For most women, pregnancy is both an exciting and anxious time. However, having a baby may present additional challenges and worries for brain injury survivors.
For anyone, pregnancy can increase tiredness and often leads to so-called ‘baby brain’ (memory loss and confusion). For a brain injury survivor it may be hard to identify whether the pregnancy or the brain injury is causing certain symptoms - it may well be a combination of the two. If you are pregnant and concerned about any side-effects, such as fatigue or memory loss, talk to your doctor or midwife.
Brain injury survivors might be concerned about the reaction of family, friends and medical professionals. Will they be supportive or judgemental? Think you can cope or expect you to fail?
The majority of brain injury survivors will be able to manage pregnancy and cope well with parenthood when the baby arrives. However, some people might find the process more challenging and should be offered support to help ensure the welfare of both mother and baby.
In this feature we speak to two brain injury survivors who are embarking on the journey of motherhood.
When 34-year-old Lisa-Marie sustained a severe brain injury following a car accident in 2005 she thought that put an end to any dream of motherhood in the future.
“My doctor told me things would be a lot more difficult for me,” said Lisa-Marie.
However, three and half years ago Cardiff-based Lisa-Marie met Luke, and the two felt an instant connection.
Luke also wanted children but had assumed this wouldn’t be possible due to his medical history.
To their welcome surprise, Lisa-Marie is currently expecting their first child - a baby boy due in December 2019.
We didn’t think we’d be able to conceive naturally so we were shocked when we found out - we’re very happy and excited.
Despite being overjoyed at the news, Lisa-Marie has some concerns about how she will cope with the pregnancy and when the baby arrives.
“Being pregnant has made some of my brain injury effects much worse,” says Lisa-Marie. “Since my injury I’ve suffered with fatigue, but the pregnancy has made me far more tired.”
“My emotions are through the roof and Luke and my family have said that I’ve become far bossier since my pregnancy - and a lot more stubborn!”
Lisa-Marie is a regular user of Headway’s services and is a member of Headway Merthyr Tydfil.
“They’ve helped me by being very supportive and encouraging,” said Lisa-Marie. “They’ve advised that I mustn’t overdo things.”
When asked about the reactions of her friends and family, Lisa-Marie said: “They’ve been overwhelmingly positive. People were shocked because they didn’t think it would be possible but we’ve had excellent support from both our families.
“There have been lots of baby name suggestions (not all suitable) and many donations of baby items.”
Lisa-Marie also explained that she has received excellent support from medical professionals: “They’ve learned to understand my brain injury.”
Looking ahead to when the baby arrives, Lisa-Marie says she is worried about the sleepless nights and how this might affect her fatigue. However, she knows that she has great support around her for when she needs some help.
When asked what advice she’d give to brain injury survivors thinking about parenthood, Lisa-Marie said: “Don’t give up! Always believe in yourself, you are stronger than you think, and always let your partner help - they are there to encourage and support you.”
Like Lisa-Marie, 27-year-old Rebecca, from North Wales, also sustained a severe brain injury following a car accident in 2010.
Since then she has given birth to her four-year-old son, Theo, and is expecting baby number two with her childhood sweetheart, Matthew.
The couple can’t wait to meet their new baby boy, due in November 2019.
As a result of her brain injury, Rebecca suffers with fatigue and says pregnancy has exacerbated the symptoms.
“I have lots of up and down days,” said Rebecca. “Some days are really hard to manage.”
However, Rebecca is grateful for the love and support of her friends and family.
I’ve got a wonderful support system of people who were there for me following the brain injury, and then following the birth of my first son and my current pregnancy.
Rebecca is thankful that her midwives and other medical professionals have all been very understanding of her brain injury and the issues it may cause during pregnancy.
Having already done it once, Rebecca has found the main challenges come after the baby is born and says a good support network is essential for balancing the effects of a brain injury with parenting struggles.
The majority of brain injury survivors will be able to conceive naturally, however for some people the effects of their brain injury might make it more difficult. If you are planning on trying for a baby following a brain injury then speak to your doctor about the options available to you, and the potential difficulties a brain injury may cause as a parent.
The information contained within our e-booklet Parenting after brain injury might be helpful - This booklet is designed to help those parents who have had a brain injury understand how their injury has affected them in their role as a parent.
If you would like to speak with someone about your brain injury and how this might affect pregnancy/parenting then you can contact our helpline on 0808 800 2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also find the following organisations a helpful source of information and support:
Friends of Headway Individual membership Join/Renew