Roxanne Davenport from Lewisville, North Carolina, US, began having complex petit mal seizures when she was 21. She now copes with mesial temporal sclerosis, has two daughters and works as an epilepsy advocate as well as moderating the Google+ Epilepsy Support Community. Here, Roxanne shares the challenges she faced during pregnancy.
During my first pregnancy, I was only on one medication, Tegretol. It was known to lead to a 1% increase in the child’s chance of having spina bifida but, as I do ultrasounds as part of my job as a medical sonographer, I was able to check myself all the time. It was a relief to see everything progressing normally and I gave birth to a healthy daughter.
At that point, I would have 10-15 seizures a month. Sometimes I would just stare for 30 seconds, or shake my right hand. At work, we decided I should not do any procedures with needles, as it could have been dangerous.
My second pregnancy was a surprise. My older daughter was eight at the time and I was 33. By then, I was on four different medications for my epilepsy: Lamictal, Zonegran, Keppra, and Topamax. This meant I was only having three or four seizures a month.
The medication I was most worried about was Zonegran because it was newer and it can cause deformities, including gastroschisis, where the baby is born with intestines outside the abdomen. While this can be operated on, an even more serious condition – in which the heart is formed outside the chest – was also a possibility, as was hydrocephalus (extra fluid on the brain). I was really worried.
When he found out I was pregnant, my doctor said he wanted me off all my medication. I knew this wasn’t an option though, because if I came off my medication I would probably start having seizures. I could pass out and fall to the ground (grand mal seizures), meaning I would most likely have a miscarriage.
I decided to go to a high-risk OB/GYN. At the high-risk center near where I live, I was given different advice from the pharmacologist. They kept me on all my medication, but monitored my pregnancy carefully, doing regular blood checks and ultrasounds. As my pregnancy progressed, we could see that everything looked fine.
It was a stressful time though and I had to get out of work a month before the birth to be on bed rest. There was the constant worry that I’d have a seizure and fall. I had an amniocentesis because of my age and to check the baby’s lung maturity in case I went into labor early or had to be induced. In the end, they did induce labor because I had a seizure and would have fallen if someone hadn’t been there to catch me.
During the delivery, my oxygen levels dropped and I had to lie on my side so that I could be on oxygen but my second daughter was born strong and healthy and my eldest was even allowed into the delivery room to cut the cord!
Despite all the worries over taking medication while I was pregnant, my youngest daughter, who is now eight, has done well. She’s not only missed out on the dyslexia that runs in the family, but has an exceptionally high IQ. This was a nice surprise!
I want to let other women with epilepsy know what happened to me. I think that often, OB/GYNs haven’t dealt with epilepsy much. Pregnant women need more information.
Roxanne’s Google+ group, “Seize”ure the Day!, is open to anyone who has epilepsy or knows anyone that has epilepsy.