I always love hearing from readers, especially when they tell me that they were scared to even think about starting a family, and now they have hope that it can be done. It wasn't my initial plan to start a "You can do it!" blog--in the beginning I was more interested in recording my Lyme pregnancy experience because a.) I was surprised many other people hadn't done this yet, and b.) I had no clue what pregnancy was going to be like as a Lymie not yet in remission, and writing about it helped me work through my fears.
Between a miscarriage and two successful (knock on wood) pregnancies, I've been carrying babies for over two years straight, with only a three month break after the birth of my first son, Wyatt. I was still wearing maternity pants and trying to make sense of what it meant to be a mother.
Some people just love being pregnant. Healthy or unhealthy, I can honestly say that I am NOT one of those glowing, happy pregnant women. To me, feeling nauseated and puking all the time sucks. Looking and feeling like a beached whale sucks. Feet swelling to elephant-man-like proportions sucks. Of course, it's temporary and the end product has you looking at your deflated, mushy belly, not even recognizing yourself but thinking, "I would totally do this all over again."
The feeling of love you experience the first time you hear your child cry, or when the doctor places that little sobbing bundle on your chest and you look at your partner to share the indescribable moment that will make your connection to each other deeper than it's ever been--it's enough to make you temporarily forget Lyme Disease even exists. In a weird way, I can see why the Duggar wife on reality TV keeps popping out kids like she's a baby-making factory. That intense feeling of love, newness, and purpose is addictive.
But as you've probably guessed and might have read, the Lyme parenthood experience is not all puppies and roses. Coming from a new angle where I am both pregnant and caring for a baby, I can say from experience that there are days you will wonder if a.) you are nuts for even embarking on this journey (though you will never regret it), b.) you're going to make it through another day, c.) life will ever get easier--even just a little--because right now it's too hard. I imagine that if you take out the Lyme Disease aspect of it, many first time parents ask themselves the same questions. The only way I can describe it is to take these natural emotions and struggles, intensify them, and then add in some struggles due to physical discomfort.
Keep in mind this is coming from someone who was not in remission prior to pregnancy, with some pretty serious neuro stuff happening. Also keep in mind that when I called and asked my doctor why I feel like absolute death right now, his response was that in his years of Lyme treatment, he hasn't seen such severe Lyme reactions during a pregnancy. Bottom line is that I'm not a typical case, so even though it's good to be prepared for and read about the worst, chances are your pregnancy experience won't be negatively life altering or tragic. Extra fatigue, slight flares in symptoms, or some discomfort on top of typical pregnancy stuff is probably more realistic. There's also the chance you will get lucky and your elevated hormone levels will mask your symptoms for nine months.
You will have your own list of pros and cons (or obstacles to factor in) when thinking about having kids, and it will be unique to your situation. Many women email me because they are unsure of when they can realistically expect to start a family, if they need to be in full remission, if they should put treatment on hold because they are older and feel as though they are running out of time--the list goes on, the ultimate question being, "When is the right time?"
Unfortunately, I'm not qualified to answer that question, but I can give you a list of things to think about before you make your decision. As always, take this advice with a grain of salt, as I'm no expert and often times don't know what the heck I'm doing when it comes to getting my own health in order. This is just what I've come up with during the past two years of pregnancy ups and downs:
1.) How long have you had Lyme, and when were you diagnosed? Have you had it for fifteen years but just started treatment a year ago? Have you had it for three years but been in treatment for two and are doing fairly well? There's a huge difference there. Obviously, the longer you've been in treatment, the better. I wouldn't recommend getting pregnant right away if you were very recently diagnosed or if you haven't been treated
2.) How are you feeling? I found with my first pregnancy that even though I wasn't at 100%, I had made good progress in terms of treatment and was confident that pregnancy would be hard, though my body was strong enough to handle it. In retrospect, I could have waited another year to really focus on getting my body balanced, but alas, not all pregnancies are planned and sometimes we don't have that option. If you're not feeling at least 80% and CAN wait a year to make sure you're stable, I'd suggest waiting just a bit. It's worth it for everyone involved
3.) Are you willing and able to change your treatment protocol to something pregnancy safe? Research your antibiotic options to make sure there are pregnancy safe meds out there that your body will tolerate. Keep in mind that pregnancy is not the time for hardcore treatment or even blasting away at the evil spirochetes. For 9 months you will be "maintaining" and just protecting the baby*) *Still no reports on how "transmittable" Lyme is to a fetus, so I go by the rule that it's better to be safe than sorry.
4.) Can you walk up stairs? Can you do some chores? Can you leave the house to run light errands? Basically, how functional are you? Now take what you can do and envision a potentially symptomatic day, carrying a bunch of extra weight, and pregnancy fatigue. Can you still function well enough to get through the day (with extra rest, of course)? Now picture doing your daily routine while holding 20 pounds of almost-walking-but-not-quite baby. Would these things put you completely out of commission at the moment? If so, you might want to wait a bit
5.) How is your attitude/mental state? Are you still mad at the world five years after diagnosis? Do you dwell on every ache and pain in your body, obsessed with trying the latest fad in the world alternative Lyme treatments, even if it sounds ludicrous or even dangerous? We have all been desperate to feel better, but if you are not able to fully accept that you might have to deal with some chronic pain indefinitely, you might want wait a bit, especially since you'll want to provide a safe environment (mentally and physically) however;
6.) Are you able to put your disease and pain into perspective--that it is inconvenient and completely unfair, but it doesn't mean that life is over? Are you able to do what you can to live as normal of a life a possible while remembering to rest when you need to? Do you love life despite your illness and are you willing to do what it takes to carry out your dreams and goals? It can be a struggle, but with a determined attitude, you will be just fine
7.) Do you have a good support system? Is there someone you can call on full time the first few weeks after birth, just in case you experience a Lyme setback and need help? Is your partner willing to go against the typical gender stereotypes associated with parenthood and pick up the slack if you can't handle all of the "new mother" duties (for instance, will he or she change poop diapers, bathe the baby, wash and fold clothes, feed, and soothe the baby at all hours of the night)? I know that sounds weird, but I've met more than a few traditional fathers (or father figures) who wouldn't dream of washing bottles, doing the laundry, or soothing a baby in the night. If your list of support is lacking, are you willing and able to hire a mother's helper if needed?
8.) Do you have a Lyme doctor that you like and trust? There's nothing worse than finding out you're pregnant and not feeling confident about your healthcare. Are you able to openly communicate with him or her about your concerns. Will he or she be readily available if you have a rough pregnancy? If you're really struggling and you have to wait 4 months to see your doctor, you might have some issues. If you're actually planning your pregnancy, it helps to make sure you're established with a doctor that treats you adequately and makes you feel comfortable
That's it for my list--for now, anyway. Any other Lyme moms want to chime in and add anything?
I am a mother and writer with Chronic Lyme, on the road to acceptance and recovery. I was bitten in 1996, diagnosed 2008. I am living proof that it is possible to live meaningfully and have happy, healthy children while battling this terrible disease.