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One Mom’s Story with ICP and Its Effect on Her Mental Health

someone scratching their hands

Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (also known as ICP) is a liver condition that affects both the mother and baby but can also profoundly impact mental health.

It’s estimated that 1 to 2 in 1000 pregnancies will be affected by ICP, according to a study by Cleveland Clinic. The main symptom is extreme itching around your palms, legs, and feet. 

Being diagnosed with this liver condition can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Pregnancy is not allowed to go full term when diagnosed with Cholestasis because the risk of stillbirth ranges between .1 and 3.5%.

The effect of an ICP diagnosis on a pregnant person’s mental health

Many, like myself, before being diagnosed with ICP during my first pregnancy, are unaware of the stress and loneliness attached to enduring diagnoses such as Cholestasis. It is very stressful knowing that you’re almost at the finish line of your pregnancy and must be induced by 37 weeks. 

Knowing that I had to be induced sent me into early prenatal depression. I was terrified of going through a process I had never experienced before. This diagnosis made me unhappy about my pregnancy and changed my initial birth plans.

Knowing that everything was moving faster than it should have made me feel lonely and, at times, depressed. Having to undergo a non-stress test twice a week before my induction date was draining and terrifying.

Knowing that you’re doing everything you can to save your baby’s life can be empowering and create a lot of turmoil. Not many people talk about how hard pregnancy can be on top of adding complications like being required to be induced.

During that time, I felt like I lived at my doctor’s office. I was there way more than I would have ever imagined. The fear of not having enough fetal movement made me feel afraid and overly stressed (something that every doctor will suggest you avoid during pregnancy). 

I was scheduled to be at the hospital at 36 weeks. When I arrived, I changed into the hospital gown and was immediately started with an IV and, later that night, given Pitocin. Pitocin is a drug that helps start contractions. 

What causes Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

In some cases, it can be genetic, like a relative in someone’s family who may have also experienced a mood disorder during or after pregnancy. It may be likely another member within that bloodline may be subject to a higher risk of conditions like Cholestasis.  

Additionally, studies show that those from South Asia, South America, and Scandinavia are at a higher risk of ICP.

Having to be induced because of a life-threatening disorder during pregnancy left me feeling very confused and alone during my last few weeks of pregnancy. I googled every possible solution to avoid having to give birth early, but nothing could make ICP go away before 40 weeks. 

A closer look at prenatal depression

Mentally I felt defeated. Knowing that you’re doing everything you can to save your baby’s life can be empowering and create a lot of turmoil.

Not many people talk about how hard pregnancy can be on top of adding complications like being required to be induced. Overall it will increase the chances of your baby surviving, but it can take a horrendous toll on a mother’s mental health.  

Prenatal depression can occur during or after pregnancy. It can happen to any mother regardless of race or economic status.

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baby resting head on mom's shoulder

Your care team can help support your ICP journey

As scary as being induced can be, what helped me during my process was knowing I was under excellent medical care. I had an outstanding OB/GYN during my pregnancy, and her care during my visits made me feel like I was in good hands.

It is essential to have a doctor who cares about their patients. Because that also helps during the process of labor and delivery. 

While at the hospital, I felt a sense of safety and knew that everything would turn out to be okay because I felt heard and listened to about any concerns I may have had during pregnancy.

As someone who experienced ICP firsthand, what saved my child and I, was speaking up about my worries and following up on any unusual concerns.

From the moment I felt extremely itchy at night after several attempts to dismiss it, I knew something wasn’t right. It is crucial to advocate for yourself, especially during such a vulnerable time as pregnancy. 

Pay attention to any signs and symptoms you are experiencing, and contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. Staying vigilant can save your baby’s life.

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