Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson wants people to know that the journey to motherhood isn’t always a straight line. There are ups, downs, tears, and broken dreams on the way.
She and her husband Andrew East, who plays pro football, opened up about their heart-breaking miscarriage in 2017 on their YouTube channel, The East Family. They wanted to let other people who’d been through the devastating experience know they're not alone. And when the couple found out they were pregnant again, they cried tears of joy. But that wasn't the end of the story.
In another video, the couple shared that their baby was battling against complications. For one, Johnson has a two-vessel umbilical cord, while most have three vessels. This can put a baby more at risk for kidney and spinal issues, according to Healthline. There were also some issues with the kidneys being dilated and underdeveloped, Johnson shared.
She said that her doctor was worried that the two issues combined could be a signal that the baby had the genetic disorder Down Syndrome, or another chromosomal anomaly. However, Johnson said the test came back negative for a genetic abnormality.
“If our test came back, and if our baby had Down Syndrome, we would love that baby more than anything in the entire world,” she said. “But in our hearts as parents, as every parent out there prays, you hope for a healthy baby... Now we need to start praying for the two-vessel cord and the kidneys."
Johnson and East have been through it on their journey to parenthood, and Johnson sat down with Refinery29 to share how she copes with the worries of motherhood, and what she’s most looking forward to about welcoming her baby.
What’s been the most surprising thing about pregnancy?
Every pregnancy is completely different. All my friends tried to prepare me for what was going to happen. But your body changes as it wants. It does whatever it wants. I’ve had weird symptoms and cravings, like Chinese food, and weird things. It’s shocking what you go through.
Motherhood can be exciting, but with it comes lots of worry. What are you worried about going into motherhood?
Everything. You don’t really have much control when you're pregnant — with your body, with everything in general. It’s a waiting game until the baby gets here. I’m worried that I’m not going to be a good mom. I’m worried that my baby is going to need something I can’t give them. There’s a million worries that go through your head.
How do you cope with all that worrying?
It’s a battle every day. You have to reassure yourself that you’re prepared, and that you’ll figure it out. You love your baby more than anything in the world, there’s no other choice than to figure it out.
You’ve also been dealing with some complications, and recently did genetic testing. How did you get yourself through that?
We were told that we had a two vessel [umbilical] cord, and our baby’s kidneys didn’t look normal. And because of that, we were encouraged to do genetic testing. So, for us, it was just a worry that — genetic testing aside — we were told the complications could put our baby at risk for not making it to term.
And having already lost a baby, it was terrifying for us. We couldn’t comprehend losing another child. We had three things on the list we needed to be worried about. When we got our genetic testing back, it was clear and we were told the baby's kidneys looked normal. It was a sigh of relief.
Everyone’s path to motherhood is different. What would you tell another mother who’s been through something similar to what you’ve gone through.
Motherhood isn’t just a straight line, it never will be. Never give up hope. We felt really defeated after losing our first. I wanted to avoid ever feeling that way again. There are all these doubts that you have, but you can’t live in fear. You have to keep trying.
What are you most looking forward to about motherhood?
We’re excited to welcome the baby into the world. We’re not across the finish line yet. We’re still being monitored to make sure the baby is healthy. So, for us, the first time we can hold the baby is what we’re most looking forward to.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.