Conception and Parenting With M.E./CFS

Parenting under any circumstances is a difficult and weighty responsibility for anyone. Imagine if you have to deal with a chronic illness at the same time! What if you want to have a baby but are unsure as to whether it is a good idea, due to your illness? Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), often referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), is a long-term (chronic) illness affecting men, women and children of all ages from about 2 yrs old. People from all different walks of life have suffered under this life-altering illness. It is estimated that around 250,000 people in the UK alone have M.E.

Chances are that you either know someone or even have someone in your family, suffering from this mysterious sickness.

If you are one of the unlucky people with M.E. you may have been struck down before you’ve had a chance to do any of the things you had planned to do with your life. You might have had a plan to have children, run your own business, go to university, succeed in your chosen career or even run the London marathon for charity. Suddenly your world is turned upside down and before you know it you are barely able to feed yourself or carry out your daily toilet. Even if you are well enough to do those things you may feel like you are living life in a drug-filled haze, struggling to concentrate, read or perform other hitherto normal mental or physical activities.

I know this from experience. My partner has it and M.E. has changed our lives significantly. This happened when our youngest was about 6 yrs old. Caring for three children is no piece of cake under any circumstances. I’d like to think that we rose to the occasion and have not done too bad a job under the circumstances, but I can’t lie and say it hasn’t been a struggle. There are many rewards to parenthood and I can say without question that I am glad we have children and I love them all more than life itself. I’m not sure that I would like to recommend parenting whilst simultaneously coping with a chronic illness, but I wouldn’t discourage it either. That will be your decision to make.

So what can sufferers of M.E. expect if they want to get pregnant?

“Action For M.E.” is a leading UK charity campaigning for more research and offering support for ME sufferers and their carers. According to Action for M.E.’s principal medical adviser, Professor Tony Pinching. “Some ask if CFS/M.E. can be passed on. Surprisingly few patients – female or male – consider whether they are ready to manage to look after a young child. Yet this is the critical issue!”

One of the main things an ME sufferer should bear in mind is the huge amount of energy caring for a child, especially a newborn, uses. Most of ME patients have to budget their energy each day and every week. Demands upon parents from a newborn are considerable. Is your partner able to share these demands? Will you be able to keep up without causing a major relapse? What if your baby is a light sleeper and wakes up several times a night? Would your medication adversely affect the development of your unborn child? These are all serious questions that merit consideration. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage anyone. Many people with ME are parents and manage to succeed in raising good children in a warm and loving environment. But every ME patient is different so each situation should be assessed uniquely.

Conceiving with ME is usually no more difficult than without. But pace yourself! There is such a thing as too much sex, which can place unusually high demands upon the patient’s energy levels. Once pregnant, energy levels may decrease during the first few months, giving rise to more fatigue and morning sickness than normal. However, there is no increased risk of caesarian section birth. In fact, your energy levels may even rise during pregnancy. But this cannot be expected in every case. The opposite can just as easily happen.

Will there be an increased risk of the child having ME/CFS? According to Action For ME, “Although CFS/M.E. does seem to be slightly more common in genetically related family members, it is not genetically determined. If the statistical chance of a child getting CFS/M.E. later in life is slightly higher, this is not usually at a level that would affect the decision whether or not to go ahead.”

Delivery of the baby will usually be much the same as any other, but it is advisable to plan ahead for pain-killing purposes. Recovery afterwards might take a little longer than normal though.

For more comprehensive advice about getting pregnant with ME, it is recommended that you check out the official Action For ME website.

A Culture In Fear Of Childbirth And What We Can Do About It

We live in a culture of dichotomy. We have amazing technological advances for health and convenience, but sometimes those advances come with a cost. Emergency health services have saved countless lives and provide aid. That medical advances are so readily available is not something we should take for granted.

One major problem with emergency health services is that many people elect to use them when they are unnecessary, the effects of which can have negative effects on individuals and society as a whole. There is an increasingly casual attitude toward certain surgeries.

This is often the case with Cesarean Sections, the delivery of a baby through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. According to Wikipedia, the C-Section rate has risen to levels of 25% and above in many Asian and European countries, Latin America, and the United States (and a record 46% in China!).

Some of the reasons for the rise in Cesarean Section rates include after-effects of common medical labour interventions such as induction and epidurals, the cultural movement away from a midwifery model of care and the casual level to which insurance companies, doctors and hospital administrators approach major surgery. 1

At the heart of these and other reasons the Cesarean rate has gone up is the general fear many expectant mothers feel about childbirth. Such fear propels many expectant families to rely on the medical model for birthing, rather than educating themselves and making informed decisions about birth. And since the medical paradigm for birthing revolves around drugs, constant fetal
monitoring, induction and other interventions, it is clear why.

Fear About Birth? Uninformed Decisions? Medical Model For Births?
Higher Cesarean Rate

In fact, several studies in the recent past reveal fear as a factor in the C-Section rate, both directly (elective surgery) and indirectly (emergency surgery).

One recent study published in the international journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica (AOGS) revealed that fear of childbirth is a predisposing factor for emergency and elective cesarean sections. This fear increased the frequency of emergency and elective C-Sections, and it increased the rate of induction.2

1 “Why Is The National U.S. Cesarean Section Rate So High?” ChildbirthConnection.org, 5/11/ 2012.
2 Gunilla Sydsjö, Adam Sydsjö, Christina Gunnervik, Marie Bladh, Ann Josefsson. The obstetric outcome for women who received individualized treatment for fear of childbirth during pregnancy. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica

A recent Australian survey revealed fear as the strongest motive to women to undergo C-section where there was no clear-cut medical reason for it. 3

So why are women so afraid of childbirth that they are basically handing their births over to a model that increasingly results in emergency surgery? We feel strongly that it is the loss of the communal approach to pre- and postnatal care that was once embedded in our culture. In place of real support and education about birth there is an acceptance that birth is painful and traumatic.

It is sad that so many women feel helpless, scared and confused about childbirth. In our culture, the support from extended family and friends has become patchy at best. The overmedicalization of birth has taken birth away from women and relinquished that control to doctors, hospitalists and insurance companies. Changing the cultural outlook on birthing babies starts with education and empowerment.

It seems more and more women feel birth is something that happens to them, rather than something that is in their control. Granted, no one can control the outcome of labour. But it is very possible to control how educated you are so you can make informed decisions. It is possible to learn methods such as deep breathing and hypnobirthing to reduce stress during pregnancy and labour. It is possible to learn pain management techniques and approaches such as perineal massage and gentle pushing to reduce the risk of tearing.

The childbirth fears cycle is sort of like the chicken and egg dilemma. Lack of education and support causes fear. Fear causes the inability to take action and learn about birthing.

So how do we break the fear cycle?

Take A Childbirth Class That Feels Right To You

Think about this analogy. If you were going to try skydiving for the first time, you wouldn’t just strap on some gear, hop in a plane and go for it. You would take a training class (in the case of skydiving it is required) and learn how to do everything correctly. Your life would depend on it.

It is similar to childbirth. You can throw caution to the wind and just let whatever happens to happen, or you can get as educated as possible to best prepare yourself. This experience can be both calming and empowering, which will ease your fears about childbirth.

Choose the class that feels right for you. When we were searching for the right class for us, we felt strongly about doing a home study. We much preferred being able to access the class on our own schedule. We felt much more relaxed and comfortable in our own home. It was also much easier to review something we didn’t catch the first time because we could access all of the videos, CDs and booklets at any time.

3 “Survey Shows Fear Motivates Women To Choose Cesarean,” Chilbirth.Amuchbetterway.com, September 11, 2009.

Imagery, Meditation and Hypnosis

Your subconscious mind is very powerful, and it has been filled with tons of negative imagery about childbirth from birth horror stories to television portrayals of traumatic births. Imagery, meditation and hypnosis are proactive ways to de-program all of that negativity.

Each of these works by moving your attention to breathing, taking in slow deep breaths, until you are deeply relaxed and your mind becomes open to suggestions of learning. It is in these deep states of meditation and hypnosis that we openly accept birth as a wonderful and positive process. At the least, these methods are a great retreat from stress. Hypnosis, for example, has been shown effective in reducing stress about birth, reducing pain during labour, and
reducing the need for pain analgesia during labour.

Stay Away From Negative Stories About Birth

If a TV show comes on showing a woman in a stressful, painful or generally unnerving birth scenario, turn it off. Politely excuse yourself, or tell your friend you cannot listen to their story if it’s one that is about how traumatic their birth experience was. You might even interrupt them, smile and say something like, “Shhhh…This baby only wants to hear positive stories about
birth.” They may think you are a bit rude, but the more you consciously remove these images, the more room there will be for positive imagery.

Find A Supportive Caregiver and/or Doula

Finding the right caregiver will prepare you for the best possible birth outcome for a comfortable, natural childbirth that you want.

Because there are lots of different birthing options for you (hospital birth, home birth, natural birth, etc.), it is important to ask questions to find the right childbirth caregiver to fit your desired birth experience.

In addition to your care provider (OB and/or midwife), you may choose additional support people, such as a doula, childbirth education instructor or even a friend or family member that is in line with your desired childbirth experience.

You may want to come up with your birth plan first and use that as a guide to interview childbirth care providers or support people.

If your care provider makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, and you cannot resolve that issue, maybe it is time to consider changing providers. We changed providers twice before finding our amazing midwives and deciding on a home birth.

This may sound simple, but a 30-60 minute walk can be very therapeutic. We sometimes equate taking a long walk to a “standing hypnosis session,” as many of the same physical and mental processes are happening: regular breathing and a boost in the lower frequency waves associated with dreaming and sleep, lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure, increase circulation and pain alleviation.

Walking also has great physical benefits, especially during pregnancy. Walking will help ripen the cervix and prepare your uterus for birthing. Getting a few hours of walking in a day will also reduce the need for pain medication during labour. It is easy on your joints while it tones your muscles, which also helps during birth. It also increases cardiovascular endurance (great for a birthing time).

Share Your Positive Birth Stories

We always hear the horror stories. We always see birth portrayed as some crazy, traumatic experience on T.V. and in movies. This perception of birth as negative and traumatic can be shifted if those of us that have wonderful, positive births share our stories with friends and family. Blog about it. Post on Facebook. Join groups that share in these positive experiences.

About The Authors:

Mavi Gupta, M.D., C. C.Ht. and her husband, Jeremy Dyen, C.Ht. are the creators of the Birth Relaxation Kit, at www.birthrelaxationkit.com, the only birth hypnosis program presented by a board-certified physician and hypnotherapist who also birthed using hypnosis. They successfully used certain advanced birth relaxation techniques when Mavi birthed their daughter at home, pain-free. They are passionate about empowering expectant mothers (and fathers!) to visualize the birth they want–a birth without fear, without discomfort and even without pain in any setting. They offer a free comfortable birth presentation on the Birth Relaxation Kit website, as well as a free hypnobirthing mp3.

Mavi Gupta, M.D., C. C.Ht.
Board Certified Physician, Headache Specialist and Hypnotherapist. Mavi
is a graduate of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,
Massachusetts and The University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis, Tennessee.

Jeremy Dyen, C.Ht.
Certified Hypnotist, professional musician and teaching artist. Jeremy is one of
the most sought after keyboard players in Philadelphia. He has recorded on John Legend’s Grammy award-winning cd, Get Lifted. He’s performed with G-Love, Digable Planets, Zakir Hussain, and has shared the stage with numerous national acts.