The decision to become pregnant can be a difficult one, with so many things to consider. Am I emotionally ready? Am I in a good place financially? What will the pregnancy be like? Will I be sick? And the big one: can I handle labour and delivery? Add having a spinal cord injury into the mix, and some of these questions can be even more difficult to answer. When my husband and I decided to start a family, I was already about 11 years post injury. Being a C5 quad, I had already learned to do what I could independently, and was an expert at self-managing my care—something that I felt was my strongest survival skill! I was ready to research what I needed to do, and what I could expect, but at the time (1998) I was disappointed to find that there really weren’t many resources out there to help me out. I also felt very alone because I did not have connections withany other women who had delivered a baby after an SCI.
Now that my children are in their teenage years, I am happy to say that I know a wonderful circle of amazing women who have delivered babies following spinal cord injury, and the support they offer one another is irreplaceable. I did learn a few things on my pregnancy journey, and would like to share four that I found of extreme importance. First, an obstetrician who you are comfortable with, and who is comfortable with you, is invaluable. It is beneficial to find a good obstetrician before you even start trying to get pregnant. I was my obstetrician’s first SCI patient, and she was honest in stating that she would be learning right alongside me. She was also the first person I’d ran into in the medical field who made me feel like my desire for a family was a natural, attainable goal, and that it was definitely worth the few extra obstacles we would possibly encounter. Also, there are a lot of medications that are contraindicated in pregnancy and may need to be stopped, or switched for a safer alternative. Many painkillers, anticoagulants, antibiotics, and medications used to manage a neurogenic bladder are not recommended during pregnancy, and your obstetrician will be able to help you figure out how to deal with these issues.
Second, we all need support systems. This could mean emotional support, such as finding a peer with a spinal cord injury who has experienced pregnancy, a close friend, family members, trusted caregivers, or your significant other. Pregnancy brings many changes, and having people around that you can talk to about them can keep you from feeling anxious and alone. Even though it’s a happy time, those hormones can turn the most resilient person into a mound of mush, SCI or not.
Third, being prepared and realistic can make the journey less bumpy. This was tough for me. After struggling for years with negative attitudes regarding my desire to give birth, and a couple of years of struggling with infertility issues, I finally felt like I’d become a member of an exclusive group. Because of this, I wanted to be “Super Mom”. It was difficult to let those doubts surrounding the “what I couldn’t do’s” surface. But there came a point where I had to make plans on how I was going to manage once there was an actual live, squirming, needy human being to look after, and I physically could not do some of the caregiving tasks that I thought went along with the Super Mom persona. Once I came to terms with figuring out how I was going to manage my own care, plus accepting and appreciating help to do the tasks I wouldn’t be able to do for my baby, I found my pregnancy to be much more enjoyable. It also pushed me into finding alternative ways to adapting equipment and accessories to give me better access for feeding, snuggles, and all the fun stuff.
Finally, keep in mind that 40 weeks goes by so quickly. Enjoy every little kick, hiccup, and ultrasound appointment. Shout out every milestone to anybody who’s excited to hear about it. Take belly photos, and lots of them. Celebrate—there’s a human growing inside of you!
The Women’s Circle is a peer support program that brings together women of all ages and stages of life, to share information, support, and friendship in a casual setting. Topics of conversation are not usually chosen beforehand, and will usually focus on new events, or issues that arise for any of the members. It’s a very inclusive group, and open to women of varying mobility disabilities. We will be starting back up at the end of September. For more information, or if you’d like to join us, contact Delynne Bortis at (306) 652-9644, ext. 7 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Delynne Bortis- originally published in Parascope Fall 2016