Breath of Fresh Air: Feature Articles

Chapter 57: A Star At Lamaze Classes

Kelly McC. is a professional pianist, mother of a 2 year old, and is 12 weeks pregnant. She has lived with asthma all her life. "I'm 33 and I was diagnosed when I was probably around 2. I have memories of being in the hospital with the oxygen tent and the ice [packed around the outside of the tent]." In her memory of her childhood, it seems that she was "always hospitalized, Halloween and Christmas and all the big holidays."

"I used to think I was selfish. I was the only child in the whole family who had this [illness]. It would take time away from the parents, taking you to the emergency room. It was also a 'weak' disease." Especially in school, where track was the big sport, "you wanted to be athletic. You didn't want people to know that you had asthma. There's a lot of psychological issues that come into play with asthma. A lot of it is denial."

After puberty her asthma improved. When she went off to college, she stopped all of her medicines, didn't have a doctor, and felt that she no longer had asthma. Then, in her late 20s, "it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks." Around that time she moved back home — to a horse and dog, and to an old home with carpeting. Her work as a pianist would take her to smoky places and people's homes with dust, mold, and a variety of pet animals.

She began to see an asthma specialist, who told her that she had to modify her lifestyle and take a preventative asthma medication every day. But, she says, "it wasn't until I got married and got pregnant that I really thought 'now, I have to take care of myself.'"

During her first pregnancy she was extremely careful not to harm her fetus. "I was by the book, didn't drink coffee, didn't fill my own gas tank, I was so cautious, I was over the edge." She avoided taking medications for her asthma. "I don't think I believed anybody when they said the drugs [for asthma] were O.K. For some stupid reason I didn't think about air to the baby's brain.

"The problem with asthma, because you're not in traction and you don't have a cast on your leg or a neck brace, you don't even feel like you're sick. When you're so used to not breathing, you think that that's the normal.

"Until you are pregnant and have another child, until another life is in jeopardy, that's when you really take stock and say 'wait a minute', wow, I'm not breathing perfectly, I have to take these medicines, etc. It was also the best thing that could have happened to my asthma was having a baby because now I really pay attention to my own health. What I learned with the pregnancy is that it really snaps you into shape as far as your own care. You have to take care of your body and be able to breathe in order to make the baby breathe."

One advantage of having asthma when pregnant: at the Lamaze classes to discuss breathing during labor and delivery, Ms. Kelley was a star. Her experience with breathing slowly and calmly during asthmatic attacks had prepared her for the controlled breathing needed during labor and delivery.

With her first pregnancy, labor and delivery went very well. "As far as the asthma, it was perfect. Having an asthma doctor and an obstetrician on your case, it went as smooth as can be." Like a true mom, she describes her daughter as "perfect." She notes that she too has asthma.