Apr. 19, 2016

Maurissa Tancharoen Whedon: A Little Miracle for Mother’s Day

Benny Sue at her first birthday party with mom Maurissa Tancharoen Whedon. Photo Credit: Tancharoen-Whedon family

After living with lupus most of her life, Maurissa Tancharoen Whedon had nearly given up hope that she’d ever be able to experience motherhood. Maurissa’s flares were too intense and too consistent to give her or her husband, Jed Whedon, much hope.

Lupus has attacked Maurissa’s kidneys, caused a flare in her central nervous system, and affected her lungs. With each flare, she was in and out of the hospital, taking months to recover.

“We explored surrogacy, IVF, just looked into everything we could to see if it was possible,” said Maurissa. “Just as we thought, ‘No, we can’t do it,’ my rheumatologist said if we wanted to try we could.”

For years, Maurissa had been working with her rheumatologist on a plan to keep her lupus under control. They spent so much time together, that he’d become almost like family. Finally, after Maurissa had been healthy for two years, he believed the time was right.

“It was sort of like this miracle dream come true,” Maurissa said of the early stages of her pregnancy. “I had what I now sarcastically call my adorable pregnancy. By the 20th week I was still really small, just had a cute little bump.”

Within a few days, all that had changed. Her feet and ankles swelled to about five times their normal size and Maurissa and Jed spent New Year’s Eve 2014 in the emergency room.

“I was feeling so faint. I was clearly swollen and obviously dehydrated. My kidneys were inflamed and malfunctioning, so there was an excess of fluid in my entire body. It all sort of spiraled from there,” she said.

Maurissa remained in the hospital for months as doctors played a careful balancing act between her kidneys and the baby.

“Lupus creeps up on you. No matter how you try to keep it at bay, the hard fact is that it’s always there, brewing underneath,” Maurissa said. “But it was harder to deal with this time because I had my little girl inside of me. They couldn’t hit me with the drugs they wanted to. We just had to hold my kidneys in their dire state with tons and tons of prednisone.”

At 29 weeks, Maurissa’s team of doctors knew they could wait no longer. For the sake of both mother and baby, it was time for Benny Sue to come into the world. At just 2 lbs. 9 oz., the baby girl was tiny but thriving.

“Science saved my baby,” said Maurissa. “Motherhood and bringing a child into the world are not scientific at the emotional and spiritual core of it all, but with our situation all of that was so intertwined with science because it had to be.”

That’s why Maurissa says she and her husband Jed are such huge supporters of the Lupus Foundation of America. Every day, women with lupus and their babies benefit from research, some of which has been funded in part by the Foundation, that has led to healthier pregnancies and better outcomes.

“Without the research, awareness and everything the Foundation does, we wouldn’t have been able to get through it,” she said.

As the mother of a now one-year-old, Maurissa is still learning to understand and respect the limitations lupus puts on her. The accomplished actress, writer, producer and musician has always been a self-described workhorse.

“And now as a mom, a working mom, it’s even harder because I could care less about myself. But if I’m not healthy, I’m not my best self for my daughter. I’m not going to miss some incredible milestone by resting for a half hour. That’s something I have to do for her and my husband,” Maurissa said.

This Mother’s Day marks a year since Benny came home from the hospital, making the holiday extra special for the Whedon family.

“She's barely over a year old, and she has already beaten the odds,” said Maurissa. “She truly is a little miracle. Our hearts are so full.”

Honor someone you love this Mother’s Day with a donation to the Lupus Foundation of America. When you make a gift of $100 or more, we’ll send a special lupus-themed pendant or pin to them. Be sure to make your donation before May 5.

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