By Misty Sharpe
3 Feb

The Knowledge to Answer the Pregnancy Question

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

If your Facebook news feed is anything like mine, it seems like there have been a barrage of posts by soon-to-be parents announcing their upcoming bundle of joy. You also may find yourself the subject of many asking the question, “When are you going to have children?” For many, including myself with congenital heart disease, this question isn’t easily answered.

I have always wanted to be a mom. I remember always smiling whenever someone would call me “Little Angie” because I looked so much like my mother and thought how special it would be to have my own biological child one day. CHD, however, can hover like a black cloud over your pregnancy parade.

At age 4½, my aortic valve was replaced with a mechanical valve and I have been on Coumadin, a blood thinner, ever since. I also had coarctation of the aorta repaired twice in early infancy in addition to an attempted aortic valve repair prior to its replacement. I will be 28 this year and consider myself incredibly blessed that my valve is still functioning well and I haven’t had any interventions or surgeries since my valve replacement.

Adulthood with CHD, however, brings with it a new set of challenges in regards to pregnancy. In my case, it involves switching what type of blood thinner I use before I become pregnant, due to the risk to the baby. It completely terrifies me to think about discontinuing a medicine I’ve been taking for the past 24 years, even if for a brief time period.

Then, of course, is the whole issue of whether my heart, especially my coarctation repair, can handle the changes that occur during pregnancy. My cardiologist has given me confidence based on my most recent echocardiogram that he feels my heart could handle pregnancy, but I still find myself asking the “what if” questions, as I’m sure many women with CHD do.

In addition to questioning our safety during pregnancy, there is also the concern about passing along a CHD to the baby. Although the risk is small, there is still a chance.

So, what does all this mean for us? In a nutshell, it means we must be informed before coming to a concrete decision on the matter. We already know that when we combine pregnancy and congenital heart disease, no one is ever going to be able to tell us it’s 100% safe. Even completely healthy women have complications, so we will never be immune to the potential risks associated with pregnancy.

When it comes to making decisions like these, knowledge is power. Explore and educate yourself on every option from pregnancy to adoption. First, speak with your cardiologist and determine if pregnancy is even a safe and viable option. Sit down and come up with a list of questions to ask him or her. If there are major concerns about your health and safety, listen to that advice and talk with someone close to you about the emotions you are feeling because of that news.

Always remember, your health is paramount and your first priority. Ask your significant other or spouse what their questions are and involve them in every aspect of decision making, if applicable.

Ultimately the decision is yours, but support and understanding from those around you can be so helpful. Set up a time to go speak with an adoption counselor about the process and your questions or concerns. Explore genetic testing to determine the possibility of passing along a CHD to your baby, should you consider pregnancy.

At the end of the day, the best decision is an informed, thought-out, and planned one with which you can be comfortable and confident. I’m not sure yet what that decision will be for me personally, but I know whether it’s through pregnancy or adoption, I will make a great mom one day.

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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.