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Three Tips for Managing a High-Risk Pregnancy

Having a high-risk pregnancy is not always an easy journey, but here are three tips to help you manage and receive the best care for you and your unborn child.

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"She will most likely be stillborn." It felt as though I stopped breathing for a moment in time while listening to a high-risk perinatal specialist say these words to me. I was 16 weeks pregnant. After viewing an increased amount of fluid around my unborn daughter's head, the doctor was confident I should have an abortion to avoid miscarriage. However, he suggested I undergo further testing to confirm his diagnoses and suspicions before deciding.

As he walked out of the room to give my husband and me a moment alone, I busted into tears as I exhaled. Thinking about the miscarriage we had just months prior, I thought to myself, ‘How could this be happening again?’ Watching the tears streaming down my husband's face, I held his hand. The doctor left to give us time to decide whether or not we would be moving forward with the testing and abortion. However, we knew that abortion was not an option for us, so we did not need that time to decide. We believed that our baby should have a chance at life, no matter the test results, and we would do whatever it took to make sure she had the chance she deserved.

So we, instead, used those moments alone after hearing such devastating news to comfort one another and further process the information we had so far. When the doctor returned, we made our decision known and asked him to help us create a care plan.

Today, we have a beautiful, healthy, and rambunctious toddler who lights up our lives. I often think about my pregnancy with her and how quickly my excitement turned into anxiety after learning her health may be at risk.

Little did I know, I would experience those same emotions again while pregnant with yet another sweet little girl, after learning she had a severe case of IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction) and was measuring small for her gestational age.

It is quite painful to hear that your baby could be at risk for health issues, and it can take a major toll on your emotions and your health. I have learned that seeking proper care for both mom and baby is important when you have a high-risk pregnancy. Finding supportive medical care, whether that be through a doula or a doctor, is especially important. Below, I share three helpful tips that helped me manage and navigate my high-risk pregnancies and provide the best care for my unborn baby, my physical and mental health, and my hope is that they help you too.

1. Do your own research

According to Mayo Clinic, a high-risk pregnancy is defined as one where you or your baby might be at increased risk of health problems before, during, or after delivery. Doctors can often overload you with information during your prenatal appointments. Not to mention, learning that your pregnancy is high-risk can be a lot to process, and it can be easy to forget to ask some of the questions you may have. 

To ensure that you receive all the information you need concerning your and your baby’s health, conduct your own research and keep a notebook handy for all of your potential questions. Many doctors will tell you to stay away from Dr. Google, but Dr. Google is a great place to start learning more about the risks associated with your pregnancy. Once you learn you have a high-risk pregnancy, doing research online will help you come to your appointments prepared with questions that you need your doctor to answer. Some questions you can ask include: Is there treatment for the diagnosis? What potential risks come with the diagnosis? How will my health be affected?

When my youngest was diagnosed with IGUR, I did research online using credible sources such as Mayo-Clinic, What to Expect, and Baby Center. Some other sources you can use are The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The Centers for Disease Control. Learning the facts, as well as the risks associated with the pregnancy, will help ensure that you are provided the best care for you and your baby, and it will also inform you about potential treatment options.

2. Create a care plan with a doctor you are comfortable with and communicate often

It’s important to come up with a medical care plan with your doctor. You will want to know things like how often they plan to monitor you and your baby, how often you’ll see your regular OBGYN, and how often you’ll see your perinatal specialist. High-risk pregnancies have the potential to affect or change your birth plan, so you will want to ask your doctor how your birth plan will be affected.

While doctors will answer these questions and tell you what they think is best, it is still important to be open and honest with your doctor about your wishes. I cannot stress how important this is. For example, when I was pregnant with my first baby, the doctors constantly stressed their opinion of abortion at almost every visit despite my husband and I’s decision to move forward; this made me very uncomfortable. So, I scheduled a meeting with one of the lead doctors of the program and expressed my concerns. I made it known that I no longer wanted to even hear the word abortion mentioned at visits. The doctor made note of my request and the staff no longer suggested the unwanted option. 

I also switched to a group of doctors that I was more comfortable with, one that made me feel as though they truly cared about my unborn baby and truly respected my wishes to keep the baby. 

Moving forward, the staff gave us the best possible care to bring her into the world and even saved her from being a stillborn baby with their close monitoring. If you are uncomfortable where you are, do research to see what other care options are out there for you and your baby.

When creating a care plan with your doctor or doula, here are some questions you can ask:

How often will I be seen? How will my birth plan be affected? Where will I deliver? Is a NICU stay possible?

Have a support system at home. Surround yourself with friends and family that are supportive of your decision. Practical and emotional support are key to a healthy pregnancy. Here are tips for talking to your partner about a high-risk pregnancy. Have someone listen, make sure they are onboard, and tell them your needs.

3. Find support at home and reduce stress

Learning you have a high-risk pregnancy can take a toll on your emotions and mental health. It’s important to find support through your spouse or partner, friends, or family. Support can look as simple as someone helping with household chores or helping you get set up for the baby’s arrival. If it is in your budget, treat yourself and hire help if needed. It could also look like calling a friend or family member to talk through your emotions. 

The goal is to find ways to relieve stress and keep your mind at peace. For me, this was taking walks in the park, listening to music, resting when my body told me to, and not overextending myself. I also did a lot of praying, which is one way I find peace. Getting as much rest as possible, taking a mindfulness class, and exercising are all ways to reduce stress. Your baby can feel everything you feel, so be as stress-free as possible.

Doctors are a great support and resource when you have a high-risk pregnancy, but at the end of the day, you, the mother, have a natural instinct that will tell you what is best for your body and your baby. So, follow your heart. I am so glad I followed mine. Had I not, my little girl would not be here today.

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