When you’re pregnant, the internet is not your friend. I remember one night, early on during my pregnancy (< 8 weeks) when I was awake at 1 am reading the science on thyroid hormones and infant intelligence. The day before I had been to my family doctor and we had tested my thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to measure my thyroid functioning. The thyroid is a gland involved in the pregnancy maintenance. When pregnant, there is an extra load and some women develop hypothyroidism (i.e., thyroid glands functioning below normal levels), which can be assessed by measuring TSH. When we tested mine, it showed that I was indeed showing signs of hypothyroidism. Accordingly, both my family doc and my naturopathic doctor agreed that I should go on the medication, synthroid (https://www.synthroid.com/), to help support my thyroid and my pregnancy. This was important because poorly functioning thyroids are associated with a greater chance of miscarriage.
The need to go on medication seemed imminent but instead of jumping right in, we agreed to wait for one more test. I was particularly happy to go for further testing because I did not want to be on medication. I hadn’t been on any kind of medication in years and part of me didn’t want to tarnish my good record, admittedly. But, more important, I didn’t want to subject my baby to medications without good reason.
The problem is figuring it what is good reason. And there lies the background for why at 1 am I found myself with my iPad hiding under the covers on the futon Mike and I were sleeping on at my mom’s while reading the research on hypothyroidism and pregnancy.
What I remember most poignantly in my frantic scanning of the literature was that hypothyroidism was associated with lower IQ scores in children, by the time they were school age. When I read this I panicked. Why was I waiting to go on the medication??? I should go on it now!!! What was I thinking??? I’m a terrible mom already!
During this panic, I was so fixated on this effect that it didn’t even occur to me to question the meaningfulness of such results. What I mean by this is that it’s one thing to read that there is a statistically significant effect but if that significant effect has low clinical relevance (for example, only happens in like 1% of the population or only changes the IQ, on average, by one point) then it really isn’t something to concern myself with. But, at 1 am, my mama brain was spinning out of control and wasn’t really engaging the scientific part of my brain all that well… not that they are mutually exclusive. But in this late evening escapade they seemed totally not on the same page!
That evening of science reading was actually quite pivotal for me and it had nothing to do with the findings of any paper. Amidst my obsessive science searching, I gave up. Or maybe I gave in. In any case, I surrendered to the "need to know” that crepes into my life so often. It’s a yearning that caused me to get my PhD. It’s a yearning that sends me down rabbit holes. It’s a yearning that plagues me with all sorts of detriments. But in this particular pursuit of knowledge, I let go of needing to know all the data and all the answers.
I also let go of needing to control my pregnancy and the fate of my child. In the moment that I shut my iPad, I felt empowered not by knowledge but by a trust in my body’s ability to grow my baby. This was an important early lessons in pregnancy… in motherhood.
I wish I could say that that moment of enlightenment persisted for the rest of my pregnancy (or beyond) but it didn’t. I did (and do) continue to consult the science and other people’s experiences through pregnancy and parenting. Sometimes I do it mindfully and some times is takes me and throws me down a rabbit hole and I feel buried there. I also did (and do) continue to lose trust in myself, my body, and my baby. But what did change was my relationship to control. I remembered that I wasn’t in control and I needed very much to remember that so early in my pregnancy. My thyroid saved me.
In the end, I never had to take the thyroid medication. Perhaps the whole scare was just to get my mama brain to a point where I could let go. Once I did let go, I (and my thyroid) seemed to reset.