my toxoplasmosis infection

It was one week ago today that I finally received the “good news” about my toxoplasmosis infection. It’s an old one. Not acute. While I had fantasized that this famous lab in Palo Alto would be so sophisticated as to glean from my blood sample what year I’d been infected, all I learned from my doctor’s call is that I’m “not acute,” and therefore we should all relax, and celebrate. So I did.

The funny thing (well, not terribly ha-ha funny) about this 10-day scare, while we waited for the test results, is that it wiped the ambivalence right out of me.

I’d been pretty firmly freaked out and not entirely sure I wanted this “thing” that was already quite obviously a done deal (an emotion that all the pregnancy books, and the pregnancy planner on parenting.com assured me is a normal emotion in trimester-one).

Having more than a week to wonder if I was going to face parasite-induced birth defects and a decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy — needless to say, it cleared that ambivalence right up.

A word or two about toxoplasmosis (and me): I’ve had cats since I was 10 years old. It’s likely that, although I am certain I always washed my hands after cleaning the litter box, that’s probably how I got it. My propensity for cooking meat — i.e.: handling it raw — or/and eating it rare at times, could also be to blame.

Toxoplasmosis is a two-stage blood parasite that first infects a host animal — through ingestion of an infected animal or animal by-product such as wild birds or animal-based feed — and then is passed to the second host, again by consumption, or by having physical contact with the infected animal’s feces, and then touching one’s face, eyes, mouth (first is usually cats or pigs, second is often humans).

One source stated that about 40% of the population has had a toxo infection. The majority never show or experience symptoms. It’s only in immune-compromised individuals (people with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women and their cargo) who are at risk from the infection.

When my doctor said I might have it, but she would not talk to me about the consequences because she was CERTAIN I would be one of the many “false positives” the test often yields, and that I should just relax and not worry, I learned something about myself, that will be useful for the rest of my pregnancy.

I am, regrettably, immune to the ameliorative properties of the “Don’t Worry” concept.

In other words, I TRIED to take my doctor’s advice, TRIED not to look up information on the internet or in my growing baby-info book library, and so, instead, I PEEKED at the first lab report — which to me looked like this:

The FDA says blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah DECISION TO TERMINATE THE PREGNANCY blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah…

And then I peeked at a website or two, because I wasn’t supposed to be reading them. I learned that in France, the infection is so common that pregnant women are tested monthly (no jokes here about a culture that is plein des cats, and gourmet meals involving raw meat).

I read that women who are infected a few months before getting pregnant as well as during their pregnancy are at risk. That an infected woman may have to wait six-to-nine months to clear the acute stage of the infection before trying to get pregnant again. I saw the words “Birth Defects.”

And then I cried… a lot. Finally, friends and family started looking things up for me, asking their friends in the medical profession for info, feeding me their reassuring bits.

In the end, I realize now that more information about how common the infection is, what the procedures are for treating women who contract it right before or during pregnancy, how the fetus might be monitored for the infection, the percentage of pregnancies where the infection does not cross the placenta, i.e.: all of the options besides termination or death, might have enabled me to freak out less. Maybe.

Plan is, moving forward, to inform my doctor of my worry-brain, and ask for more information on the front end, should another test (and there will be more) reveal another risk factor.

Another note: While most of the sources I’ve consulted say that once you’ve been infected, you are immune, my doctor says not to flaunt risk. So, just to be safe, I’m still leaving cat box duties to my husband and avoiding rare meat.

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