29 May 2014, by Tan Yi Lin
A few weeks ago, soon after my third seizure occurred, I texted my IVF girlfriends on Whatsapp with a multiple choice question:
Imagine that you have been diagnosed with a medical condition that requires you to consume daily medication to keep the symptoms in check. The medication, when taken by pregnant women, is known to have a 6% chance of causing physical abnormalities and a 0.5% chance of causing nervous disorders in the foetus.
(a) Start on daily medication and try to get pregnant anyway;
(b) Reject the medication and try to get pregnant, knowing that there is a risk that your medical condition, if uncontrolled, may affect the foetus;
(c) Shelve all plans to conceive, regardless of whether you take the meds or not.
My friends replied: “This isn’t hypothetical, is it?”
To which I typed: “No. It isn’t. What should I do?”
As you all know, we had originally planned to try for a third child, through the frozen cycle, back in February this year. Then, a series of seizures suddenly came along and screwed up our plans to conceive.
To date, I’ve consulted two epilepsy specialists and two Chinese physicians.
The former have recommended that I start on regular medication that will inhibit the overactive electrical charges and prevent the occurrence of further attacks. There is a possibility that I may experience absent-mindedness, lethargy (as if I’m not tired enough!) and giddiness – side-effects that I’m not willing to put up with given that I need to be alert and steady to care for my young children and to function at work. That said, there are patients who are lucky enough not to experience any side-effects once their bodies adapt to the medication.
But that still leaves the dilemma of whether to try to conceive while on anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs), given the risk that the medication poses to the unborn child. Both specialists quoted cases of female patients conceiving healthy babies while on AEDs and recommended that I take daily 5mg doses of folic acid should I plan to conceive, to lessen the chance of neurological defects in the foetus.
The other option is to try to reduce the chance of further seizures through better sleep habits and nutrition without resorting to AEDs, so as not to subject the foetus to the drugs. However, the doctors highlighted that a seizure during pregnancy could also cause irreparable damage if oxygen supply to the foetus is truncated during an attack.
I was torn.
I thought long and hard. As much as I would love to have another baby, I just can’t bring myself to create another life under such circumstances. It isn’t fair to the child.
I’ve just had another (annoying) seizure on Tuesday – my fourth in four months. Our plans for baby no.3 are on hold indefinitely until we are confident that I am seizure-free. Even the choice of treatment has a bearing on our family plans. Being “seizure-free” is defined as not having an attack within two years. With each episode, the counter reverts to ‘0’. It is frustrating. Even if being on daily medication can prevent the onset of further seizures for two years, I would have to be gradually weaned off the drugs over a long period of seven months – with no guarantee that the reduced dosage will hold up against any new attacks.
With me breaching the 35-year mark this year, I am reluctant to postpone plans to conceive for another three years or so. My mum consoles me by reminding me that she had my younger brother when she was 38 years-old – but that was not without its complications.
I have chosen to go down the drug-free route for now. ‘Hope’ presents itself in the form of my Chinese physician, who is confident that he can heal me through natural means and that I will be able to try to conceive again six months from my last seizure. But alternative treatment will take time – I’m not sure how patient I can be.
This (annoying!) episode with epilepsy has made me even more aware, appreciative and grateful for our two tiny daughters. Not only are we lucky to have conceived through the gruelling IVF process, we are very blessed that they came along before the seizures did.
So, the message to all couples planning for kids – is not to wait too long before trying. You never know what Life will toss at you and throw your plans into a kerfuffle.