IBD and Pregnancy: Tina Anderson’s Story

Editor’s note: TDDC brings you this first-person story from Tina Anderson, a patient of Dr. Rajeev Jain . Tina shares her story to show that with proper planning and care coordination, women with inflammatory bowel disease can have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Learn more here .

May 11, 2003. It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon. The fragrance and promise of spring floated through open windows. And it was Mother’s Day! Perfect! Except that it wasn’t. Because there is no more painful day on the calendar to the terminally infertile than Mother’s Day. On that day, no matter how lovely the weather, it feels as though the universe is jabbing a long, pointy finger into your chest and taunting, “Not for you!”

Three years earlier after a long and exhausting journey through the world of infertility, I was told that I had a “one in a million” chance of conceiving, that medicine could offer me no more. Stop. Get on with your life. I was now 43 and still trying to figure out exactly how to do that.

But on this perfect Sunday, I did not feel so perfect. I felt a little queasy. And for some inexplicable reason, I rummaged through the bathroom cabinet and pulled out an expired, 3-year-old pregnancy test and gave it a try. For the first time in approximately 842 pregnancy tests, two pink lines appeared, immediate and bright.

The next day I saw my gynecologist and she confirmed the pregnancy. I was seven weeks along. The first thing you must do, she ordered without hesitancy, is stop my IBD medication and come back to see her in a month. A gray cloud gathered over my pregnancy parade. My IBD medication several years earlier had slain the fiery dragon of ulcerative colitis and put me into a full remission after 15 years of IBD misery.

My IBD medication is a serious drug. It suppresses the immune system. It was originally developed to help organ transplant patients prevent donor rejection. Like all serious drugs, it would be better not to take it while pregnant. Except that not taking it would likely mean getting sick again. I didn’t want to harm my one-in-a-million baby, of course not, but I also didn’t want to get sick again. Option A was bad and Option B was bad. What to do?

I turned to a friend who is a nurse. Given my age and long history of IBD, she advised me to seek an obstetrician who specialized in high-risk pregnancies and recommended Dr. Ali Toofanian. I called his office and he saw me later that afternoon. The walls of his office are lined with photos of twins and triplets and quadruplets and quintuplets, and I wondered what a girl like me was doing in a place like this? Just two days earlier, I was a 43-year-old hopelessly infertile woman trying to get on with her life.

As my husband and I sat across from his desk, Dr. Toofanian put in a call to Dr. Rajeev Jain, my gastroenterologist. Dr. Jain advised that the worst thing I could do is stop taking my IBD medication and risk a relapse, a far greater danger to the pregnancy than the drug. Dr. Toofanian agreed.

So the decision was made, with me and for me. I would stay on my medication.

At that time, although there wasn’t a tremendous amount of data available, research showed that women who stayed on their IBD medications throughout pregnancy fared better than those who did not. I wanted to be in the “fared better” camp. I would stay on my medication and vowed to let go of worries and what-ifs. Nursing future sorrows would do nothing for today and certainly nothing for the baby growing inside of me. Medications can cross the placenta, but so can worry.

My pregnancy was blissfully uneventful. I felt well and enjoyed how nice everyone is to pregnant ladies. I chose to view my pregnancy through a lens of gratitude for the unexpected gift that dropped in my lap when I stopped looking for it. I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty for laying in bed in the middle of the day with my feet propped up like a big fat queen. I was handed a prescription to be kind to myself and I was not going to miss a single dose!

Six weeks from my due date, a sonogram revealed I was low on amniotic fluid. Dr. Toofanian decided it would be best to minimize the risk and deliver the baby early. Although he spent a few days in the NICU, at birth, my son was declared to be the cutest baby ever and given a 9 out of 10 on his APGAR score, which is pretty much perfect. Today he is nearly six feet tall, does well in school and sports, and suffers no ill effects from the IBD medication — and remains pretty much perfect in the eyes of his mother.

If you are living with IBD and pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, I encourage you to find a gastroenterologist who believes in partnering with other health care providers and specialists to provide the proactive and comprehensive care IBD patients require. Together, they can offer you an array of expertise and experience to minimize risk and maximize the potential for a healthy and successful pregnancy.

Tina Anderson is not a medical doctor, nor does she play one on TV. Her opinions are hers alone. Do not rely on her for medical or fashion advice. She and her husband live in North Texas where she enjoys photography, writing and being a mom to her one-in-a-million baby, 15-year-old Sean.