I was 29 years old, a senior in college, and a chemistry major, when I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son. I was also applying to medical school, hoping to move to Atlanta, Georgia, where my husband was already in medical school. So, I can tell you from my experience about all the things I worried about.
As young newlywed and in college and medical school, I worried a lot. Upon arriving to Atlanta mid-pregnancy, I had to find a doctor, and when I did, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I went to the library (long before Google) and looked it up. I was terrified that the baby would not be ok. Those were the bad old days when you were admitted into the hospital for glucose monitoring every 2 hours. They admitted me straight from the office. My first meal (lunch) in the hospital consisted of a salad topped with something I will describe as a type of processed “cheese food”. It took several bites of it for me to try and decide if it was actually tofu or something else like Velveeta cheese, and to this day I’m still not 100% sure…
So, as you can imagine by now, I can tell you all about stress, and what it will do to you when you are young, broke, pregnant, worried, and all you really want is what is best for your pregnancy, when it comes down to it.
I was too scared in the delivery room to open my eyes, until they told me the baby was ok. Thank God it was out. At least that part was over. I kept my eyes clenched tightly shut. “Is it ok? Tell me if it is ok!” I managed to gasp. The nurses turned to me and told me, “open your eyes!” and, “look at your baby boy!”
So, what is your worst fear about pregnancy?
For over fifteen years I have been caring for pregnant women in private practice (longer than that since being in medical school). Sometimes, I just think that I have heard everything, and then something else comes along to amaze me. Deep down, we all have something to be scared of, something unknown, that’s hard to put into words. Maybe we just bury those thoughts deeper and deeper to avoid thinking about them. But they are still there.
Ironically, I had read about water birth as a high school student, doing a term paper on Le Boyer and natural childbirth. Who would’ve thought back then, that I would be an OB doctor one day. I learned a little about how the medical establishment did things for the convenience of medical staff, and that some of these practices seemed to be counter-productive to having a natural birth. For example, putting the legs up in stirrups, when really the mom might need gravity on her side to push the baby down!
So, yeah, one of the things I wanted to avoid back then was anything that would lead to having a cesarean section. And epidural? No, no, no! Please don’t come near me with anything sharp in my back (remember, I was just a scared college graduate). I think I was just really afraid of pain and more than that, needles going where I could not see what was going on. I see things differently now, but that was my own experience 27 years ago.
Back then, at age 29, essentially broke, vulnerable, a college graduate, and wondering how I was going to pay for everything, and I had a lot of fears. I worked part time as a paste up artist in a local advertising print shop between college and medical school, sitting out a year for my first child to be born. I also did some babysitting for a working mom to have money to buy groceries for us. Little did I know at the time, that I would spend the next 27 years of my career, working toward helping other pregnant women. After I moved to Atlanta, I was accepted to the Morehouse School of Medicine. I later trained at Emory University, Grady, Crawford Long (now called Midtown) and Piedmont Hospitals in Gynecology & Obstetrics. (We said “gin”-a-cology at Emory Hospital where I trained). I spent a year writing and doing a research fellowship in Pelvic Imaging. My four kids were little, and our lives were busy and full. At the time, we didn’t know how we would get through it all, but we did.
Now, looking back, I realize that a lot of the care that we professionals provide is surveillance and reassurance. While we are making sure that we look carefully for the warning signs of a problem, a lot of what we are doing is giving reassurance that everything is going to be ok. And, thankfully, most of the time we have happy endings, because young moms are generally healthy and the body takes care of everything. So, that makes life easier.
The other part of my job is taking care of things that are not going ok, when things start looking like a train wreck is about to happen in slow motion, and time stands still as the seconds tick off, and an immediate emergency response is needed. Thankfully, that is not every day. My adrenaline and cortisol levels have peaked over the years and this has taken its personal toll on my health.
And, I would say there’s another part of my job that I take very seriously, and that is trying to prevent problems from occurring. So, the longer I take care of women, I now see things through a new lens. It might have started with my mom (who was one of the mothers who visited the seedy little health food stores of the 1970’s and kept weird stuff like brewer’s yeast and raw nuts in the refrigerator, and read the health nut literature of the day). It comes from realizing that in my own health, that healthy lifestyle is not just an option, it is a must. And a part of it comes from my additional years of training in functional medicine, since reading what that was about in around 2005.
So, I try to emphasize the things which I feel are important with respect to diet and lifestyle. When you think about it, all the building blocks we are made of chemically are a product of food. Every nitrogen and protein molecule and every vitamin and mineral that fuels a chemical reaction, or becomes incorporated into the body as a developing body part, comes from our food. So, it makes sense, that if you eat a diet rich in clean healthy nutrients, and you get plenty of fresh air, water and sunshine, and are able to stay away from toxic chemicals, that things should go better, and they do. When you have a heavy burden of ingested sugar, salt, fat, and toxic chemicals, things just do not seem to work out as well. In fact, a high carbohydrate diet, high in sugar due to a high glycemic index, and a high glycemic load, actually increases your body’s demand for vitamins and minerals. The same vitamins in our food are co-factors in the chemical reactions which help us metabolize glucose to make energy in the Krebs cycle (that awful diagram thing that you hoped to forget after high school chemistry) to make ATP which is known as the energy molecule. So, it’s like putting gas in your car (sugar) without ever changing or checking the oil, the transmission, the brake fluid or the air filter. Your body needs nutrients for maintenance, just like your car needs an oil change checkup.
So, if you want to have a successful pregnancy, begin by taking care of your body with good nutrition and paying attention to your lifestyle habits. These simple tips may help you get started on the right foot.
- Get enough protein with your meals. How much is enough, is the subject of a lot of heated debate. But get a good breakfast with some protein, and some protein with each meal. There are experts on each end of the argument, but only you can decide how much makes you feel at your best. (Too many carbs can give you sugar cravings and spikes in your glucose and insulin). So make sure you are getting enough protein and healthy oils like avocado, olive oil, and extra virgin coconut oils, and oils from small clean fish like sardines, and also nuts and seeds.
- Watch your carbohydrate load. Too many dietary starches and sugars will pile on the weight. Glucose is a small molecule which easily crosses the placenta. If you have a constant overload of glucose, you are more likely to be insulin resistant (more like a diabetic), and therefore you could have a tendency to grow a larger fetus, which could translate into a higher chance of that infant not fitting as well through the pelvis, or even needing a cesarean section. Avoid sugary drinks, KoolAid, sodas and sweet tea, and “white foods” (which add a lot of calories, and influence your metabolism). Make sure your choices are healthy.
- Get some moderate exercise, but take it easy, don’t overdo it. Ok. This is where it gets real. You are going to gain weight. Your baby is depending on you for a source of nutrition, oxygen, water, and constant temperature. If you exercise, use common sense. This means not getting breathless. You have to share your oxygen with the baby. Raising your core body temperature is like a fever for the growing fetus, and we don’t want a healthy behavior like exercising to cause a problem with the development of healthy fetal brain tissue. Choose moderate exercises like walking and swimming, in moderation. Talk over your exercise program with your health professional.
- Get out in the sun. Vitamin D is important for not only the development of bones, but also known to be important for a healthy immune system. There is research to suggest that kids born with the lowest cord blood vitamin D levels have the most respiratory infections. There is other good stuff to learn about Vitamin D, and it is something that you probably don’t have enough of, but can get too much of.
- Get enough sleep. This helps all your little receptors reset, and recharge. Rest is important for us all, and you will find that at certain times of pregnancy you will need more of it. Your body is sending you a message. You are going through a “growth spurt”, so get your rest when you need it. Power naps, and getting to bed at a decent hour will help you. Consider turning off your wireless router in your house at night when you will not need it, to avoid exposure to excess electromagnetic energy. Keep your cell phone at a safe distance as well, and not near your body. Some experts think that all of the potential health effects of the many sources of radiation we are exposed to, will be the next big area of health research. Until all the experts have concluded their research, why do an experiment on yourself, where you will be the pregnant guinea pig?
- Find a qualified health professional who is interested in your concerns. You are educated, can think for yourself, and have questions. Do you deserve to be cared for by someone who is condescending, and cannot give you the time of day? True, as healthcare providers with declining reimbursements, there is a certain pressure to see more, do more, to stay alive financially. But sometimes it is just a mindset, or a matter of degree. Good questions to ask: what is their view of natural childbirth, and a birth plan?
- Get some prenatal education. There is so much awesome education on the internet. You can pretty much learn about anything on YouTube! But, really, with the increased reach of information out there on the internet pages, in the form of handouts, eBooks and videos, you can really learn about any pregnancy related topic at your fingertips. One old standby I have used is the book “What to expect when you are expecting”. But now these days, there are lots of health bloggers (Chris Kresser in Berkeley, California, for example) who has blogged extensively about getting as healthy as you can, so you can not only get pregnant, but have a successful pregnancy as well.
- If you smoke, or use alcohol or drugs, get some help with that if you need to, but cut down as much as possible, or cut it out completely if you can on your own. These are not beneficial to good fetal development. Your baby gets this one chance at coming into the world, so let it be as good of a chance as you can make it. Everyone wants their kids to do well in school.
Disclaimer: The above information is given for educational purposes only, and cannot substitute for the advice of your own health professional that is familiar with your unique medical condition. Please seek the care of a qualified health professional as soon as you suspect you may be pregnant, and in the event of a suspected medical emergency, go to your nearest hospital emergency department for further evaluation when it is urgently needed. Remember to consult with your health professional or pharmacist before you take medicines, either prescription or over the counter, to make certain these are safe in pregnancy.
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Wellness Boutique is my OB/GYN practice and has been in downtown Hartsville since 2012. We are located around the corner from the Center Theater on North Fifth Street and West College Avenue. If you know where the Black Creek Arts Council is, and SPC Credit Union, we are across the street. I have been a practicing OB/GYN in Hartsville, on staff at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center since 2001.
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