I was so excited and happy when I found out I was pregnant. Even though I was 37-years old, and of “advanced maternal age,” I was not at all worried about having a complicated pregnancy. I was just so thankful that I was finally going to be a mom!
As time went on, I was feeling pretty confident that I was doing everything right to ensure I also had a healthy baby, as well as, a healthy pregnancy. Then, it was time for the mid-pregnancy ultrasound at 19-weeks where your baby’s anatomy is scanned. While we never found out anything other than “yup, you’re definitely having a boy” from the ultrasound tech during the actual appointment, my OB/GYN broke the news to me during my next check-up with him a month later.
The news was that my son had a possible cleft palate. Come to find out, after getting a 3D ultrasound, he had both a cleft lip and cleft palate. Looking back, I can be thankful that his dad and I found out as soon as we did. More often than not, clefts and other birth defects are not discovered until after birth. At least we had a few weeks to process the news and learn as much as we could before Ben was born prematurely at 29-weeks after I developed severe preeclampsia. So, long story short, I failed at preventing my baby from having a birth defect and failed at having a healthy pregnancy. But, I have made a promise to myself – a pretty serious New Year’s resolution – to no longer torment myself with wondering what went wrong during my pregnancy and wondering if I had done something wrong.
So, in honor of my resolution, I am writing this article for January since its National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Understandably, prevention is not a word I think many of us are all that comfortable with anymore, so if there is only one thing you take away from reading this, my hope is that you know for most birth defects, there is no known cause. Maybe I am emphasizing that more for myself then anyone else. But, it’s important for all of us mothers to know, and accept, that fact. As well as, wholeheartedly, knowing we had no control over our preemie’s early birth. Nonetheless, it is equally important for all of us to educate ourselves about birth defects and how we can improve our chances of having a baby born without one.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in every 33 babies born each year are affected by a birth defect. Some of the more common birth defects are: congenital heart defects, spina bifida, Down syndrome, and cleft lip and palate.
It’s important to note that being pregnant with a baby who has certain birth defects, such as a congenital heart defect or spina bifida, can cause him or her to be born prematurely.
The CDC also explains some of the risk factors that can increase the chance that a pregnancy will be affected by a birth defect. These include:
- Consuming alcohol, smoking, and using certain drugs.
- Having certain medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes or being obese.
- Taking certain medications.
- Having a family history of a birth defect.
- Being over the age of 34.
Not surprisingly, the risk factors for having a baby born prematurely include most of these, as well. Reading through them, you may know of mothers who had some of them and went on to have perfectly healthy babies. Still, we should never ignore those risk factors just because they don’t always have a negative impact on a pregnancy. For myself, I knew my age was an issue, but I could not let that alone be the deciding factor in whether to have a baby or not. Just as you would with any of the risk factors, I talked to my doctor about it and he told me some of the things I needed to do to ensure the best possible outcome for my baby:
- See him regularly!
- Get 400 mg of Folic acid every day, as well as eating an overall healthy diet.
- Prevent infections.
- Stay up-to-date on my immunizations.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, and “street” drugs.
While my baby did not have as good of an outcome as plenty of other babies born to 37-year old moms, he still had the best outcome I could have hoped and prayed for! With that in mind, here’s to a happy and healthy 2015 for all of you and your preemies. And I am praying for peace. Peace of mind for each one of us, as well as for peace in the world.