Lupus on doctor's hospital chart

Lesna Naidoo’s story begins two years ago when she was 30 years old. Married for one year at the time, she and her husband, Kriben, had been together for 13 years (now 14) and felt that they were finally financially secure and mentally prepared enough to consider bringing a child into the world. They also had to consider that her biological clock might be running out. Little did she know that biology was going to throw her a huge a curveball! This is her story…

I was suddenly hit by a barrage of symptoms all at once, from stiff and swollen joints to rashes and uncontrollable fatigue. I remember not being able to get out of bed because my joints had seized up. Hubby and I panicked as we didn’t have any idea what could be causing my symptoms.  I went to the doctor and a series of blood tests revealed that I had systemic lupus – a diagnosis that hurt more than any joint pain, rashes or ulcers could as I worried if I would be able to fall pregnant or even carry a baby.

What is lupus?

My doctor explained that lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease whereby the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs resulting in inflammation in various systems including the skin, joints, kidneys, blood, brain cells, heart and lungs. While there is no cure, I was told that the symptoms can be managed with medication. Mostly, sufferers have mild symptoms characterised by flares or episodes where symptoms worsen, and then fade or even disappear for a while.

“After being diagnosed with lupus, my mind was flooded with so many questions and worries aside from just my basic treatment. Would I be able to even get pregnant due to all the medications I had to take just to manage the symptoms?”

Lupus and pregnancy

After being diagnosed with lupus, my mind was flooded with so many questions and worries aside from just my basic treatment. Would I be able to get pregnant with all the medication I had to take just to manage the symptoms? I knew other women with lupus who had miscarried – would this happen to me? Sometimes it was enough just to try and take care of myself. How would I be able to take care of a baby? Having a flare meant I wouldn’t be able to do something as simple as change a diaper.

Lesna Naidoo - pregnant mom with lupus

Progress in the medical field when it comes to technology and a better understanding of the condition means that having lupus doesn’t preclude you from falling pregnant, but you’ll be characterised as high-risk meaning that problems can occur and need to be anticipated. If you time it right (for a time when the symptoms are in remission), you can have a healthy, positive pregnancy when monitored carefully by your healthcare professionals (your gynae and a rheumatologist).

The specialists I visited warned me not to consider having a baby unless and until my lupus was in remission, which could take years – time I didn’t have. I followed my treatment schedule diligently, but asked for medication that would help with my symptoms but not harm my baby should I fall pregnant (some immunosuppressive drugs cause deformities in the womb) and visited my doctor regularly.

Fertility and flares

Hubby and I tried for about two years after this, taking heed of my condition and flares. We put our trust in God that if we were meant to have a baby, it would eventually happen, but this didn’t make it any easier. We visited doctors to ensure that both my husband and I were fertile; I followed a special diet to be an optimum weight for pregnancy and monitored my ovulation cycles.

Blood viles with lupus labels

The pressure we put on ourselves and the disappointment we felt every time my period came were destructive. I felt as if I had let my husband down because I couldn’t give him a baby, and the constant up and down took a toll on our relationship, so we decided to stop trying and just live our lives. We even thought of adopting as we came to terms with not having a child of our own.

Lesna Naidoo with husbandI am very spiritual, so despite “giving up” I remained consistent with my treatment and vigilant about my health. Just a month later, after I had missed my period by about three days, hubby bought a home pregnancy test and begged me to take it. I wasn’t in a hurry as I had dealt with two years of disappointment but this time it was positive! The doctor confirmed that I was six weeks pregnant – God had finally answered my prayers or, as I like to say, He felt I was finally ready to be a mother.

Seven months into my pregnancy, my baby is healthy and I am so grateful to my current rheumatologist for getting me through this on medications that don’t harm my baby and for the best gynae who keeps me positive at all times.

 

Who is at a higher risk of lupus (according to lupus.org)?

  • 9 out of 10 people with lupus are women
  • Women between the ages of 15 and 44
  • Certain racial or ethnic groups, including African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander
  • People with a family member with lupus or another autoimmune disease (note, however, that lupus is not contagious)
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