The word “preeclampsia” had only existed in my vocabulary for a week-and-a-half before it took my best friend’s life. And now I don’t go a day without thinking of that word. I curse it. But I also want everyone else to know this word. I want everyone to learn what it is and what signs to look for. I want this word to be extinct.
Shelly Warner Bridgewater, the Cagney to my Lacey, the Bette (Midler) to my Barbara (Hershey), the Laverne to my Shirley was just 25-years-old when she announced the exciting news that she was pregnant. A passionate schoolteacher and lover of kids, she was ecstatic. So I was, too. I had always followed her lead. We met in fourth grade and were inseparable from that day on. We truly were like the best friends you see on TV. The ones you don’t think exist in real life. We were even roommates in college…and still liked each other when we graduated. I got the ultimate best friend honor of being a bridesmaid in her wedding. And then just months later, I got the ultimate best friend nightmare of watching both her and her 3.7 pound newborn baby struggle to live.
Happy newsbreak: Hailey, her precious baby girl, survived. She is now 8-years-old and FULL of life. She is a true miracle.
Shelly, however, had a different fate. When she first told me she had preeclampsia, she said it was nothing to worry about. She said it was common. And after I told all my co-workers the news, they supported that opinion. So I went on with my week, oblivious to what this condition was capable of doing to one of the most important women in my life.
In case you are clueless like I was, here are some facts. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy and the postpartum period that affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting approximately 5-8 percent of all pregnancies, it’s usually a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Typically, preeclampsia occurs after twenty weeks’ gestation, though it can occur earlier. Symptoms to look for:
- Swelling of the hands or face
- Sudden weight gain
- Unrelenting headaches
- Visual disturbances
- Nausea or vomiting
But really, the way an unscientific non-doctor-y person like me sees it — If something just doesn’t feel right, please visit your doctor. Just being aware and asking questions can make all the difference.
The only “cure” for preeclampsia is to induce labor. In Shelly’s case, she was only 33 weeks along when she was diagnosed. Hailey was born the following weekend at 6:09 AM on January 9th. Hailey was immediately taken to the NICU where she was given oxygen. Shelly suffered for a week, in and out of consciousness, attached to tubes and contraptions. Her preeclampsia developed into HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered a variant of preeclampsia. On January 16th, she passed away at almost the same hour she birthed Hailey just week earlier. Part of my childhood died right along with her.
So yeah, the story is heartbreaking. But I’m not really into sad endings. I grieved in my own messed up way for a few years and then randomly came up with a way I could honor Shelly and also raise awareness about preeclampsia. I started a blog project with my sister called fifty2resolutions. We picked a resolution each week and tried to complete it in 7 days. The resolutions varied from daring feats to good deeds. If we failed, we donated $15 to the Preeclampsia Foundation because we knew that Shelly would do just about anything on any given day. She. was. fearless.
I’ve since written a book that details my friendship with Shelly and also some of the challenges my sister and I faced during fifty2resolutions. (The book also goes into much more detail about that last nightmarish week of Shelly’s life. Do NOT read chapter 16 in a public place.) I was lucky enough to do a reading in Iowa Falls, where Shelly had lived, and got the best introduction imaginable from a very grown up Hailey.
I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to receive messages from people who want more info on ways to support the cause. This is actually kinda how I met Sarah. We are both active in promoting the annual Promise Walk for preeclampsia. Find one near you at: http://www.promisewalk.org
Or, if you’re feeling lazy and non-walky, you can head straight to preeclampsia.org/donate and give a few bucks to help save our moms, friends, sisters, and babies from this tragic disorder.
Lastly, please check out my book, We Hope You Like This Song: An Overly Honest Story About Friendship, Death, and Mix Tapes. Pass it on to a friend when you’re finished. You can also join my 12Resolutions project (a monthly version of fifty2resolutions) on facebook.
Thank you, Sarah, for inviting me to be part of such a wonderful thing. It’s people like you who inspire us all to be better human beings.
Ways to contact Bree: