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Family planning, interrupted
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Family planning, interrupted

Cara Curan is 36 years old and from Coffs Harbour NSW. She is living with heart failure and coming to terms with what this means for her future.

Cara Curan is known among friends and family for her resilience. Born with pulmonary atresia, a defect where the valve that enables blood flow from the heart to the lungs doesn’t form at all, she has endured five open heart surgeries since she was a child.

Despite her health challenges, Cara’s mantra had always been to “get on with life” and enjoy it as much as possible. Throughout her 20s, she lived and worked overseas – but at the age of 32, her 5th heart surgery turned her life upside down. 

“That surgery was more complicated than the others. I had a pulmonary aortic valve replacement, a bidirectional Glenn shunt and had pacing wires inserted for a future pacemaker,” she says.

“I did not bounce back – I ended up in ICU and had a horrible recovery. I just knew things weren’t right after this surgery.”

After leaving hospital, Cara struggled with nausea, stomach issues and anxiety. She kept pushing her doctor for answers – why did she feel like this after a surgery that was supposed to improve her health?  Eventually, after months of waiting, she received some sobering news: the surgery was unsuccessful, and she was diagnosed with heart failure and required a heart transplant.  

Finding out becoming a mum isn’t possible

But then came the cruellest blow of all: because of her heart condition, pregnancy was too risky and was out of the question.  Being told that “By the way don’t fall pregnant as you won’t survive a pregnancy’ and told to get a Mirena IUD (implanted birth control) as I “can’t afford to have a whoopsie” (accidental pregnancy) was really overwhelming’.

Understandably, Cara was devastated - now in her mid-30s, she was desperate to be a mother.

“Nobody ever told me that my heart condition would affect my ability to carry a child or have a pregnancy,” she says.  

“If I had known about this in my late teens or my twenties, I may have thought more about the situation and what my potential options could have been.

“I could have frozen my eggs. Now this isn’t an option.”

Despite being surrounded by supportive friends and family, Cara often feels alone in her grief. It’s a situation that’s made worse by people offering unsolicited – and often unwelcome – advice.

“When someone says something like You can always adopt or get a surrogate,’ it feels like they are flippantly talking about walking into a store and choosing a new dress. It’s really not that simple – practically and most of all emotionally”.

Resilience shining through

It’s the biggest test she’s ever faced, but even amongst the emotional upheaval, Cara’s remarkable resilience continues to shine. She’s determined to live a life full of joy, with or without children, as well as to advocate for others: she wants to use her story to help other young women understand the risks of heart disease and its impact on future family planning.

“If this is something you’d like to pursue (even if it is in the far-off future), ask questions at an early age and get all your options so you can act before it’s too late,” she says.

Cara’s advice to others

“Be your own biggest advocate and even though it might not be easy, speak up. Ask lots of questions and write them down so you don’t forget – your specialists might not know what is going on for you at that moment in your life or your plans for the future so make sure you get as much information about your options as you can’.

Cara shares her tips and advice on the Supporting Young Hearts: Heart to heart series podcast and is a member of the Supporting Young Hearts online support group. Visit us here to find out more. 

For more information on pregnancy and heart conditions

Being pregnant puts extra strain on your heart and could make your existing heart condition worse. The risk to your heart will depend on your individual circumstances and having a baby could put you or your unborn baby at risk. If you have a heart condition, always speak to your Cardiologist before trying to get pregnant. For more information visit our website or call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12.


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