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Finding strength through struggle

By Debra Guinn, MD, maternal-fetal specialist, Montana Perinatal Center

Every day I am impressed by the strength of my patients. As their doctor, but also as a fellow mom, I get the privilege of seeing an unparalleled commitment to their unborn baby, growing family, and hopeful future.

I am a maternal-fetal specialist. That means I work with an enormous variety of women, most of whom are pregnant and dealing with a challenging set of circumstances that may impact their pregnancy, birth and family for years to come.

I recall the excitement and fear of being an expectant mother. While I was fortunate enough to have uncomplicated pregnancies, I certainly empathize with those who are not so fortunate. I’m honored to support these women during this phase of life and I am always amazed with their courage and perseverance. I hope the following stories about these wonderful women also inspire strength in you. Please note that names have been changed in these stories to respect patient privacy.

Meet Amy. She is a mother of six children and was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes. With her diagnosis, she is required to keep a very rigid schedule to keep risks to her fetus and her own body low. She also requires special food and nutritional supplements that are a stretch on her family’s budget. In an ideal world, this may be an opportunity to incorporate a healthy diet into her family’s habits, but it will mandate some real adjustments. In the long run, the benefits of these adjustments will far outweigh the inconvenience now by reducing the mother’s risk of developing diabetes, and also reduce her children’s risk of developing childhood obesity and diabetes in the future. With gestational diabetes, Amy also has to literally stop whatever task she is doing several times a day to check her sugar levels at precise moments. These sugar-level checks must be done at work, when her other children need her attention or when there are responsibilities to handle. Though her employer is initially supportive of her need to eat at regular times and check her sugars frequently, this becomes harder as her pregnancy progresses with additional doctor visits and breaks. Many times, these types of patients are let go from work due to the impact it has on employment. This is enormously stressful as Amy grapples with the possibility of losing income during a very critical time. Yet, she finds a way to persevere and she has an uncomplicated delivery and a baby that transitions well. After the birth of her baby, Amy joins the Montana Diabetes Prevention Program to continue her education and to help her improved habits “stick.” Amy is a true testament of overcoming challenges and receiving the best reward of all: a healthy baby and new addition to the family!

Next is Molly. She is a first-time mother with medical issues that require multiple medical appointments with different providers to ensure that she and her baby are safe for the next nine months. Molly must work full time to make ends meet, and must accumulate paid time off so she can use it post-delivery to care for and spend time with her newborn. With many medical appointments, Molly determines she needs to work extra hours to keep a stable paycheck for the time missed at work. This is an added trial, both physically and mentally, while she is pregnant. However, Molly is an exemplary patient: she follows all the medical advice, attends all her doctor visits and juggles a hectic work life so she can provide a great future for her baby. Molly delivers at term and her newborn is healthy and vibrant. In just a handful of weeks, she will return to her full-time position at work. The dedication to her pregnancy and plan of care demonstrates the tenacity and strength that many mothers have to muster every day. I am truly awed by the fierce women that juggle a heavy load and put their baby’s needs first to better ensure a successful outcome.

Now, meet Nicole. She is a woman who deals with chronic pain due to past injuries and has treated her pain with prescribed narcotics. Over the years, Nicole becomes dependent on these drugs, but then learns that she is pregnant. Her options are pretty limited: she can try to quit using narcotics which, in general, is not medically advisable due to the distress on the body and which is rarely successful; she can seek professional help from a pain care specialist, which demands additional funds and time that she may not have; or find a creative solution on her own. Many of these women struggle with an abundance of emotional pain and guilt, including Nicole. No one wants to take medications in pregnancy, but some need it. Through collaboration with her primary OB provider and with the assistance of a maternal-fetal specialist, medical experts worked together with Nicole to determine the best course of action. Ultimately Nicole gives birth to a normal infant who ultimately transitions into a healthy and drug-free toddler.

There are not adequate words to describe these women. They are strong, resilient and powerful mothers putting their children first. They will clear all obstacles put in their path. They are my motivation to come to work and every day I am thankful to be a part of their journey.

Montana Perinatal Center
210 Sunnyview Lane, Suite 103
Kalispell, MT 59901
(406) 257-3872

First published in Montana Woman Magazine, August 2017