May is National Preeclampsia Month. Hopefully, for a lot of you mamas, you’ll never have to experience this disease during your pregnancy. Preeclampsia is defined as a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia can be a dangerous and sometimes fatal disease, not just for the unborn baby, but for the mother as well. Just how every pregnancy is different, every experience with Preeclampsia is different. Thankfully my experience wasn’t as severe as it could’ve been, but it didn’t make it any less scary.
My first pregnancy in 2009 was perfectly healthy, until it wasn’t. Around 30 weeks, my feet were so swollen I could only wear sneakers to work. Everyone says that swelling in pregnancy (especially in your extremities) is normal, so I didn’t think much of it. When my mother insisted I get a checkup a week before my scheduled appointment, I thought it was just the nervousness of a soon-to-be grandmother. I immediately knew I was wrong when my blood pressure was sky high. I never had high blood pressure before. In fact just three weeks before, my blood pressure was completely normal. The nurse made me lay on my left side to see if my pressure went down. It did a little, but not enough to make the doctors happy.
The panic really started to kick in when they told me I needed to go to the hospital immediately. I told them I had driven myself. Of course it was the one OB visit my husband couldn’t make! They even offered to transport me by ambulance, which I declined. I got to the hospital with my husband racing behind. They ran a bunch of tests and blood work. I signed documents that gave them permission to deliver my 30 week pregnancy that night if needed. It was absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what was going on. Luckily my baby seemed to be perfectly fine. It was my health that was in jeopardy.
The Longest 7 Weeks of My Life
I had to stay in the hospital to complete a 24 hour urine analysis to check my kidney function. They poked me more times than I could count to check my liver function. On my second day at the hospital my results came back within normal limits and I was discharged with strict instructions that I was to be on bed-rest for the duration of my pregnancy, however long that may be. I left the hospital with the diagnosis of Preeclampsia and an overwhelming sense of mourning of the healthy pregnancy I thought I would have.
The next seven weeks consisted of nothing but laying in bed. (I know that sounds pretty great – especially as tired moms know – but it wasn’t). I had weekly OB visits and each time I went I never knew if I was coming home or going back to the hospital. Every week I had to have blood work, a 24 hour urine analysis, and a stress test to make sure my daughter was growing and the Preeclampsia was not affecting her. I spent three times a day (sometimes more) doing kick counts to make sure she was moving around.
I had envisioned the last weeks of pregnancy being blissful, with ending my working career on my own terms and spending the final weeks relaxing and prepping for my daughter. Instead I was on pregnancy-safe blood pressure medication that wasn’t doing much to keep my blood pressure down. Each doctor visit, I had to lie on my left side to make sure my high pressure would go down a bit before they would let me go back home. Nothing was going according to plan and I felt completely out of control of my own body.
Finally Delivering My Baby
At 37 weeks and 5 days my urine analysis came back and it was no longer safe for me to continue my pregnancy. The following day the doctors induced my labor. The induction itself took 24 hours, but by the end of those 24 hours I had a healthy 6lb 8oz baby girl. My blood pressure was still high and I had more water retention than ever. Due to my high blood pressure the hospital gave me magnesium to reduce the risk of me having a seizure. Let me tell you, I’ve never felt so sick in my life. With everything I had been through, those 24 hours on magnesium, were the worst. I’m grateful that the medicine did its job and I didn’t have a seizure, but it was absolutely brutal.
Two days later my healthy daughter and I were discharged from the hospital. My kidney function went back to normal. Unfortunately my high blood pressure decided to linger around. The doctors put me on stronger blood pressure medication, which made me make the decision not to breastfeed.
The Bright Side
When my family and I moved to Connecticut in 2012 I explained to my new OB that I wasn’t going to have any more children due to my first pregnancy. He reviewed all my records with me and said that even with my history he believed I could have a pregnancy and carry a baby close to term. Then he gave me the best explanation of Preeclampsia anyone has ever given me. He said, “Preeclampsia is like an immune response to the pregnancy. It detects it as something that could be damaging, so the body in essence attacks it. The good news is that once the body realizes pregnancy isn’t dangerous, the immune system in subsequent pregnancies either doesn’t attack as viciously or doesn’t attack it all.”
With this explanation my husband and I decided to try for a second baby. I started pregnancy-safe blood pressure medication again and I got pregnant in October 2013. The doctors were monitoring me closely because of my history, but I never developed Preeclampsia. My second pregnancy was perfectly healthy and I even went three days past my due date. Of course only you and your doctor can decide if a pregnancy after Preeclampsia is safe for you. So, for you moms who might even be afraid to consider another pregnancy, it doesn’t hurt to talk to your OB.