Autoimmune Disorders: Your Options for Building a Family

Autoimmune disorders or diseases happen when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders.  The body’s immune system can be triggered by bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, or blood or tissue from outside of your body to produce antibodies to destroy these invaders. When you have an autoimmune disorder, the immune system can’t distinguish between normal tissue and antigens from outside your body. Autoimmune diseases affect more than 23 million people.  Some are very rare while others are more common, such as celiac disease, psoriasis, diabetes type 1, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It’s also possible for people to suffer from more than one autoimmune disorder, increasing the complexity of their symptoms and treatment.  These diseases may affect blood vessels, connective tissues, endocrine glands like the thyroid, joints, muscles, red blood cells, or the skin.

Autoimmune Disorders and Fertility

The effects of certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and type 1 diabetes, can make it difficult to conceive or carry a healthy baby to term. Pregnant women with lupus have a higher risk of preterm birth and stillbirth. Some autoimmune diseases attack the ovaries, resulting in decreased ovarian reserve and making it harder to conceive. The relationship between autoimmune disorders and fertility is complex and varies with the severity of the person’s disease. If you have an autoimmune disorder, you may question whether it’s safe to get pregnant and carry a baby, both for the mother and the child.  Today, more and more women with autoimmune conditions are able to have safe pregnancies and healthy babies. However, they are considered high-risk pregnancies and require careful monitoring by your medical team.  In general, it’s recommended that someone planning to have a baby should be in remission from an autoimmune disease before getting pregnant.

Conception and Pregnancy

If you have an autoimmune disorder, speak with your internist and the specialist you see for your disorder. Your treating physicians may need to adjust your medications if you are trying to get pregnant or make other changes to your treatment. Ask them about any complications that may arise if you conceive and symptoms you should watch out for. If your condition will make it more difficult to get pregnant or if you’ve been trying for six months without success, consult a reproductive endocrinologist about your options for fertility treatment.  In many cases the full range of assisted reproductive technologies is available to women with autoimmune disorders, including IUI and IVF. High-risk pregnancies can be especially stressful, so it’s important to use lifestyle measures to support your health, such as a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs.  Lean on your care team and support system for guidance and emotional support. WIN’s Nurse Care Managers are experienced in reproductive medicine and specially trained to help patients manage their health, fertility treatment, and emotional stress during their fertility journey.  Each WIN Nurse Care Manager has at least five years of experience and is available to their patients 24/7 to help them navigate through fertility treatment.

Surrogacy as an Option

If a woman’s autoimmune disorder or other condition makes her unable to safely carry a pregnancy, gestational surrogacy may be an option to have a biological child. A gestational surrogate agrees to carry and bear a child for another person, who will be the legal parent after the birth. The child is not genetically related to the surrogate, rather, the embryo is created in IVF with eggs and sperm from the intended parents, or from donor egg and/or sperm. The resulting embryo is then transferred to the surrogate, who carries the pregnancy and gives birth. WIN’s surrogacy program offers a full range of services, including comprehensive screening of egg or sperm donors and surrogates. Partnering with credentialed and experienced agencies, we provide family-building benefits for all. The WIN surrogacy program offers patients who cannot conceive or carry a pregnancy the opportunity to build their family through surrogacy.

Adoption as an Option

By adopting, you’re giving the gift of family to a child in need, whether it’s a baby, a child, or a teenager, all while creating or extending a family of your own.  Adoption is a gift of love, for a lifetime. WIN’s adoption program provides support and education for people who pursue adoption, including referrals to experienced adoption agencies and claim processing.  WIN’s adoption services make what can be a complicated and frustrating process simpler.  A complete video library on adoption is available on demand, which features topics such as deciding if adoption is right for you, and how to finance the costs of adoption. Throughout the adoption process, WIN behavioral health specialists are available to provide emotional support and counseling.

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