Sunday, October 2, 2011

Q&A With Jodi McKee: Pregnant And Chronically Ill

You may recognize the glowing beauty above, since she has appeared several times on this blog. Among other things, Jodi McKee is a dear friend, a talented photographer, a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient, a wife, and most recently... a mommy-to-be! Last July, I introduced her remarkable Autoimmune Portrait Project which was later featured in Arthritis Today! With regard to this project, Jodi writes " my hope is spread the word about all of the younger people out there who are dealing with these chronic, often painful, illnesses. I think it is very important for the newly diagnosed to be able to see all of these beautiful, happy faces and know that they are not the only one out there." Incidentally, it was this project that first brought us together (click here to see my post!). Five months later, Jodi's spotlight appeared on Loving With Chronic Illness, and this spring she graciously offered one of original photographs as a giveaway.

As you can tell from her adorable baby belly, Jodi's newest venture is motherhood! When I first heard the news, I was overjoyed for her and her husband, but my thoughts immediately went to Jodi's health. How would her body react to a pregnancy? Would her condition be bearable after stopping her medications? Would she and her baby both be safe? I had a million and one questions (I come from a long line of worriers), but thankfully everything has gone smoothly. More than that, it seems pregnancy truly suits her...I mean, just look at that photo :)

Following my engagement this summer, I can't deny that family and children have been on my mind. Although motherhood is years away, I still wonder about my ability to carry a baby. I've been overjoyed for Jodi and her husband, and simultaneously filled with hope for my own future. Of course every woman is unique, but at least the possibility is there. Jodi: Thank you for making this interview possible, for sharing your story, and for reminding us that there is always hope.

When did you first realize you wanted a baby? Did Rheumatoid Arthritis impact this desire at any point?

I think I always knew that I wanted a family one day. My husband and I got married young and didn't plan on having kids right away. When I was diagnosed with RA at age 31, all of the doctors asked me what our plans were. It kind of forced us to really decide if we wanted to go for it. 

How did you decide that pregnancy was right for you? When and how did you open the dialogue with your doctors about this decision?

I think the initial diagnosis allowed the doctors to bring it up first. My husband and I sat with it awhile and discussed the pros and cons. We finally decided last summer that we wanted to, so then we went to a high risk ob/gyn to make sure it would be okay. At the time, I was on methotrexate and Humira. I stopped the methotrexate last summer and then stopped the Humira when I found out that we had conceived. 

What was your greatest fear when considering pregnancy?

Aside from the prospect of being completely responsible for a helpless baby, my greatest fear was and still is having a major flare after giving birth and being unable to care for my newborn. 

What was it like finding out you were pregnant? What went through your mind? How did you tell your husband? Your family?

It was completely surreal at first. I suspected that I was, and when my husband and I got home from a weekend out of town, I took the test. We both said that those two minutes of waiting felt like two seconds! I was so happy that the test was positive, but I think we were both a little freaked out.

We kept it as our secret for a couple of weeks, but we wanted to tell our families. Mother's Day was fast approaching, so we bought Grandmother cards and sent them to our moms with a note to call us when they got them. They were ecstatic! My husband's mom said it was the best Mother's Day present he could have ever given her. My mom was so happy and excited and my dad started crying. Everyone was so happy for us!

How has your pregnancy been going? How are you feeling physically, both in terms of typical pregnancy side effects and with regard to Rheumatoid Arthritis? 

My pregnancy has been going very well.  I had some nausea and some extreme fatigue in the first trimester, but it wasn't too bad. The second trimester has been pretty good over all. I've experienced some aches and pains here and there along with quite a bit of brain fog and forgetfulness, but I'm used to those things with RA.

RA has been a different story. I was really hoping to go in to some sort of remission during pregnancy, but it hasn't happened. I recently had to stop taking my NSAID, as it isn't safe after the second trimester. So, now I am back on everyone's favorite: prednisone. Since I've been on the prednisone, I've been doing okay. Not 100%, but manageable. I'm hoping for an easy and relatively pain-free third trimester.

How did your expectations for pregnancy compare the reality of it? Has it been better or worse than you imagined? Have there been any surprises?

I'm not sure what expectations I even had. I really had no idea what to expect, so the whole thing has been a big learning experience for me. The biggest "surprise" is just how awesome and crazy and surreal it is to see my baby on the ultrasound screen and to feel all of the kicks!  

Do you have any weird cravings?

I had a period of craving potatoes all the time (home fries, french fries, potato chips, you name it), but that was it. I've had a little more of a sweet tooth as well, but nothing crazy like pickles and ice cream. Not yet, at least!

What is your greatest wish for your child? (tough question, I know....)

That is really tough. I just hope they will be healthy, know who they are, and be the best them that they can be. 

If you could send a message to other chronically ill women who are thinking about starting their own families, what might it be?

Definitely talk to your doctor(s) about the pros and cons. Luckily, RA specifically isn't really high risk. Some of the medications make extra monitoring necessary, but for the most part, people with RA do quite well during pregnancy. I know it isn't the same for other autoimmune diseases, though. But if you really want to have children, work with your doctors to do what you can to make that happen.


  1. jodi, you look super cute in that last picture of you in the long dress! wishing you and baby a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum. xo

  2. I don't know you, Jodi, but you look fantastic! I wish you all the best!!