Pregnant Shawn Johnson East on Why She Celebrated After Getting Her Genetic-Test Results Back
"It's not easy for anyone — it's a very emotional, very vulnerable time — but all you can do, truly, is hope for the best," Shawn Johnson East tells PEOPLE
Four-time Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson East is taking on the challenge of her life: having a baby. And just like the road to the gold, it hasn’t been an easy ride.
“The lack of control is really hard,” the first-time mom-to-be, 27, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive new interview. “I’m kind of a control freak, and with pregnancy, none of it is in your control.”
Past the halfway mark in her pregnancy now, Johnson East and her husband are simultaneously “ecstatic” and “terrified,” with the athlete admitting, “It’s a very daunting thing to raise a human being.”
“But we’re most nervous right now in this phase, about getting to the finish line,” she adds. “We can’t wait for the baby to get here to hold them in our arms and introduce them to the world.”
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Things were going well for the Easts, who have chronicled much of the pregnancy on their YouTube channel, until a 20-week checkup revealed complications. Their baby’s kidneys were more dilated than usual and underdeveloped, a relatively common condition. They were more concerned about the news that their baby has a two-vessel umbilical cord as opposed to three, which carries an increased risk of stillbirth and pre-term labor.
With both complications happening together, their doctor told them that their baby might have Down syndrome. “It was scary having lost a baby already, two years ago,” Johnson East says.
The videos the couple made through the complications, genetic testing (which revealed that their child does not have Down syndrome) and subsequent celebration after getting the results were met by some backlash from viewers who said their reactions to a baby with or without Down syndrome should’ve been positive.
“We got a lot of moms who completely understood what we were saying, and the fear of the unknown as a new mom. And of course we got people who didn’t understand what we were saying, and I would never mean to offend anyone at all,” Johnson East tells PEOPLE.
The happiness had more to do with the relief at understanding what was going on.
“It was this fear that we could lose another, and our celebration of being able to cross two things off our list instead of three things to worry about was exciting for us because it gave us hope that we were going to be able to hold this baby in our arms,” she says.
For now, Johnson East and the baby are doing well.
“We still have the two-vessel cord, which is something that my body decided to do on its own, so we have to monitor that. I go in every three or four weeks for ultrasounds, just to make sure the baby is getting enough nutrients and growing. But so far, so good, and we celebrate every day,” she tells PEOPLE.
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As their due date approaches, the couple is looking to prepare for parenthood. And Johnson East says she feels like a “kid in a candy store” with all the baby products that are out there to try.
She is currently partnering with Philips Avent, which makes anti-colic bottles and a stuffed animal-pacifier combo called a Soothie Snuggle — because as a first-time mom, all her friends with kids told her it was the right move.
“I went in very blind. I didn’t know what was good,” Johnson East says of looking for products, but many people recommended Philips Avent, telling her, ” ‘Don’t use anything else.’ ”
Johnson East also says that she loves the company’s “momtuition” campaign because as she learns more and more about being a parent from others, the most consistent advice she gets is “don’t listen to everyone.”
“I learned firsthand that everyone just has an opinion on what to do and what not to do, and it’s this feeling of just do what feels good to you and your baby,” she says.
Johnson East’s own advice for people who are expecting or trying for a baby? Stay positive.
“It’s not easy for anyone — it’s a very emotional, very vulnerable time — but all you can do, truly, is hope for the best, stay positive, as hard as it is and as cliché as that sounds,” she says. “And find a community of people to encourage you and support you through the process.”