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MS and Pregnancy:
Surprise! Surprise!
by Mary Elizabeth McNary

Mary Elizabeth, it's good to hear your voice," declared my neurologist. We hadn't spoken in six months. My neurologist is wonderful. I went through five doctors before finding her, and she has become the friend and partner who helps me see my MS as an inconvenience rather than a tragedy. "How are you?" she demanded.

"Well … pregnant!" I blurted in disbelief. I'd never expected to say the "P" word about myself, but true love leads one down unexpected trails. Fatherhood was the dearest dream of my healthy, strapping husband. After years of dickering about it, I'd finally agreed to leave the matter in God's hands. Patrick didn't know it yet, but his dream had just come true.

My supportive neurologist referred me to her own obstetrician. The two practice at the same hospital, and they kept in touch throughout my pregnancy, recommending reading for me, advising me on everything from medications to prenatal testing, and consulting each other whenever appropriate. One or both always answered my questions about gestation, MS, and the interaction between them.

The doctors' collaboration gave me confidence as my body metamorphosed over the nine months. An expectant mother with MS should be able to count on her two most important health-care providers to work well together while she does the life-changing task of carrying a baby. My physicians got me through it swimmingly.

The first trimester brought few physical changes. No weight gain, no morning sickness, and no more than my usual fatigue, weakness, and ataxia. The emotional changes, however, were something else entirely. The entire trimester was like a bad bout of PMS.

For twelve weeks, I was horrible company. Life seemed overwhelming. Everything either infuriated or depressed me. After snapping at my bewildered husband for some imagined transgression, I would burst into tears and apologize for being unfit as a wife, friend, or mother-to-be. What a case of hormone poisoning!

As if my emotional state weren't indignity enough, the first sonogram revealed something more. As the radiologist extracted the vaginal probe that had captured the image of a healthy fetus, she suddenly exclaimed, "Uh-oh! What's that?!" It appeared that the baby was not alone. Patrick later told me he'd awakened that morning with the eerie feeling that we'd be having twins. To his credit, he'd refrained from telling me.

I lost it. "You're the one who wanted a kid, now this is what you get!" I sobbed. "How will I ever do it? What about my life, my job, my ambitions …? What about my MS?" Patrick was somber. "We'll manage," he whispered, hugging me.

If MS has taught Patrick and me anything, it's to keep a sense of humor. After the shock wore off, we joked about our win-win situation: "You get to be a father, and I only have to be pregnant once. It's a 'Mc-Family'," I quipped. We left the hospital laughing.

Keith's sibling is on the way!
I am currently five-and-a-half months pregnant with my second child since my diagnosis in 1991. My husband, Philip, has been key in my ability to keep going while being a pregnant mom. He takes over when he comes home from work. I still make dinner, but retire to the couch afterwards to rest. Philip cleans up, plays with Keith, gets him ready for bed, and sings him to sleep. I couldn't get through this without my wonderful husband.
-Pamela Meyer, Illinois

We continued laughing as I grew to be nearly as wide as I am tall. We chuckled as I started craving red meat instead of my usual vegetarian fare. We giggled as I started urinating every five minutes instead of just every half-hour. We told everybody I was having trouble making the transition from sex kitten to Earth Mother, and they all laughed with us.

By the third trimester, the twins were making a constant fuss. When I sang, they'd dance inside of me, keeping time with the song. When I drank seltzer water, they'd keep me up all night with their hiccups. If I put a paper cup on my belly, they'd kick it off.

I lived through a muggy Washington, D.C. summer without an exacerbation of my MS, but I got no third-trimester break from symptoms. Pregnancy, not MS, hampered my mobility in the end. My legs and feet swelled up with edema until only bedroom slippers fit. My gait, long since robbed of any grace, became a blundering lurch. As the due date ("D-Day," I called it) approached, I felt as if twin parasites were sucking the energy out of me.

The babies arrived safely, by planned C-section, two weeks before D-Day. They weighed nearly 7 pounds each, and the obstetrician praised me for being one of her "healthiest" patients.

They are three years old now, and I remain well, gainfully employed, and happily married. Not bad for a woman living with MS, is it?

Like having triplets
Having a baby when you have MS is like having triplets for a person without MS. My son, Legend, was born September 13, 2001. I had a nice, long labor without much pain, but after four-and-a-half hours of pushing, the doctor concluded that the baby was not going to drop, so it was a C-section. I have not had any major flare-ups since the birth.

Legend was breast-fed until he was almost 11 months old, and now he is drinking from my huge supply of frozen breast milk. That is a story all of its own!
-Ann Howard, Virginia

 

 
     
 
For additional information
 Family and Friends
 MS and Pregnancy
 Who Gets MS?
 
 
  Mary Elizabeth McNary wants to thank Heidi Crayton, MD, and Michele Wylen, MD, her neurologist and her OB. Both practice at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C.  
     
  Last updated May 2006  
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