During the last two years, “Faith over Fear” has become a guiding philosophy, and for some people a battle cry, for dealing with the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and everything else going on in the world. All in all, faith over fear is a good mantra. Multiple verses in the Bible give this advice, and there are women and men throughout the Old and New Testaments who amazing examples of people who practiced faith over fear. Abraham following God’s command to pack up his family and leave everything he knew for the promise of a new, completely unknown place is just one example. On some level preaching “faith of fear” seems natural and easy, but how it works on practical, personal level is a bigger challenge. As someone who is Christian and a scientist, I find that having faith over fear involves considering the situation, understanding the possible dangers, asking (praying) for wisdom from others who have more experience and knowledge about the options for dealing with the possible outcomes, and acting with faith that God will be with me regardless of what happens. In other words, during scary times it has served me well to pray and post a guard. This strategy has served me well so far, especially when I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome.
Preeclampsia and HELLP (i.e., Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets) syndrome are pregnancy complications characterized by hypertension and kidney and liver stress. The cause of these disorders is an active area of research. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, the best, current, hypothesis is that preeclampsia and HELLP occur because factors produced by the placenta enter the maternal blood stream and cause the mother to have high blood pressure and abnormal functioning of the kidneys, liver, and blood coagulation. Each year, 8-10 % of pregnancies worldwide are complicated by preeclampsia and/or other hypertension related problems. If not correctly diagnosed and treated, the outcome for the mother can be seizures and death. Preeclampsia and related complications cause approximately 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year. Even when it is correctly diagnosed, the only real way to “cure” preeclampsia is to deliver the baby (or babies), often before 37 weeks of gestation. Preeclampsia accounts for ~ 15 % of premature births in the United States, and worldwide 20 % of admissions to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) worldwide. In addition to possible long-term consequences of being born prematurely for the baby, there are also long-term consequences for the mother including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and/or kidney failure.
The first time I heard of preeclampsia was while watching an episode of the television show ER. In the episode “Love’s Labor Lost”, a woman is admitted to the ER with severe pregnancy complications that turn out to be preeclampsia. Unfortunately for the woman in the show, Dr. Mark Greene’s attempts to save her failed, and she died at the end of the episode. The second time I heard of preeclampsia was nearly a decade later in my obstetrician’s office. I was 24 weeks pregnant with twins, and during that routine checkup they discovered I had multiple indicators of preeclampsia — my blood pressure was too high, there was protein in my urine sample, and my feet were more swollen than normal for that stage of pregnancy. Needless to say, when my doctor started talking to me about preeclampsia, I was afraid. After all, my limited experience with it involved a dramatic, Hollywood death. Learning more about preeclampsia did little to relieve my fears of the possible outcomes for me and my unborn daughters.
Practicing faith over fear became more than a guiding principle as I waited to see what would happen. But it was more than just a matter of laying around like a lazy dog, passively waiting for the future. Rather it was a time of prayer but also following my doctor’s recommendations for bed rest, a low sodium diet, and regular ultrasounds and stress tests. With my doctor’s careful monitoring of my health and that of my babies, we made it through 10 long weeks before it became necessary to deliver them. Today, at nearly 17 years old, they are both healthy and as normal as anyone can hope to be.
The practice of praying and posting a guard has been fruitful during more than just my experience with preeclampsia. Praying and following the advice of the CDC and local health officials got me and my family through the early days of COVID-19. Praying and paying attention to recommendations for water conservation, pesticide use, and meat consumption are the best way I know of, for individuals to slow climate changes. It can be challenging and frustrating to know how to act during times when we, as a society, don’t yet know the best way to guard against the newest challenge. But God has promised to go ahead of us, and that, in my opinion, is the essence of faith over fear.
Acknowledgement: Inspiration for this post came from great discussions with Debbie Splaingard and the Monday Night Ladies.
May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month. Check out the Preeclampsia Foundation website to learn about this all-too-common pregnancy complication.
About the author:
Dr. Julie A. Reynolds is a Research Scientist at The Ohio State University in the department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology. She studies insect physiology and biochemistry with the goal of learning how animals adapt to extreme environments and survive changes in climate. In addition to writing for the Emerging Scholars Network, she is actively engages in discussions about science and faith as a Sinai and Synapses Fellow.