Going through our comments section sometime last week, I saw a comment one of our members had left asking for details about the effect of sickle cell disease on pregnancy. That got me thinking about a university course mate, who just left the the hospital as I write, from complications arising from this sickle cell disease.
Uche has sickle cell disease, although hers is not so obvious, as in you wouldn’t know the instant you met her, like you would for some. At least, no one knew back then in school, until she had a crisis and we did not see her for weeks. It was when some members of our class went to visit her that they came back with feedback, that we realised she had the disease.
When she came back to school, everyone hovered around her, trying to help her with almost everything; from writing her backload of notes to helping her to carry her bags. Thank God that her parents provided a car and driver, who dropped her off and picked her up once she was through with her classes, otherwise, I’m sure, there would have been volunteers who would have made sure she got home fine.
This hovering got worse, when we lost a member of our class in 300-level, and it was only after his death that we discovered he also had sickle cell anaemia. Uche was shaken by that news, because she did not show up in class for days. Even though most of us where now attending different classes, we still had some common classes together and during those times, it was like we were all making sure we did not lose anyone of us again. It was instinctive and also a prayer point in our Christian fellowship in school back then.
Till today, Uche is hale and hearty, but we have lost some of our course mates in death, not due to sickle cell anaemia; two painfully to complications arising from childbirth, while their babies lived, being taken care of by their young husbands.
Uche has gone on to get married to a great man and she got pregnant within a year of their marriage. She’s had a mostly crisis-free pregnancy, even though she had been expecting a crisis from day one. Her doctor had told her to expect her body to react; her mom had tried to prepare her. Thanks to social media, I’m able to keep up-to-date concerning her pregnancy and when I bump into former course mates, as I seem to be doing nowadays, Uche’s matter often comes up and the concern for her life is palpable.
Interestingly, Uche had disappointed us all until recently, when we heard about her hospitalization. Although she had lost weight rather than gain weight, while pregnant. She looked gaunt, with a huge bump; thin arms, shrunken face and a pale complexion, she was still fine and the baby was doing great.
From what I heard, she spent up to a week in the hospital, during which time her PCV levels were constantly monitored and tried to boost her low levels. They also did regular scans to monitor the growth of the baby.
As I write, Uche is in her third trimester, doing fine, resting a lot and taking each day as it comes, and like that time in year two, there are still prayer warriors, praying on her behalf, even if it’s only to mention her name in prayer that she has a safe delivery with a healthy baby.
On the flipside, these complications are not the norm for everyone. Some women have it nice. They go ahead to have a smooth pregnancy and a healthy baby, without one crisis or needing hospitalisation. It’s just their luck.
However, the percentage of pregnant women with sickle cell with different kinds of complications are high and according to my research, these complications not only affect the mother, it also affect the baby and the presence of the sickle cell trait in the father-to-be too can have a lot to do about the outcome of that pregnancy.
Sickle cell disease often becomes more severe – and pain episodes more frequent – during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. A pregnant woman with sickle cell disease is more likely to have a miscarriage, preterm labour, or a low-birth-weight baby, a type of high blood pressure called pregnancy-induced hypertension, or even organ failure. Sickle cell pregnancies are almost always considered high risk, however, thanks to modern medicine, pregnant women with sickle cell anaemia have a good chance of having a safe and healthy pregnancy.
During pregnancy, it is important for blood cells to be able to carry oxygen. With sickle cell anaemia, the abnormal red blood cells and anaemia may result in lower amounts of oxygen going to your developing baby. This can slow down the baby’s growth.
Also, women with sickle cell anaemia are at risk of having a baby with the disease. If you have sickle cell anaemia and you are thinking of becoming pregnant, your partner should also be tested to see if he carries the sickle cell gene. The risk of the baby inheriting the disease is increased if both parents carry the gene. If your pregnancy comes as a surprise, ask your partner to get tested for the gene as soon as possible. If you are both carriers, you may want to consult your doctor to determine your options.
As earlier stated, it is possible to have a healthy pregnancy with sickle cell disease. It however requires close monitoring by your doctors, which will mean frequent medical visits than the average pregnant woman.
You may need certain vitamins and iron supplements, and it is possible that you may be given a blood transfusion. Your ability to deliver vaginally should not be affected by your disease. However, it is only a decision that you and your doctor can take, with the reality of your medical condition at the back of your mind.
Baby dust to you all.
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