Being single and sick has its challenges- there isn’t always someone around who can help you open bottles, zip up zippers or carry your groceries up a flight of stairs. On the other hand, dealing with being sick on your own allows you to put off worrying about some of RA’s future implications until some undetermined date in the faraway future, particularly when it comes to one subject: how will having rheumatoid arthritis impact my ability to have and care for a baby?
Since I was as single as you get when I found out I had RA, I went ahead and dealt with the more immediate issues at hand, after all, having a baby wasn’t on my short list of things to do. It still isn’t . . . exactly, but now that I’m on the other side of 30, the baby question seems to be popping up more and more. Several of my friends have become mothers in the years since my diagnosis, and for the first time, I am about to become an aunt! Having all of these babies around makes the prospect of motherhood feel less far away, but whenever I think about starting a family of my own one day, I find myself thinking about doctors and flares instead of baby names and nurseries. It doesn’t exactly feel rosy.
While rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t impact fertility outright, for someone like me who is successfully managing the disease partly through medications, the road to getting pregnant could be a painful one. And like everything else with RA, making it happen will require a lot of planning and coordination. Just thinking about all my questions makes my head start to spin, and I’m not even ready to have a baby. I’m not the only one in this boat. Many young women I’ve spoken with feel similarly overwhelmed about this topic, and yet, I know there are many women out there with rheumatoid arthritis who have had kids, so clearly, it’s possible. The question is, how did they do it (not literally) and moreover, how did it go?
For many of us managing our RA with heavy meds, the first question that comes to mind is, do I have to go off all of my medications in order to get pregnant? Though I may have a love/hate relationship with my drugs at times, I am generally rather fond of them, seeing as how they keep my immune system from eating up my bones and have allowed me (thus far) to keep up an active and busy lifestyle. They have also kept the mind-altering pain I felt during the first six months of my journey with RA at a tolerable limit. If I go cold turkey while I’m trying to get pregnant, is my RA going to go nuts while my meds are on vacation? I can’t imagine that severe pain would bolster one’s libido or fertility.
Obviously, this question is one to discuss with my rheumatologist when the time is right, but in conversations I’ve had with other folks with RA, there do seem to be differing medical opinions out there on whether or not and when to go cold turkey on different medications. And, like most choices you face about having a baby, it’s a very personal one. Even if your doctor approves of staying on certain drugs while pregnant, some women may not feel comfortable with this. So then what do you do?
The questions don’t stop there: what if it takes you awhile to get pregnant and a minor flare turns major? What if you aren’t one of the women who goes into remission once they do get pregnant? What if you want to breastfeed, but a post-pregnancy flare makes it impossible? What if you are in such bad shape that you can’t even pick up your baby once you have one?
The more I think about it, the more I find myself feeling anxious, overwhelmed and a little terrified, and again, I’m not even trying to have a baby yet!
Contemplating all these issues made me crave hearing from someone who had grappled with these questions in their own life. So, just as I did after my diagnosis, I went in search of a book or memoir detailing the journey of rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy from a personal point of view. Luckily, Suzie Edward May has written a book addressing all these issues called Arthritis, Pregnancy and the Path to Parenthood. (Lene discussed this book and interviewed the author in this post) When I came across the book on Creaky Joints a few months ago, I was thrilled to know that someone out there had written about this very personal and complex issue from their own point of reference. I quickly ordered a copy of the book for myself.
While I’m not ready to have a baby yet, I am ready to begin informing myself about some of the choices I will have to make once I am. While my rheumatologist and medical supersquad will most certainly be an important and critical resource in this process (not to mention the future fictional baby-in-question’s fictional father), I feel incredibly thankful to have a roadmap that can help me prepare to tackle all my questions and figure out the answers for myself.
Read more of Sara's writing at her blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.