parenting

Healthy Living: Dealing With Epilepsy and Toxemia During Pregnancy

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I played a lot of things when I was a child. School. I was always the teacher. Hospital. I was always the nurse. And family. I was always the mom. Sense a theme here? Yes! I loved to be in charge. And being in charge meant that I got to decide who the students were in my classroom, who the patients were in my hospital, and how many kids I would have in my family. How many, you ask? I had 11. And every year, at the beginning of the year, from the age of seven, I would write all of their names down in my journal. They would switch up year over year, but one thing remained the same—I always had nine girls and two boys. Because I was in control, so I got to decide. Life was certain and sweet!

Fast forward to my late teens when my doctor informed me that pregnancy may be a bit difficult for me. I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 14 and going off my meds wasn't an option if I wanted to stay seizure-free. And having a seizure while pregnant wouldn't be good for a baby. Not remotely thinking about childbirth at that moment (other than my future children's genders and names), I felt the conversation more of a bother than anything else. Yet, it stuck in the back of my mind.

I married at 27 and immediately, the questions came: "When are you going to begin having all of those 11 kids?" "How soon will you start a family?"

For the first time since my doctor started discussing pregnancy with me nearly 10 years earlier, I got scared. Between that time and the time I became Mrs. Pattee, my platelets decreased (due to my medication) to a much more than below average rate. I researched the birth defects and diseases my medicine was known to cause. I had too much information—information that caused me to feel that making it out of pregnancy as a healthy mom and with a healthy child was anything but certain and definitely something I couldn't control.

So, I went through many years of denial, putting off the decision to have children until my 30th birthday at which time I realized that nothing in life is certain and some things are worth the risk. Having children, to me, was one of those things worth risking.

It's funny, because once I made the decision, I didn't look back. My anxiety melted away. I moved forward doing everything I could to be healthy and focused on learning about the baby growing inside of me.

Ultimately, nothing I was nervous about prior to getting pregnant materialized. My baby boy arrived healthy and with a full head of red hair, screaming and ready to take on the world. I had other complications though—pre-eclampsia, a near stroke at birth, and the inability to produce milk and nurse my baby. But all these things, however scary or frustrating in the moment, had solutions.

When I think of the potential complications I didn't experience and the minor ones that I did, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for medical advances that made a happy and healthy mother and son and an ecstatic new father our reality.

Today, I'm not much different than I was as a child. I still like to feel certainty and a degree of control in my life. But, my definition of control has shifted and instead of thinking of things in terms of what I can control, I think of things in terms of what I can influence and what I have to be grateful for in life.

As someone who has lived with epilepsy for nearly 30 years, I know that I can influence my health tremendously by doing a few things—getting enough sleep, taking my meds daily, and decreasing my stress. While I was pregnant, I could additionally influence the outcome of a healthy baby by taking the recommended vitamins, most specifically folic acid.

Focusing on those areas of influence, rather than on what I could or could not control, were keys to a successful pregnancy.

I recognize things could have turned out differently. Sometimes, regardless of taking every precaution, the path can change. But focusing on things within our sphere of influence is the best chance we have at having healthy outcomes.

As a side note: I got my two boys! And as it turned out, my husband didn't like any of my 11 names from any of my journals. The girls? Well, I'll relish in my relationship with my mom, three sisters, mother-in-law, and four sisters-in-law, because apparently, marrying a guy who had four brothers wasn't going to help me get nine girls of my own, let alone one!

What did you do to stay healthy in your pregnancies? What can you do now to maintain good health?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.

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