“I’m probably just crazy, but….I want to have another kid”
Written by: Leah Bush
When I was diagnosed with kidney failure, I was 25. I had been married for two and a half years and had an 18 month old. I was a full time critical care nurse just accepted to a master’s program to become a nurse practitioner. I had plans. Big ones. I’m one of five kids in my family. I had always assumed I would have that wild, loud, crazy house like the one I grew up in. That my oldest would have siblings.
But when that doctor came into my room (after being hospitalized for 10 days), and told me that what I had was end stage kidney disease, my world and plans were shattered. Through sobs, I asked my doctor if I could ever have any more children. He said that he didn’t think so. Being on dialysis would be too dangerous for a baby, and if I took transplant medication, I would be exposing my child to serious danger as well. And these were my only options for treatment: Dialysis or Transplant.
Obviously, the priority was making sure I lived. I like living. I love my family. I wanted to see my child grow up. So I had to make a choice. After researching it, I decided that the route that would grant me more of a normal life was a transplant. We proceeded with the referrals, the testing, all of the things. And like the little enneagram 3 compartmentalizer I am, I went back to work full time because I was not on dialysis and needed to distract myself. (The privilege of decent health while awaiting a kidney is not lost on me). While working in the ICU one day, a new, young doctor walked in. I saw on his lab coat the words “transplant nephrologist” embroidered.
“You take care of transplant patients?” I asked.
“Ha…yeah, do you have a kidney to give to one of my patients?” he grinned.
“No, actually. I need one.”
He was surprised. We ended up talking about my history, and the transplant process. He was very insightful, and told me that he would probably be helping with my care at the clinic because of my status. I started to walk away, and as I was entering another room, he caught me, “Hey, uh…you know you can have a baby after transplant, right?”
I began to cry. I had not allowed myself to have this hope at all. I had been told by my other doctors that it was not possible. But here in front of me, this young physician who worked in actual transplant medicine validated my very real concern. I had not brought this up during our conversation, but he gathered that as a young woman in need of a transplant, it might be a very real desire and worry. He told me about a database called the National Transplant Pregnancy Registry that had been following transplantees who had had children since the early 1980s. And they followed pregnancies from kidney, liver, lung, heart, transplants. Everything. They also followed how well their children did and now, their children’s children.
Jump ahead a few years from that seemingly fated conversation in the ICU and there’s a new challenge. My kidney’s doing great - I’m incredibly healthy. The transplant center where I had my surgery? It…wasn’t doing well. In fact, they were suspending their program for a season, and now I was in the market for a new transplant nephrologist in Nashville. Not the best timing since I had planned on exploring this whole baby thing that year, but I did find a new team and got established. At my first appointment, I asked the doctor what her thoughts were about me becoming pregnant. She said, “Oh, well let me just pull up this research article that I did 3 years ago on this.”
She was a published researcher on the topic of pregnancy post-transplant. And her name was Dr. Concepcion. If this was a script it would need to be re-written to be more believable, but it was actually happening.
I ended up having 2 more babies post-transplant. They are happy and healthy and wild. I am also very happy and healthy, as is my kidney.. I am now part of the National Transplant Pregnancy Registry, and I update them every year on how the kiddos and I are doing.
Yes, I am telling you this because it is a wonderful part of the journey and story that I have lived, but also because I want you to notice that a second opinion made all of the difference in the world. Were my first doctors wrong? No. Not according to previous practice and standards, and certainly not from their frame of reference. “Protect the kidney. Protect the patient.” I get it. But when I talked to Dr. Concepcion about this, she didn’t roll her eyes that I wanted more kids. There was no, “You should just be happy that you have 1 healthy one and a kidney.” What she said was this:
“You have goals and dreams, and I am here to help you in any way that I can to fulfill them. And if one of your dreams is to have more children, then let’s see where that road takes us.”
I am not giving medical advice for everyone to go out and have a baby or do something against your doctor’s advice if you have been told that you shouldn’t. I am just telling you that sometimes, doing the research, asking for a second opinion, and weighing your options with the guidance of your provider will allow you to get the whole picture. Try to find a provider that understands your goals and desires and works with you. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a little blonde princess who yells show tunes at the top of her lungs, and elbows me in the face in her sleep almost nightly. I wouldn’t have a toddling bulldozer who terrorizes the cat and melts me with his blue eyes and gap-toothed grin. And my big guy wouldn’t get to be the sweetest, most antagonizing big brother that he is and loves being. I know I don’t make having three kids sound exactly luxurious, and I might be crazy, but…I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
About the Author
Leah Bush - ElleTwo Contributor
Leah Bush is a Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of clinical experience in critical care, cardiac care, emergency medicine, and primary care settings. Her professional identity is rooted in her upbringing as the daughter of a pastor and cardiac nurse educator, experience in varied medical fields, and personal journey as a mother and kidney transplant patient. She has a passion for patient education and a desire to give every patient the care that they deserve but are often denied. This holds particularly true for her female patients, who are often the most overlooked and misunderstood patients in our healthcare system. Outside of work she is a lover of music, documentaries, and LSU football. Her personal heaven is warm buttered bread and a long nap, and her personal hell is matching children’s socks out of an endless sea of laundry. She’s been married to her husband Tony for 11 years, and they have 3 children together - James (10), Rebekah (4), and Henry (2). They’ve recently added another member to their family: a black-and-white house cat named Alfie.