Meghan Flake is, simply put, beautiful. While you may notice her outward appearance is obviously beautiful she has an awesome edgy look, with striking hazel eyes, and deep blue hair, but Meghan’s family centered compassion and loving concern for others is really what makes her identifier “Beautiful.” Meghan is a strong woman and mother who made her own scary situation a ray of hope for others.
Back in 2013 when Meghan was pregnant with her second child she discovered she had persistent itching on her hands and feet. Pregnancy does weird things to your body so this and other symptoms, like dark urine and right upper quadrant pain, went without too much concern. However at around 34 weeks, Meghan started to really notice the itch. “I felt little tickles on my skin and was super itchy.” She reflected during our interview, “I thought there was something I was allergic to or something weird. But right around 36 weeks the itching started to get really persistent and really severe that I thought there had to be something wrong.”
At this point she contacted her Doctor, “There had to be a reason I was itching so bad, it was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.” Meghan relaid to her doctor just how bad it was, “It kept me up at night. I was breaking skin, I was in tears because the itching was so terrible.” The blood work took about a week to come back with her diagnosis: Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy or ICP.
What is ICP?
ICP is a liver disorder that happens only during pregnancy involving bile acids slowing and building up in the blood. Risks include premature birth and stillbirth of the baby.
Meghan learned treatments for ICP are usually extra monitoring, a medication to control bile acids and early induction. Inducing pregnancy is typically recommended at 36 to 39 weeks depending on the severity. “So when I was diagnosed at 37 weeks I was so late in my pregnancy my doctor just had me come in the next morning to be induced.” Luckily her baby girl was born healthy, but Meghan and her husband felt their family wasn’t yet finished. Meghan got pregnant twice more, both times she experienced ICP.
When asked what geared her and her husband’s decision to have not just one but two more planned pregnancies knowing the risks? She answered, “We wanted to continue expanding our family.”
There is a 60-90% chance that if you have ICP with one child you’ll have it again. “In a lot of ways the next two pregnancies were better because we kinda knew what to expect.” Her doctor took baseline labs and closely monitored her throughout her pregnancies. “As soon as I started showing symptoms we were able to move quickly from there.” Knowing it could happen made it easier than being blindsided and not understanding what happened.”
So one healthy little boy was born in 2015 and two years later another little boy completed their family. “I have, fortunately, a really good support system and people that were able to help me during the really difficult times in my pregnancies.” As with many medical conditions having the right people around and a good environment is so important in these situations. Meghan’s support system included the specific community of ICP Care, a nonprofit organization here in the United States. The group is dedicated to spreading awareness about ICP and educating medical professionals, as well as patients about ICP. Meghan began volunteering for ICP Care a few years ago as an administrator for their facebook page. “The facebook support group is just a place where women can go to, first of all, talk about how they’re feeling and dealing with their diagnosis. Because it is a really mentally challenging condition when you’re feeling so itchy, and makes you feel a little bit crazy, and you’re worried that your baby is in danger. It’s a really taxing and emotional time to go through so having support from other women who understand how that feels is really valuable.” ICP is quite rare, so finding people who understand what you’re going through can be difficult. “Because a lot of times people who haven’t experienced it just don’t understand how severe it is and how bad it feels. They, in the best of intentions, will try to help you. Saying ‘don’t itch’ and give you advice on things that might help. That doesn't help because the nature of the Cholestasis, the itching just isn’t resolved by normal means.” Meghan states. “It is just really helpful to talk to women who also have it.” But ICP Care takes their support one step further. “We also help women advocate with their doctors. There are a lot of medical professionals that don’t know much about ICP because it’s rare and so we help provide them with links, and articles, and studies, things they can show to their medical providers to get the best care and get the best outcome for their baby.”
How You Can Help?
Meghan’s experience of not understanding her symptoms at first inspired her to be an administrator for ICP Care, and you can help as well. There are a lot of ways that you can support IPC Care according to Meghan, “You can select ICP care as a benefactor for Amazon Smile, you can visit ICPCare.org, there is a link that will show you ways that you can volunteer or help.” This support can help so many women, and the website makes it easy to help out. “You can make donations directly to the organization if you want or fill out a volunteer form. You can volunteer your time and energy to help spread awareness or hold fundraisers for things like that.” Even if your time is spoken for and volunteering isn’t possible there are still ways to help. “You can share articles from the ICP Care Facebook page on your facebook.” It really is as simple as spreading awareness, “A woman can experience itching and go ‘Hey, I think I saw so and so’s post about itching’ I’ve known a few women who were diagnosed that way. Because they just saw something that someone posted and asked their doctor about it when they started to experience it.”
How You Can Support a Loved One?
If you know someone who is itching during pregnancy be sure to visit ICPcare.org or the facebook page to get the information and support you need.
If someone you know is diagnosed with ICP, Meghan recommends kindness and says the most important thing is to be sympathetic, even when it doesn’t feel like enough. “It's really easier to try and solve the problem, but that just doesn’t take away the pain or the difficulty of the emotional issues from dealing with it. Having people who are just sympathetic and supportive is really helpful.” If you want to take action and ‘do something’ Meghan had a few suggestions, “If they have other children offer to help with the other kids so mom can take a cold bath, sometimes the cold can relieve the itching a little. Or maybe she can sleep during the day because she was up all night itching. Just general ways you can support pregnant women, but also just being sympathetic to what they’re going through. And understanding that what they’re going through is really emotional on top of the physical discomfort. There's a lot of concern and worry that your baby is not safe inside your body, where they’re supposed to be safe and that's a really emotional journey to process as well. Women who have stillbirth will obviously need extra support and help and comfort. So just generally being kind and sympathetic and asking what they need. And be willing to do those things for them.”
The biggest risk of ICP is a higher instance of premature labor and a higher risk of stillbirth. At this point there isn’t any indication as to which babies are at a higher risk of stillbirth with ICP so they treat all cases as high risk and try to keep the babies safe. ICPCare.org has all the information you need on ICP and how you can support women, help them learn how to talk to their doctors, and sympathize with women who are going through something very hard.
How you can Help the World be More Beautiful.
Meghan’s experience sparked advocacy for those in similar situations. If we all thought of our difficult times as a means to help and empathize with others we’d be a much stronger and more beautiful society.
So I encourage us all to not only check out ICPcare.org, but also find others who are going through something we’ve gone through and show them they’re not alone. Share your survival story so others can one day share theirs as well. Thank you Meghan for making this world a more beautiful place.
Share your love for Meghan and other ICP patients in the comments!