focus on staying positive and hopeful.
  • Let go of any guilt. Do NOT let it eat you up inside. Stress and guilt will not help you or the baby growing inside! This is not your fault.
  • Seek support from others who’ve been there. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to speak up to family and friends to tell them what you need (even if it’s help with the laundry or with childcare). There are also various foundations which can provide much needed support. One great resource is:
  • Sideline National High Risk Pregnancy Support Network is a great resource. This non-profit provides international support for women and families experiencing complicated pregnancies and premature birth. They will match you up with a volunteer who has experienced the same or similar situation. This “mom-buddy” will be there to provide support throughout your pregnancy.
  • A tough pregnancy can lead to tension in even the best of relationships. The stress, fear, constant worrying, no sex—yikes. My advice? Make time for each other. Even though you’re on “pelvic rest,” get creative and get intimate with daddy-to-be. Take some time out to be together. Ladies, prego is sexy.
  • Don’t slack. Get dressed, do your make up and fix your hair. Even if you feel down in the dumps, looking your best can help trick you into a better frame of mind.
  • You MUST try to enjoy your pregnancy. I can’t stress this enough. Though you probably can’t do all the things that most pregnant women can do, you just have to adjust. If you can’t go to the mall and physically shop to pick out baby things, then shop online. Go ahead and dream about what baby looks like, what you’ll do as a family. Just because you’re on bed rest or you have this or that restriction, doesn’t mean you can’t savor your body changes. Take pictures; do a belly cast; show your new prego self off to friends and family. (I’m a hypocrite. I did very few of these in my pregnancy after the loss of my son.)
  • High-risk pregnancy doesn’t always equal a high-risk birth. Therefore, don’t bail on your dream birth just because you’re having a tough pregnancy.

Hang in there ladies! It may seem like this period of your life will last forever, but when you look back, like I can now do, it will seem like a million years ago and well worth the trouble. Now, instead of being stressed about bed rest, I worry about whether homework got done, if potty training will get easier, and what I’m going to feed my picky eaters for dinner!
For more information about high-risk pregnancy, resources, inspiration, articles and tips, check out the website, (Live in the Northern New Jersey/New York area and interested in contacting her about being your doula? Email her at for more information.)