How Folic Acid Saved My Children’s Lives
Folic acid is crucial for your pregnancy
A December to remember
It was a beautiful December day in Portland, Oregon. I was 7 months pregnant. I already had a beautiful 2 1/2 year-old daughter. All was right with the world. I had experienced several heart-breaking miscarriages before and after giving birth to my daughter, yet I was hopeful that this pregnancy was going to turn out well – despite the jerky movements the baby was now regularly making inside my womb. I was so confident that I blithely turned down any pregnancy testing. After all, my first birth was textbook perfect, almost exactly according to my birthing plan!
Early in my third trimester, I went to the hospital with what I thought were labor pains. My stomach was distended – much more so than when I was pregnant with my daughter – and I was having strong contractions. My husband was at work, and while I was waiting for him to get to the hospital, I was given an ultrasound The technician was chatty, and everything seemed to be going fine, when she suddenly said, “Oh!”, and then became silent. I asked what was wrong, and she told me that she would need to consult with a doctor.
The nightmare begins – and ends
A doctor came in and told me that I would need to get an x-ray. This was so radically different than anything I believed in – I had a complete natural birthing plan all prepared – so I was speechless. My contractions had been stopped with medication, however the extended size of my abdomen required further tests. Just as my husband arrived, they wheeled me in for an x-ray. When the physician came in to talk with us, she looked like she had just seen a ghost. She informed my husband and I that our unborn son had Anencephaly – that the top of his skull was missing – and that he would not survive the birth, even if he were delivered via Caesarean section. However, he (we now knew the baby was a he) still needed to be born!
On December 12th we began the process of labor, augmented with trying to dilate my cervix with Laminaria. After many hours, I finally started to go into labor, and then the worst possible thing happened: my blood pressure dramatically dropped and I passed out. They started taking emergency measures to save me. My husband – realizing that he now faced losing both the baby and me – told the doctor to forget doing anything naturally for the baby, and just make sure to save me. I still don’t remember parts of that terrible night.
When I woke up, I was given a tightly wrapped bundle of warm baby. Johnathan – that was the name we had already picked out, in honor of my father – was still alive, having made it through the birth. His heart was still beating, but he lacked the ability to keep breathing. So my husband and I took turns holding Johnathan until he passed away.
In the weeks that passed after I was finally let out of the hospital, I was overcome with grief. As the Little Prince said, “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.” Yet I was blessed with an enormous outpouring from the community, and slowly recovered physically and mentally. After all, I still had a daughter to take care of! Then, just weeks after coming home from the hospital, I woke up in the middle of the night, convinced that Johnathan was standing at the edge of my bed. He was now a young man, and he told me that he was okay. Then he said goodbye. I woke my husband up, and he swears that he saw Johnathan too. I never had that dream again. I didn’t need to. I was once again calm and hopeful.
Wait, I thought this post was about Folic acid!
So, there I was, a young mother with a young daughter, wanting more children. I found out that our insurance covered genetic testing, so I had my husband and I tested to see if we were the contributing cause to Johnathan’s Anencephaly. All the tests turned up negative; neither of us had any genetic diseases that would have caused us to have an Anencaphalic child, or a child with any other common birth defects.
When all the genetic tests came back negative, and much time had passed, I was finally ready to try to have another child. I went to my physician – the same woman who had helped me through the harrowing birth of Johnathan – and told her I wanted to make sure that my next baby lived. She said, “These things just happen.” I was shocked by her insensitivity, and frightened of getting pregnant and having one of “theses things” happen again. I told her I had been reading about the studies in England showed decreased instances of neural tube defects directly associated with taking Folic acid before and during pregnancy. She dismissed it. So I asked her if taking extra Folic acid before and during pregnancy would cause any harm. She said no, so I took that as her blessing.
I took 800 mg of Folic acid per day while I was “working” on getting pregnant (believe me, it wasn’t work!), and within a few months I was pregnant again. Yet I was also very paranoid. So as soon as it was possible, I had an ultrasound with a physician – not a technician this time – and asked kindly and patiently that he first make sure that there was a skull and no signs of any neural tube defects. Then for good measure, I had him count all the fingers and toes and anything else I could think of to be reassured that this baby was going to make it. When all appropriate parts were accounted for but one, I asked the physician about the baby’s gender. A boy! I burst into tears. So did my husband.
After a difficult pregnancy where I was on bed rest for the last trimester, I gave birth to my only living son, on a warm day in June. He was healthy and strong, and his head was so big the doctor exclaimed several times about it. I was elated! After recovering from the birth I was finally able to get back to the job of mothering – the hardest job I’ve ever loved.
In the long run
It has been years since Johnathan died. In a beautiful cherry-wood memory box, Johnathan’s ashes rest in a smaller box that sits beside the cap that was put on him when he was born, his feet and hand prints, and the booties I knitted for him that he never wore. Most days, I don’t even think about him. Once in a while, I just break down and let the grief briefly back in. Then I remember that I’ve already said goodbye.
In a way, I became who I am from giving birth to Johnathan and watching him die within his first hour of life. Through that experience, I learned that I had a talent for researching health and nutrition topics and applying them to my family’s life. That perspective – that paradigm of better health through nutrition and exercise – has greatly benefited my husband and my family. My husband no longer eats wheat or sugar, and has no signs of the diabetes that affects everyone else on his side of the family. I was able to help my son through borderline Celiac disease and other physical challenges. I had two more beautiful daughters. In all, I have four live, happy, healthy, creative, strong-willed children. My children and my husband keep me going, and keep me looking for ways to make things better, one small change at a time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Folic acid” and “folate” are the same thing. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate. Folate is found naturally in some foods. Eat foods rich in Folic acid and take supplements, especially if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant. Birth defects of the brain and spine happen in the very early stages of pregnancy, often before you know you’re pregnant.
Recommended Dose and Frequency:
- Women planning on becoming pregnant should take between 400mcg and 800mcg per day.
- If you had a baby with a birth defect of the brain or spine, or if you or a family member have spina bifida, your doctor may give you a prescription for 4,000 mcg of Folic acid per day – 10 times the normal dose.
- Breastfeeding women need 500 mcg per day.
- If you are taking medicine to treat Epilepsy, Type 2 diabetes, or Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, liver disease, sickle cell disease, celiac disease, or consumer more than one alcoholic drink per day, ask you doctor about how much extra Folic acid you should be taking.
- Older adults need 400mcg of Folic acid per day
- New research published in the March, 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that taking Folic acid before pregnancy and during the first several weeks of pregnancy may help reduce the risk of autism.
- Prevents neural tube defects during pregnancy
- Healthier bones and teeth
- Post-menopausal support
- Diminished risk of heart disease
- Enhance energy levels
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