The Atrium Health Women’s Care team

Women's Health | 3 months ago

A Team Approach to Support Difficult Pregnancies

The Atrium Health Women's Care team offers more than medical care; it's personal care, too

“Everyone who is pregnant needs to have prenatal care, and we have excellent OB-GYNs at Atrium Health Women's Care,” says Dr. Ngina Connors, an OB-GYN who specializes in maternal and fetal medicine at Atrium Health CMC Women’s Institute. “But some women need extra help with pregnancy, and we have an additional team of specialists to support them.”

Marlena Baxter-Dunn was one of those who needed additional support for a healthy pregnancy. She came to Atrium Health Women’s Care with several challenges. For one, Marlena could not ovulate and conceive on her own. In addition, she had several conditions that complicated her ability to carry a pregnancy to term. She had recently lost a twin pregnancy, so she came to the team of specialists looking for support for her next pregnancy. What followed was a six-year journey with the Women’s Care team that included challenges and losses, but also big celebrations of healthy babies. In fact, she experienced three big celebrations.

“There’s always hope,” says Dr. Bradley Hurst, an OB-GYN who specializes in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Atrium Health CMC Women’s Institute. “I’m just so excited that Marlena now has the family of her dreams.”

A Team Approach to Women’s Care

Atrium Health offers pre-conception counseling to all patients hoping to have a baby. Doctors can make sure that patients have recommended screenings and wellness checks, review possible risk factors and recommend lifestyle changes for patients.

“Anticipating pregnancy is exciting, but can also cause some anxiety,” Connors says. “Meeting with your provider can ease some of your concerns prior to conception by helping you know what to expect during pregnancy. Pre-conception counseling is also available with a maternal fetal medicine specialist, which is a physician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.” 

When Marlena first came to Atrium Health in 2016, she was unable to ovulate on her own. The prescription fertility drugs she had been prescribed were no longer effective. She saw Hurst for an ovulation disorder and infertility consultation. Because she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which prevents ovulation, Hurst recommended she begin a treatment of an estrogen-lowering medication that can induce ovulation. The medication worked. Even without in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI), Marlena was able to conceive.

“My job is to try to find the best pathway for patients to be successful to achieve pregnancy,” Hurst says. “When somebody has difficulty maintaining a pregnancy, we try to find underlying problems and correct what we can. For Marlena, the initial problem was that she did not ovulate, and we were able to find a safe, effective way to help her ovulate and achieve pregnancy.”

From there, Marlena worked with a multidisciplinary team at Atrium Health Women’s Care who helped her maintain a healthy pregnancy and carry the baby to term. Marlena had an incompetent cervix, wherein her cervix would dilate too early during pregnancy. This was the cause of her previous miscarriage. Connors recommended a cerclage surgery, a surgery which includes tightening of cervical opening during pregnancy, for Marlena to reduce the risk of that early dilation from happening. In addition, Marlena had hormone injections to support the pregnancy and diabetes educators to manage her gestational diabetes.

“Dr. Connors would answer my millions of questions, and she would just reassure me saying, ‘This is what we are doing. Everything is fine. There are no changes. You can relax, but you let me know if you have any concerns or questions. We are here for you.’" says Marlena. 

Soon, Marlena and Connors celebrated the birth of her first child, Beckham. Marlena continued to work with the Women’s Care team for future pregnancies in the coming years, a time which held heartbreak, too. Marlena became pregnant with twins, and during the preoperative appointment for her next cerclage, doctors could no longer find the babies’ heartbeats.

“Dr. Connors came in and I could tell that she was sad. She had tears in her eyes,” Marlena says. “From that moment on, I just knew Dr. Connors really, genuinely cared about me and my family.”

After the loss of the twins, Marlena got pregnant with another set of twins, but she miscarried one. Luna was born in March 2020 and then baby Penelope came into the world in December 2021. 

During Marlena’s time as Connors’ patient, the women bonded. 

“We have a connection in that we both have three children,” Connors says. “My journey to have my children was not the same as hers, and it wasn’t the same as any other woman’s journey. We make sure that we give each woman the care that they need, based on their particular needs.”

More Than Medical Care – Personal Caring, Too

“The team here at Atrium Health Women's Care has really been phenomenal, from reproductive endocrinology through the diabetes clinicians and educators to Dr. Connors with maternal fetal medicine. Even the ultrasound technicians, lab technicians and people who schedule my appointments,” Marlena says. “They checked in on me when I got here looking frazzled, especially when I was navigating appointments with two young babies while being pregnant with another one.”

Those seemingly stressful moments were the best kind of problem for the team to see, since Marlena came to Atrium Health Women’s Care six years ago unable to conceive. 

“It has been such an honor for me to take care of Marlena over the course of six years,” Connors says. “During that time, she has experienced some ups downs, but ultimately that time has given her three beautiful children.”