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One Team, One Goal: How family, health care professionals, and apps create a positive pregnancy experience

Chris, his wife Leah, and daughter Elena

On the day of our one-year wedding anniversary my wife, Leah, discovered she was pregnant. In that moment, everything about our lives changed. We were going to go from a team of two, to a team of three, and nothing would ever be the same. But first, we’d have to make it through nine months, lots of tests, doctors’ appointments, and unforeseen adjustments to our lifestyle. One thing we came to realize over those nine months was that the team helping us bring our baby into the world was larger than just the two of us, and included many health care professionals as well as technology and information resources that we would need to use with good judgment and support.

Step one in building the right team was for my wife and I to get on the same page, and that began with me attending her doctors’ appointments. “Partners who are most helpful are the ones that are supportive,” says Michael S. Kinson, Jr, MD, MA, an assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology. “They are attending appointments, supportive of her decision making, and respectful of her choices.”

When I ask Leah what she remembers about my attempts at being supportive, she recalls, “Having you at the doctors’ appointments helped because you could remember things the doctor said that I might forget. That, and you would ask questions I might not think of.” Likewise, there would be things I meant to ask that Leah would ultimately be the one to remember. This helped us both feel better about our experience, while also giving me a clear set of responsibilities.

Beyond attending doctor’s appointments was making sure that Leah was comfortable, both physically and mentally. That meant making sure she had people she could talk to if needed, and taking steps to ease the symptoms of the hormonal changes she was going through. For example, pregnant women can often feel completely drained of energy, and when Leah experienced those symptoms, I did what I could to make sure she had time to take a nap or hand off any chores she was working on.

While being supportive is a great attitude and general theme of a significant other’s role in a pregnancy, they can’t do everything; there’s a reason it takes 12 years of postsecondary education to become an obstetrician, and why it’s important to have a great one on your team.

“When deciding on an OB/GYN, you want a trusted partner who you can depend on to provide you with the right information to make informed decisions about your health,” Kinson says. For the duration of the pregnancy, we met with Nicole Bavuso, MD, at the Penn Medicine Washington Square location. Her confidence and ability to create a welcoming environment for questions and concerns, was a critical piece of ensuring our pregnancy experience was as smooth and comfortable as possible.

While time in the doctor’s office can be an incredibly valuable resource, it’s not a part of daily life. Typically, Leah and I would go at least a week without an appointment, and it became increasingly clear that we needed another player on our team. I was lucky in that Leah is a pediatric physical therapist, and as a result, knows a great deal about pregnancy and the development of a fetus. That being said, not everyone is so lucky. So where do patients and their families go once they’ve left the doctor’s office? As is often the case today, they go to their phones.

Pregnancy apps have actually become so popular that in 2018 the National Institutes of Health conducted a narrative review on the use of such platforms. One area of particular concern was the potential for apps with misleading information to find their way into the hands of expectant mothers.

“There are a lot of resources for people, which is great, but it also means it can be hard to know where to turn for trusted information,” Kinson says. “The first place should be your doctor’s office. Penn has partnered with an app called Babyscripts which gives soon-to-be parents a lot of information that’s been vetted by our doctors.”

My wife and I made use of an app similar to Babyscripts which provided useful information on the various stages of pregnancy, as well as fun facts about the development of our baby, like how at 18 weeks she was the size of a cupcake! “It was great being able to visualize the baby’s development through the weeks,” Leah says. “Most moms aren’t getting an ultrasound every week, so the app provided a good substitute.”

“You should always consult with your physician before committing to a specific application,” Kinson says. “For our patients, Babyscripts provides a platform that not only gives expectant parents useful information, but also allows their care providers to receive information on developments that might occur between visits. It really extends the relationship between doctors and their patients.”

As for the typical resource for those seeking knowledge (a.k.a. Dr. Google), Kinson argues it’s not necessarily the best place to go. “Unfortunately, the internet itself can be a scary place. There’s a lot of information that may not be completely reliable. For my first baby, I got a book called The Expectant Father. It was great in helping me feel that the crazy things I was thinking weren’t just me. You want to find reassurance that you don’t need to be ashamed.”

And so it was this team, made up of me, my wife, a number of talented health care professionals, and the knowledge available to everyone, that helped us cross the finish line. On May 5, 2019, after about 24 hours of labor, our daughter Elena came into the world at Pennsylvania Hospital. Labor was one of the most intense and scary moments of our lives, but ultimately we left the hospital with a healthy, happy baby.

However, what we didn’t know then was that this wasn’t the end of my wife’s pregnancy journey.

“For new moms, it’s a totally new experience. You begin to establish a new normal,” Kinson says. “Those first few weeks are joyous, but it can also be a time of mourning. You are letting go of the life you knew and beginning a new phase of your lives.”

Over the next weeks and months, I tried to make sure my wife had the resources she needed and the time necessary to pursue her interests. And now, as we approach the one-year birthday of our daughter, we have a new outlook on life, and a new team ready for anything!

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