Saturday, May 27, 2006

Rheumatoid Arthritis Helped Build My Family

Here's a guest article from Lisa Andrews

About four years ago, our clique of mid 30-something couples experienced a flurry of pregnancies. A hunk of cake with a baby’s bonnet plastered across it became a dietary staple for me as I numbly attended shower after shower. I never tired of seeing all the tiny hats, booties and onesies (or the delicious cake for that matter), but wondered, when would my turn come? When would I get to enjoy my bonnet-plastered cake?

At the tender ages of 34 (my husband) and 35 (me) and a year of marriage under our belts, we decided maybe it was time to start working on a family. I became obsessed with taking my basal body temperature, peeing on ovulation sticks and timing intercourse at just the right second. My cycles were normal and I came from a brood of five; I figured getting pregnant would be a snap! But after four months of trying and limping around from being off Enbrel for RA, my husband got checked for infertility. After all, his work up was much simpler than mine, and with RA, I didn’t want to be off my meds and wait out the compulsory six months of trying to conceive. The results were devastating. My husband was nearly sterile and our only chance of pregnancy was using the highest level of in vitro fertilization. If having children were natural, it would be anything but natural for us. Ours would be conceived in a petri dish.

Ironically, this was a blessing in disguise. Though I never got to experience the exhilaration of a surprise pregnancy, needing fertility treatments meant I could time when I could and couldn’t use Enbrel. No longer did I have to suffer for months at a time wondering if I’d be pregnant by month’s end. Being on Enbrel shots for five years also made administering hormone shots to myself, well, a piece of cake! After 15 months of work ups and two invitro fertilizations, I finally got pregnant by my 36th birthday.

My pregnancy was easy- no morning sickness, minor weight gain and I had loads of energy. My RA kicked my butt. By the time I reached my last trimester, I could barely walk and dreaded those first few steps in the morning. My baby must have known I was in wicked pain. Our sweet daughter (Iris Elizabeth) was born six weeks early, but perfectly healthy. To my surprise, the prednisone I was taking helped her lungs develop in utero. Talk about serendipity!

Fast-forward two years. Our friends were having their second (or often third) baby and all conversations centered around pregnancy again. Would we endure another hormonal roller coaster of in vitro fertilization? Could I handle another pregnancy? Would Iris be our only child? Could I love an adopted child? After a few months trials of more fertility treatment and a wicked flare of my RA, the answer became easy. In vitro fertilization was not cheap (financially or emotionally) and I was no spring chicken. Iris is a high-spirited, loving child that would likely benefit from a sibling. And, yes- I could love an adopted child. We chose to adopt from Guatemala because of the excellent foster care, the beautiful country and a previous visit to Central America years ago.

We completed our international dossier after three months of what seemed like endless paperwork and were ready for an infant referral from Guatemala. I could continue to take Enbrel, take care of Iris and not worry about when or how I’d become pregnant again. I couldn’t imagine sporting a giant watermelon shaped belly while I chased an active 3-year old around. We received our referral for baby Maria in January of 2006 and hope to have her home by late summer. We visited her in April and can’t wait to make her part of our family.

Though the road to building our family was more difficult due to RA, it has taught me many things. One-cherish your children. Be they biological or adopted, they bring so much joy to life. Two- listen to your body. Sure I could have limped my way through another pregnancy, but no one would have benefited from my pain. Three-believe that things happen for a reason. Had it not been for RA- we’d never have Maria in our lives.

1 comment:

StuntBec said...

Lisa, I loved your story. Sorry for not commenting sooner. I've been thinking about it quite a bit. It's amazing when we can overcome health challenges to get where we want to be.

Your story reminds me in some ways of my own health challenge. Since 5th grade, I've been labelled an epileptic. I feel the same way about my own kids - I'm so lucky to have 3 healthy children. I have been seizure free and medication free for years, since 1997. But, being labelled an epileptic, my midwife for my first child insisted I see a neurologist, just in case. In my initial consultation with the neurologist, I explained to him that by leading a healthy lifestyle (get enough sleep, work to keep the stress level down, avoid alcohol), I have been able to be medication and seizure free. This doctor insisted I go back on medicaion for the rest of my pregnancy. He called me a bunch of times, sent me a registered letter, warning me of the dangers of not taking medication. Talk about stress! No matter that this medication is awful for a developing fetus...according to him, the risk of having a seizure was much worse. No matter that I had been successfully off medication for 4 years already. I begged to differ with him. And every November, on the anniversary of my last seizure, back in '97, I think of him, and just how thankfully wrong he was.

So, your story warmed my heart. Children really are such a blessing. Older people always seem to say that to me, when they see me around town with the kids. And I can't agree with them more!