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Thriving Beyond

By Bibi Chaterpateah

Thriving Beyond COVID Series

Stories of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

 “Thriving Beyond” was created with the intention of educating, uplifting, and empowering its readers. I also wanted this space to serve as a catalyst for conversations and a platform to amplify stories. Statistics provides one perspective of the narrative of maternal health in the United States. It is with personal stories and lived experiences that truly show the impact.

 

I am excited to share with you the “Thriving Beyond COVID” Series. These next few blog posts will focus on stories of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

 

I am humbled by the trust that these women have given me to share their story with the world. I admire their strength, and vulnerability to share some of their most personal experiences. 

TANGJILA A.

At the age to 15, Tanjila started to notice that she was experiencing heavier than normal menstrual cycles. She experienced immense pain to the point she could not go to school. When Tanjila was in college, her symptoms started to worsen. With the stress of being a college student balancing academics, extracurriculars, personal, and social life, Tanjila developed polycystic ovary syndrome or commonly known PCOS. PCOS is a hormonal disorder, and in Tanjila’s case, it was triggered by stress. Tanjila’s signs and symptoms of PCOS included hair loss and weight gain (although she was very active).

 

Tanjila also has stage three endometriosis. Endometriosis is a gynecologic disorder where the tissue that normally lines the uterus is misplaced. The tissue can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or the intestines. Women who have endometriosis are more likely to experience difficulties becoming pregnant.

 

Prior to 2020, Tanjila and her husband spent a few years trying to become pregnant. After exhausting all other options with no success, the couple decided to start in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. IVF is a form of assisted reproductive technology which involves the fertilization of the egg(s) in a lab and subsequently transferring them to the uterus either within 3-5 days of egg retrieval (fresh transfer) or at a later time (frozen transfer). Tanjila is a patient with PCOS, so her ovaries overproduce follicles compared to patients without PCOS. Tanjila had 26 eggs retrieved and fertilized. Due to the excess number of eggs retrieved, a frozen egg transfer was planned. However, in March 2020, all non-essential treatments including IVF were stopped due to the pandemic. This changed some things for Tanjila, and her husband and some important conversations surfaced.

 

Tanjila’s husband is a doctor and was on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tanjila and her husband had a conversation regarding exposure to COVID and potentially him passing away and what that would mean for their family planning. An important question the couple discussed was he would be okay with using the frozen embryos. During this time Tanjila was in Oklahoma and her husband was in New York.

 

In July 2020, her husband moved to Oklahoma and the couple’s focus was settling their lives together. They sought out a doctor to provide guidance on their next steps. To her surprise, Tanjila found out she was pregnant at 9 weeks, which meant she got pregnant a week after her husband’s return.

 

In December 2020, Tanjila tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine for a month. She was monitored closely and when her oxygen level dropped to 88%, she was admitted to the emergency room where she was hospitalized for a week. Tanjila received plasma transfusions and was discharged with an oxygen machine which she used for a week. During this time, the baby was completely fine. After Tanjila got COVID, she sought support from a doula to support her and her husband.

 

At 37 weeks, Tanjila developed preeclampsia and had an induced delivery at 37 weeks and 3 days. During the delivery process she has a severe panic attack because of a vasovagal response triggered by the insertion of a catheter. Post-delivery, Tanjila experienced hemorrhaging. She mentioned that the pain she experienced from the endometriosis was more than the pain from PCOS.

 

Throughout our conversation, Tanjila acknowledge how privileged she was as she received support from her husband and family throughout her pregnancy and was able to seek additional services to support her mentally, emotionally, and physically. She was able to take 6 weeks of paid maternity leave and an additional 6 weeks of unpaid leave. Tanjila expressed her concern for the lack of maternal support in our country. Tanjila shared postpartum and maternity leave differs for every woman and should take into consideration their unique health needs. Tanjila’s son is now three months, and she is still recovering from the complications related to her pregnancy. She said, “unfortunately, society doesn’t measure things in that way”. Through her own independent research, Tanjila learned about compression lymphatic drainage therapy to help monitor her symptoms related to PCOS. Tanjila said, “these are considered as ‘extras’ but should be a part of routine care and it is not the case for a lot of women”.  

Q&A:

Q: Based on your experience with PCOS, what do you think is lacking to address the issues related to PCOS accurately and effectively? 

A: PCOS is something that uniquely affects women and there is little to no research.

There is not enough funding for research about PCOS. There are hardly any new studies that focus on PCOS.

 

Q: Do you feel that there something that could have been done to help mitigate some of the unpleasant experiences you have had?

A: PCOS is only diagnosed as an infertility issue and not a metabolic issue. There are higher chances of developing diabetes and other health issues if you have PCOS. If I was diagnosed at a younger age, it would have shifted my purview of life. Before I had a flare up of symptoms, I had doctors that told me that I wasn’t eating right or not exercising enough. The diet culture affected my self-confidence and mental health. In fact, in 1 year I have 24 pregnancy tests that were performed because the doctors thought I was pregnant instead of listening to my concerns. I felt that I wasn’t trusted, and no one believed me. Doctors used language that shifted the blame on me instead of helping me to understand what was happening to my body.

 

Q: When you were hospitalized during your labor, did you witness or experience any acts of racism, discrimination, or unfair treatment?

A: Yes. For example, I would order food at 12pm and my food wasn’t brought to be until 2pm. My husband and I often have conversations on these topics since he’s a doctor. For women of color and black women, morphology of presentations differs.

 

Q: What is a simple thing that healthcare providers can do to support women in their care?

A: The very first thing you can do is believe us when we are saying something.

Key Takeaways:

Tanjila’s story left me in awe! I am amazed by her strength, her resilience, and her willingness to share some of her most personal and even traumatic experiences with the world. Her story is one of many that continue to inspire and motivate my journey ahead as a future obstetrician/gynecologist.

 

There are several relevant public health implications mentioned in Tanjila’s story: 

  • Respectful maternity care (RMC): Respectful maternity care is an emerging public health topic that focuses on providing respectful care to mothers and protecting their autonomy during the childbearing process. Tanjila shared an experience where one of her basic needs were neglected while she was hospitalized.
  • Parental leave: The United States is the only wealthy country that does not provide any national paid parental leave. In fact, only about 19% of employees in the US have access to paid family leave. In our conversation, Tanjila mentioned that she was not able to continue working as an educator because she needed more time to heal and spend with her baby. Tanjila was able to prioritize her health because she had support from her family. Unfortunately, this is not the circumstances for other families. 

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