While I was doing research on the needs of people with arthritis — and particularly rheumatoid arthritis (RA) — from a social and relationship perspective, I came across a gap in the information. Or at least, there was a subject that patients felt was missing from the general material: preparing for or planning a pregnancy.
But before I walk you through this issue, I want to be up front: trying to get pregnant – or simply considering your options – is a highly emotional subject.
- Find a healthcare provider who understands you: In preparing for this chapter in your life, it is crucial to consider finding a medical provider who supports your decisions, or – at the very least – offers options for you to decide from. If your healthcare provider has trouble talking to you about the possibility of parenthood or even contraception, then it is my advice to consider whether it may be time to change practitioners. Our healthcare providers are supposed to talk to us about sexual and reproductive health, so if you feel like your concerns about reproduction are not being taken seriously, then take that gut feeling seriously and trust your instincts!
- Stay flexible when it comes to your treatment plan: Prepare for the possibility that you may need to change your medications for a while. Some drugs cannot be used during pregnancy and some medications have longer “wash out” rates than others. (It takes a longer time for the drug to fully leave your body.) Only your healthcare provider can help you to determine how and when to switch up your meds, so it's important to discuss medication before trying to get pregnant.
- Don’t give up: You may need to be patient, and yes, that can be incredibly frustrating. Conception is a process. It could take a long time to get pregnant, or you might determine with your healthcare provider and/or partner that carrying a pregnancy isn’t an option for you. The journey to parenthood isn’t a single road. There are many paths (surrogacy, adoption, etc.), all of which can be amazingly rewarding and fulfilling.
- Keep an open mind on how to care for your child: If you’re living with a chronic disease, don’t feel obligated to follow a certain routine or schedule. Flexibility in parenting is key. For example, breastfeeding doesn’t make you a better parent. You should prepare for the possibility that you will not be able to breastfeed. But if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, plenty of women choose not to breastfeed and many others start out with the intention of breastfeeding and then decide after the baby is born that it isn’t the right decision for them or the baby. If you do choose to breastfeed, make sure to communicate that desire with your healthcare provider so that you can discuss the possibility.
- Everyone can benefit from a support system: Whether or not you have a chronic illness, you may want to find a support system. There are people who want to talk about their experiences and help you to better understand the path you are taking to parenthood. This path to parenthood can be rough and emotional and stressful, and there is nothing better than having people you can talk to who understand firsthand what you may be experiencing. You can even ask your healthcare provider if he/she has other patients who might be willing to speak with you, too. Having emotional resources (beyond medical ones) can change how you navigate this time in your life.
"The journey to parenthood isn't a single road. There are many paths (surrogacy, adoption, etc.), all of which can be amazingly rewarding and fulfilling."
Many of us have expectations (even from when we were young) about the type of parent that we would one day be. We may have to let some of that go. While that may be disheartening, we should remember that parenthood (and the path to it) isn't perfect, but if it's the path you want to take I encourage you to stay motivated, and I hope these steps will help you. And remember, work with your healthcare provider to find the option that's best for you and your journey with RA.