Oh, Baby Do Women Have Choices Now!
An overview of childbirth and fertility resources in the western suburbs
The options for women and their partners who are planning to have children have never been greater, in terms of quantity and quality of services, and it’s all available in the western suburbs. Here, we offer a quick overview of both traditional and futuristic women’s health services — from family planning and infertility treatments to childbirth and beyond.
Healthy Moms and Healthy Babies
When it comes to a healthy pregnancy, “The most important thing women can do by far is to be healthy,” advises Dr. Susan Mitchell, an obstetrician/gynecologist with DuPage Medical Group in Downers Grove, who is affiliated with Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. She recommends that existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, be addressed before a woman becomes pregnant, to help avoid complications. Women should stop smoking and those who are overweight are encouraged to lose weight and exercise more. “It’s plain, old-fashioned ‘be healthy and take care of yourself.’ Don’t look for a magic bullet,” says Mitchell.
She also advises against do-it-yourself medical diagnosis from information found on the Internet. “As OB/GYNs, we spend a lot of time dispelling myths, which can be very challenging,” says Mitchell. She shares her concern about the use of Doppler home fetal monitors by untrained people. In one case, she relates, a baby died because the mother thought the baby’s heartbeat was normal and didn’t come to the hospital for further testing.
Another important consideration for the health of the baby is to wait until the baby has been carried to full term before inducing labor. “Recent studies within the past six months have demonstrated that inducing labor in the week before a woman’s due date is generally safe and appropriate,” she says. Although some women would like to induce labor earlier, say at 37 or 38 weeks, “The risk is high enough that the babies would have to spend time in a NICU.”
That said, Mitchell sees an advantage for women who induce labor between the 39th and 40th week. Generally, the mother-to-be comes into the hospital in the morning to start the induction, and the delivery happens between dinner time and bedtime. “It’s a nice, healthy process,” Mitchell says. “She is happy. She feels fine. It’s fantastic.”
It’s a Family Affair
While the focus is on a woman’s health before, during and after pregnancy, area physicians and health care facilities make sure that the entire family is involved in the process.
At Elmhurst Hospital, as at other hospitals, including its partner Edward Hospital in Naperville, birthing suites and mother and baby rooms look more like high-tech hotel rooms, with a private bathroom and a foldout bed for the husband or support person to spend the night and a special bed for the baby to stay in the same room. Two of the birthing suites include a Jacuzzi tub, which can be used for a water birth, if the mother-to-be meets stringent medical guidelines.
For pregnant women who are classified as high risk, due to potential health complications with the mother, the baby, or both, going to a hospital that has a NICU (Neonatal or Newborn Intensive Care Unit) is critical, with Level III being the highest designation.
The hospitals also host support groups and classes for expectant and new parents, and even grandparents and siblings. “We can probably meet every need of the person on the child-bearing spectrum, starting with thinking about pregnancy and planning,” says Pat Bradley, system director of Women’s Health Services for Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Once the baby is born, support continues in the form of breast feeding classes, lactation consultants and behavioral health services to “help with anxiety and the transition into motherhood,” Bradley explains. Women who experience a miscarriage or the loss of a baby can find resources and help in dealing with the trauma.
Call the Midwife
For many women, a more natural birth with less medical intervention is their preference. Enter the midwife. If you think a midwife is an uneducated throwback to hippie days who specializes in home births, think again. According to Beth Helme-Smith, a certified nurse midwife with AMITA Women’s Health Care in Hinsdale, the state requires that midwives receive a master’s degree as an advance practice nurse and pass a national certification exam in order to be licensed.
A midwife provides women’s health services from the time of a young woman’s first menstrual period through the childbearing years and on past menopause. Midwives are licensed to care for lower risk pregnancies, while those with a higher risk should see a doctor.
“Midwifery is definitely something that fits in with empowering women to make informed decisions about their health care,” says Helme-Smith, noting that midwives generally can spend more time with their patients and develop personal relationships over time. Her practice, OMG Women’s Healthcare, also offers the services of four doulas on call. “A doula is a constant labor support person for the physical and emotional needs of the patient and her family,” she explains.
Babies are delivered at the Hinsdale hospital, where Steven Daube, D.O., the practice’s obstetrician/gynecologist, can assist in the delivery if the mother wishes or if the birth becomes complicated or surgery is required.
When Having a Baby is Difficult
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 percent of American women ages 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Among couples who experience infertility, women’s health issues cause about one-third of infertility cases, with another one-third due to male problems, and one-third from combined male and female issues or unknown causes. With more women waiting to have their first baby until age 30 or later, infertility and other maternal health risks become more of a concern. But advances in infertility treatment offer hope.
According to Dr. Michael Hickey, an infertility specialist and surgeon who heads Hinsdale Center for Reproduction, “Most common are straightforward problems, such as a small problem with ovulation or a male factor.” In those cases, medicine often is all that’s needed. For others, more intensive treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), are required. Hickey cautions that, despite the success of infertility treatments, women shouldn’t count on being able to give birth at a later age. “One thing we cannot do is turn back time,” he says. “It’s better to have babies before age 35.” Often, older women will have to use a donor egg or will experience complications due to personal health issues. In fact, women giving birth at age 35 or older are considered high risk and require monitoring by maternal fetal medicine specialists.
For more and more women, fertility preservation is top of mind. “We have seen a 200 percent increase in women freezing their eggs, as females are born with all the eggs we’re going to have,” says Dr. Asima Ahmad, an obstetrician/gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois, which has offices in Hinsdale and Warrenville and has been freezing eggs since 2004. She says the process has “improved considerably over the years,” with fast freezing methods. In the past, most women who sought to freeze their eggs had a cancer diagnosis. Now, the method can be used by any woman who plans to wait until later in life to conceive.
Infertility treatments can be draining both financially and emotionally. However, the State of Illinois mandates coverage for some infertility services by private insurers, says Ahmad. One new treatment that her practice offers is INVOCell, described as a “mini IVF,” at half the cost of traditional IVF. It works by putting the eggs and sperm into a small device that is then implanted in the woman’s vagina for embryos to develop. When the device is removed several days later, the healthiest embryo is selected for implantation in the uterus and the remaining embryos are frozen.
Perhaps even more amazing is the ability to screen for genetic diseases in mothers, fathers and their embryos. “With the human genome project, we are able to isolate and prevent conditions that aren’t treatable,” Hickey explains.
A blood test is conducted on the mother first, which “identifies 177 mutations known to cause diseases,” he explains. “Most commonly, it comes back negative.” However, if the mother tests positive, the second step is to test the father. If both partners have the same gene mutation for a serious, untreatable disease, such as cystic fibrosis, then their embryos are screened. Although it may sound like science fiction, Hickey says, “It’s not a genetically engineered baby.”
“The bottom line is that most people don’t have huge problems (with infertility),” adds Hickey. “It’s a matter of starting the journey.”
Support for Women Struggling with Infertility
For women who have difficulty conceiving a child or carrying a child to full term, help can be found in a peer-to-peer support group. RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, offers infertility support groups in Lombard, Batavia, Romeoville, and other Chicago-area locations.
According to Meghan, the volunteer facilitator of the Lombard group, who has been trying to get pregnant herself for three years, the members share their personal journeys and their different treatment paths. “We encourage people to be advocates for themselves.” Although the women value the professional medical care they receive, she observes, “We ourselves are experts of our own bodies and know what works best.” The group meets once a month, and members often become friends and text each other throughout the month or meet for dinner for ongoing support. Not only do they support each other during the emotional roller coaster of infertility treatments, but they also celebrate successes when a member becomes pregnant, which gives hope to those still in pursuit of a healthy pregnancy.
To find a support group near you, visit resolve.org/support. RESOLVE also sponsors National Infertility Awareness Week, April 22 to 28, to educate the public on infertility issues.Edit Module