Retro Post: Surgery During Pregnancy

Retro Posts: The baby is now a few months old, but there are several subjects that I want to be sure to record in this little blog. I’ll be posting ‘retro posts’ like this to make sure everything is covered.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was very lucky with my pregnancy. I experienced very little morning sickness, no swelling, no excessive weight gain, an easy labor and delivery, and no complications to speak of — except one.

About 6 months before I found out I was pregnant, I went in for a regular annual exam at my OB/Gyn’s office, and she discovered that the right side of my thyroid was bigger than the left. She advised that I should have an ultrasound scheduled to take a look at it, but it was only very small. I didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about and simply never got around to it.

Fast forward to June, when I was about 3 months pregnant, and we realized that the nodule was growing exponentially. It wasn’t actually related to my pregnancy, though the sudden growth may have been due to the extra hormones in my system. (Pregnancy can do some weird, unexpected things to your body.) My thyroid levels were correct — it was functioning properly — but the biopsy came back “inconclusive,” and the mass in my neck was becoming increasingly obvious and uncomfortable. So even though the nodule had no effect on the health of my pregnancy (and the little baby inside), it was still a medical issue that needed to be corrected (particularly since there was a small chance that it could be cancerous).

I have a pretty “c’est la vie” attitude toward life — I roll with the punches for the most part — but I was very concerned about putting my unborn child through this. After all, I would have to be under anesthesia — and that meant that he would be, too. I spoke to every doctor I encountered — my OB/Gyn, the endocrinologist, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, friends — and they all assured me that the baby would be fine. I also did a lot of reading online — medical articles, inflammatory bulletin board and blog posts, personal testimonies — trying to find out what risks were involved… (If you’re looking for the same, I hope you take comfort in this blog post.) But I really didn’t find anything of consequence.

My surgery was scheduled for when I was about 18 weeks along — and according to everyone I spoke to, that was perfect timing. The second trimester is apparently the ideal time for a pregnant woman to undergo surgery. And it makes sense — the baby’s organs have mostly formed by that point, and you’re past the first trimester, when miscarriage is most likely.

Since I was only 18 weeks along, I had not yet found out the gender of my baby, so when I went in for a check up with the high risk OB/Gyn during surgery prep, they were able to reveal that I would be having a boy! That actually turned out to be a big help in calming my nerves before and after surgery. I had something else to focus on — baby names, nursery decor, clothes shopping… So fun. 🙂

boy ultrasound 21 weeks

Spread eagle! Definitely a boy. No question.

Even though the risk was small to begin with, my surgeon and anesthesiologist took additional measures to minimize the risk of undergoing surgery while pregnant. My surgeon is actually well-known for his scar-minimizing thyroidectomy procedures, but since those tend to take longer, he opted to do a plain old thyroidectomy with a small cut in the center of my neck so that I would be under anesthesia for as little time as possible. The anesthesiologist also suggested that I not receive any kind of sedative before being rolled into the OR (though he did give me the choice). This meant I was completely conscious until they put the full-blown anesthesia into my IV. I remember it hurting for several seconds, but pretty soon I was out. Definitely worth the extra pain to not have extra medication in my system for the baby’s sake.

They removed the right half of my thyroid. Wanna see what it looked like? (Caution: Bloody.)

They also monitored the baby’s heartrate, and although it was lower than usual by the end of my surgery, it was still within the “normal” range for his fetal age. They explained to me at the time that he was still asleep from the anesthesia, and it returned to his regular heart rate soon after. It seemed that he and I had gotten through surgery successfully! Having just found out it was a boy, I thought it’d be cool to name him David — since he and I (and the surgeon) had defeated “Goliath” together! (Obviously, D did not like the name David. Hence the baby’s name begins with J…)

I don’t remember much from the rest of my day at the hospital, but I was released after a few hours and my mom took care of me for a week or so while I recovered. My throat hurt for several days, but that was due to the breathing tube. I also was unable to move my neck very well for several days due to the incision, but after a week and a half I felt almost back to normal.

It’s been about a year since my surgery now. I don’t have any pictures of my ‘fresh’ scar, but here it is in September of last year, about 2 months after surgery, and when I was about 6 months pregnant. (Note the thin reddish line across the middle of my neck, between my clavicle bones.)

D and R at baseball game, thyroidectomy scar, 9 months pregnant

And here’s what my scar looks like now, almost exactly one year after surgery (as of later this week). It’s hardly even noticeable anymore, at least to me. The line is less red these days. It’s a little bit hypertrophic I think — but this is a self-diagnosis. It seems to be healing and becoming less pink, raised, and noticeable over time. (Full disclosure: this photo was taken about a month ago.)

thyroid scar

So as it turns out, my fears were for naught, because I ended up with a perfectly healthy baby boy in the end. And I’m glad I went through with the surgery (not that I really had much choice), because now I’m able to be a healthy mother for my son.


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