Toxoplasmosis: It Happened to Me

When I was 24 weeks pregnant with my first child, I got a call from my doctor who told me I had been diagnosed with a recent case of Toxoplasmosis.

You might know Toxoplasmosis as the reason you are not supposed to eat raw meat or clean your kitty litter. Yep, you get it from cat feces. As far as infectious diseases go, this one made me feel pretty disgusting.

Adding insult to injury, I hate cats, have never owned a cat, would never pet a cat and have certainly never cleaned out kitty litter. So, I must have gotten it from raw meat then, right? Nope. At that point in my life, I was a strict vegetarian. It all seemed like a cruel joke.

My doctor actually suspects that I picked it up on a first trimester trip to France, because apparently, it is pretty prevalent there. I wish someone had told me that before we booked our tickets.

The deal with Toxoplasmosis is that depending on when you get it (first trimester, second trimester, third trimester), it has a big impact on the implications for your unborn baby. So I had to go through additional testing to find out exactly when it occurred.

If you contract it in your first trimester, the odds of passing it on to the fetus are about 15% but passing it on could have serious birth defects like blindness, mental retardation and neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy. If you get it in your third trimester, the odds that your baby will be infected rise exponentially to about 60% but the symptoms are less severe— like your baby becoming cross-eyed or having eye lesions. It’s a tough call which odds are more upsetting. I think I would preferred a later diagnosis but my husband liked the odds much better of an earlier contraction.

The tests came back that I had it in my first trimester and I tried desperately to see it from my husband’s point of view. He’s a numbers guy and was adamant that according to the odds, everything would be fine. I took a totally different approach and needed to prepare myself for the worst. This discrepancy in how we were handling things had a huge impact on our marriage. It made me feel incredibly alone. But when I confronted my husband about it, he said that if we both went down the hole together, we would never make it out. He was right. As much as I wanted someone to share my pain and stress, I needed him to remain positive more. It was better for the baby.

After I was officially diagnosed, I had to have weekly ultrasounds to check the growth progress of my baby’s brain and go on an intense dosage of medication. The medication was intended to protect the baby from getting infected if Toxo was still in my system and treat the baby if she had already contracted the infection to hopefully offset the symptoms. But, I should point out, if the baby was infected, it would be with her for life.

About a week later, I woke up at about 2am with a horrible rash all over my body. We went to the emergency room where it was determined I was allergic to one of the pills I was taking. My OB said I had to continue taking the medication even though my body was rejecting it, which meant I was immediately checked into the ICU, where I stayed for a week while going through a process called “desensitization”.

During the desensitization process, I was hooked up to every piece of hospital equipment imaginable and then to begin, the doctors administered one milliliter of the drug. Every 15 minutes, the dosage is doubled until your body has a reaction. If and when your body reacts, they give you the same dosage until you can handle it. Then they double it again.

I was taking three different pills so they had to do it separately for each of them. The first two medications went fine. With the exception of fasting (I wasn’t allowed to eat throughout the process) and having my blood pressure taken every three minutes even throughout the night, I was doing okay.

Then we got to the medication that contained sulfa.

It felt like I was strapped to a bed while someone was slowly poisoning me. It was BRUTAL. Basically, the doctors are administering a substance that your body is rejecting any way it knows how. I got a fever, I was projectile vomiting, I had stomach cramps (thanks to the fasting, things didn’t get REALLY ugly), I had massive headaches and I broke out into a rash all over my body that itched like crazy. They would wait for the symptoms to dissipate and then they would make me take more which would start the ugliness all over again. Worst of all, someone was tasked with keeping me conscious throughout the ordeal.

At the end of  a very harrowing week, the desensitization was determined a success and I was able to keep up my daily dosage. We also had to meet with both the NICU doctors and the infectious disease doctors to prepare us for what was to come once our daughter was born. There is no real way to know if a baby will have Congential Toxoplasmosis until after birth, so she would be subjected to a battery of tests, including a spinal tap.

At that point I was about 26 weeks, taking almost thirty pills a day, stressed beyond belief and googling every horrible outcome that could possibly happen to a baby born with Congenital Toxoplasmosis. This is one of those times when the internet is not your friend. I was up until 3am every night reading article after article searching for something that would put me at ease. But all I found were articles with dire outcomes.

In fact, one of the reasons I decided to write this post, almost three years after it happened, is because I could find nothing from someone who went through my experience and everything turned out fine.

Which is me. Everything turned out just fine.

My daughter was born two weeks early, at exactly 6 lbs. and scored a 9 on her apgar test. She did so well on all her scheduled tests that the doctors decided not to give her the spinal tap, which was a huge relief.

But just as we were about to leave the hospital, they came back and told us they wanted to keep her for further tests because she had severe eye trauma. I was devastated. Issues with the eyes is one of the main symptoms of Congenital Toxoplasmosis.

We ended up spending the night in the hospital as we waited for a specialist to fly in from Thailand to check her out. The next day, at 4pm, he examined her eyes and determined she was just fine. Apparently, all babies have eye trauma after going through the birth canal but doctors don’t usually see it since they aren’t looking.

We were sent home, told to a visit the infectious disease doctors in a month to go through the tests again, just to be sure she didn’t contract the disease while exiting the birth canal.

About two weeks after the infectious disease appointment, we got a phone call.

The doctor said our daughter had no trace of Congenital Toxoplasmosis in her system.

“You mean, I don’t have to think about this ever again?”

“Nope. You never have to think about it again.”

And with that, we went on with our lives and celebrated our beautiful, bright, healthy baby girl.

Rather than show you a picture of her as a baby, I thought I would show you a picture of her today:

 Read more from Ilana at Mommy Shorts.
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