Today’s guest post is written by Kelly. Kelly is a fellow preeclampsia survivor and a Promise Walk for Preeclampsia Walk Coordinator in Abington, VA…….
The first time I heard the word preeclampsia I was four months pregnant with our first child attending a high school basketball game with my family. My mom, who is a nurse with 40+ years of experience and who also happened to be working at my OB/GYN’s office at the time, noticed a pregnant woman who was visibly swollen in the face. “That looks like preeclampsia,” she commented. I nodded absently, “mmhmmm,” was my nonchalant response as I continued to curse the referees and cheer for the home team. I had no idea that in four short months, preeclampsia would become part of my daily vocabulary.
For me, being pregnant was rough. I would really like to slug the person who coined the phrase “morning sickness” because I had 24 / 7 sickness the whole time. Also, early tests revealed that there was a chance that our baby had a genetic disorder. While that turned out to be false, the level II ultra sound showed that our baby was not growing properly. We were scheduled for ultra sounds every few weeks. BUT, it was all worth it when I imagined holding my sweet little bundle of joy.
I ambled through the first, and some of the second, trimester uncomfortable but making it. The swelling started at the beginning of the 5th month. I was pregnant, swelling was normal…right? First it was flip-flops in February, a few weeks later I could no longer wear my wedding rings, and finally the face. The face was the worst. I carefully applied make-up to hide the swelling, foolishly thinking that people wouldn’t notice the flat nose and chipmunk cheeks. It didn’t work…
I was experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia but didn’t understand that they were symptoms.
Like that the pain I felt in my upper right quadrant, I didn’t know that was a sign that my liver was in trouble. I thought that the two pound baby inside me was just poking me, repeatedly, really, really, really hard. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be the whiney pregnant lady who complained about being pregnant.
In early April, there was protein in my urine and my blood pressure was extremely high. I was sentenced to bed rest. A few days later, I was seen by my favorite doctor, Dr. L. I love her. She listened, even when my nerves got the best of me and my mouth diarrhea spewed less than lady-like language. The third time my blood pressure was taken that day I knew something was up.
Something was up…my blood pressure.
It was Friday the 13th and I was on my way to be admitted to the hospital. Dr. L., said something that I didn’t yet understand, almost to herself she whispered, “If we can just get 2 more weeks.” At the time, I dismissed her comment but now I know the average time between a diagnosis of preeclampsia and delivery is 2 weeks.
I was allowed to go home on Sunday, limping along the next 8 days, a prisoner to my living room, my husband force-feeding me potato skins and bananas because my potassium was low, and my mom being a blood pressure checking drill sergeant.
April 23rd was a Monday. I was scheduled for an OB appointment around 1:00 p.m. That morning on her way to work, my mom stopped to check my blood pressure. My swelling had gone from bad to extreme; so much so that the day before my cousin was brought to tears at the mere sight of me. My BP was extremely high and my other symptoms considerably worse. My mom wanted me to go to the office with her to be checked as soon as the doctor arrived. I refused. I had an appointment at 1:00 pm that day; surely I would be fine until then. But she used the, “I’m your mother tone,” so I went with her, begrudgingly.
My doctor immediately sent me to the hospital and tried to prepare me for the very real possibility that our baby was going to be early.
By the time of my scheduled appointment I was in an ambulance on my way to the closest hospital with a level III neonatal intensive care unit. When we arrived at the 2nd hospital there were two residents who met us at the doors. When we entered my room I was shocked to see no less than 15 people, including doctors, residents, nurses and medical students. I’ve never been the center of attention for that many people and felt so alone at the same time. I just wanted my husband and my mom. But, without the benefit of flashing ambulance lights, they were stuck in traffic.
I was immediately given a steroid shot to help the baby’s lungs mature. I knew that the situation wasn’t good.
But I still didn’t understand that my life was in jeopardy.
That day was a whirlwind. I was in a state of blurred confusion, probably because of a mixture of magnesium sulfate and effects of preeclampsia. In a teaching hospital a patient with preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome draws a lot of attention. At one point in the night when my vitals were not good and our baby’s heart-rate had dropped considerably, it was decided to remove the labor inducing ring that had been inserted…well, you know…and I woke to see the resident and 5 medical students vastly interested in that procedure, in that area. “Lovely” was all I thought as I lay back down. Who was I to stand in the way of education?
The next morning, April 24th, the resident came to my room at about 7:00 a.m. He said that I would have another steroid injection around lunch and then we would see what happened after that. My mom and husband began to call the family with the latest news. I lay in my bed, semi “with-it”, scared of a c-section, praying for my baby, and still not understanding that I was on the brink.
What happened in the next 10 minutes, I still don’t know but the Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist came in and said that there would be no waiting. We needed to deliver the baby, NOW! Seconds later I was surrounded. IV’s were inserted, the second steroid injection given. I was shocked as organized chaos happened all around me. The operating room was full: NICU team, doctors, residents, anesthesiologists, nurses, and, thankfully, my husband.
At 9:29 a.m. our daughter was born, a 2 lb. 15 oz. little fighter. I got to see her for a millisecond before she was whisked away to the NICU, her daddy by her side. It would be hours before I would get to see her again. I was in and out of it that day and not really making sense when I was “in.” At around 6:00 pm, I was finally wheeled up to the NICU to see her. I’m not really sure if I was stable enough or if it was the fit I threw to see my baby.
She was beautiful. She was tiny and the wires and monitors were intimidating but she was beautiful. The first time I held her I asked the nurse if I could kiss her. “She’s yours, isn’t she?!” she replied. So I gently kissed her forehead, and it was the best feeling of my life.
As our baby progressed nicely in the NICU, my condition worsened. Doctors were concerned because a woman with preeclampsia is supposed to recover after delivery. That was when I started to understand that I was in trouble. By the third day the swelling was still so extreme that I couldn’t stand on my tree-trunk like legs, forcing me to sit in the shower while my mother bathed me. The worst part was not being able to visit Carley as often as I wanted.
Finally, on the fourth day postpartum, I started to improve. On day eight, I was released on the highest doses possible of two blood pressure lowering medications. Our daughter spent 21 days in the NICU and came home on our 2nd wedding anniversary, small but healthy.
It wasn’t until I went back to work a couple of months later that I began want more information about what had happened to us. Through a search online I found the Preeclampsia Foundation. I learned how dire my situation was. I realized how lucky I was that my mom made me go early to that appointment. I shutter to think about what could have happened in those hours between. And I learned that I wasn’t alone. This had happened to other women. I learned it was possible to have another child. Most importantly, I learned that I wasn’t less as a mother, less of a woman, because I didn’t have a typical pregnancy.
I know now that I was very fortunate. My doctor realized the severity of the situation and acted fast. Plus, I had my mom. She recognized the signs preeclampsia when I just thought it was a part of being pregnant, and she made me seek help.
I developed preeclampsia with our son but it happened later in the pregnancy and was less severe. While my family, doctor and nurses were weary and scared of what would happen, I felt empowered. I was educated this time; I knew what changes to look for in my body and could be my own advocate.
My husband, Chad, and I coordinated our first promise walk in 2008. Our daughter was a year old and she and I crossed the finish line together. I began coordinating the walk for her. She’s now almost 6, and when she plays with her baby dolls and talks about being a momma like me one day it should be sweet and flattering but it induces throat-closing terror for me. I’m afraid that she will develop preeclampsia as well, and her life will be on the line again. Our promise to her is to do everything that we can to help find a cause and cure for so that she doesn’t have to face preeclampsia again.