May is an important month. It’s not only time to celebrate Mother’s Day, but it’s also time for the Promise Walk for Preeclampsia. I am a survivor of Preeclampsia. It sounds sort of dramatic I know, but I guess that’s what you officially call someone like me. Preeclampsia is a life threatening disorder that occurs during pregnancy or the post partum period characterized by high blood pressure and an overexcited central nervous system that can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and possible death for both the baby and mother. I don’t often talk about my experience with preeclampsia and for the most part, my close friends and family are the only ones who know. However, I want to bring light to it today because I believe people need to know more about it so that perhaps with more information out there more women can get help early. So here’s my story.
My blood pressure began going up around 31 weeks gestation. Luckily I was already in the hospital for preterm labor (not that preterm labor was lucky- just being in the hospital) so they caught the blood pressure issue quickly. It continued to rise very slowly and wasn’t in the “dangerous” zone yet. I wasn’t concerned about it at all. I knew I had a high risk pregnancy and thought of high blood pressure and preeclampsia as just simple things they can get under control relatively easily. By 33 weeks my blood pressure was still high, not horrible, but my lower legs were the size of two small tree trunks and I felt like someone had a pillow over my face at night my breathing was so bad. We held on as long as we could, until my blood pressure got too high and I was gaining 5 pounds a day in fluid. I ended up delivering at 34 weeks 1 day. The triplets did amazing and were in the NICU on room air for 3 weeks for feeding and growth. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome for 3 preemies. I only got to see them 5 times in the NICU during that time because instead of getting better after delivery as they’d hoped, I kept getting worse. This was one of the hardest parts of this experience for me. You carry these babies and fight for their survival and then you can’t step up to the plate to nurture them when they are first born. Thank goodness for Mark who was in the NICU every day, all day except when he was with me while they were sleeping.
While the babies were still in the NICU I went home on strict bed rest and was to monitor my blood pressure several times a day. Around day 4 of being home I began to have a migraine including extreme light sensitivity on my right side. My blood pressure was stablizing so my doctor told me to try some caffeine to see if the headache improved. It didn’t get better and next my eye sight instantly got bad. I continued with the light sensitivity and then had no peripheral vision out of my right eye plus double vision. So back to the hospital I went now thinking maybe I had a migraine from the spinal they did for the c-section. Afterall, my blood pressure wasn’t that bad so I wasn’t thinking this was part of the preeclampsia.
Once I got to the emergency room people were working around me fast and I’ll never forget the fear in my heart when the doctor on call ordered a CT scan to assure I wasn’t having a stroke. I remember trying hard to keep my emotions in so I didn’t make my blood pressure worse, but tears were flooding down my face and all I could think of was the word…stroke. Really? Stroke? I couldn’t believe this was even a possiblity. How did this happen? I remember the hush and whispering of the staff with the orders that I was to get to x-ray immediately. I’ve worked in hospitals before so it was a strange experience to be on this side of the fence listening to those hushed voices and warm smiles as I went by in my wheelchair. I am extremely lucky and grateful every day that the CT scan was negative.
The doctors were still concerned that I might have a seizure so I went on a medication called Magnesium Sulfate for 3 days. It was not my first rodeo with “Maggie” (my nickname for this awful medication) as I’d taken it for pre-term labor as well. It is administered via an IV drip and is miserable. It is an extreme muscle relaxer that relaxes everything, including your eyes so you have double vision and it feels impossible to move. I’ve seen lots of women handle this medication far better than I did. I guess it affects everyone differently. After 3 days of “maggie” I went home feeling weak , my vision was still messed up and all I could do was lie on my bed in the dark and have people bring me the babies to hold. My vision didn’t improve for another 2-3 weeks and then everything sort of fell back to normal again. I’ll say it again, I am lucky.
At the time I belonged to an online triplet support group where I read a story of a man who was widowed. His wife’s story shook me to my core. She too had preeclampsia and went home from the hospital. I don’t know what symptoms she was having, but she wasn’t feeling well and they put off going to the hospital because she did just give birth to triplets afterall, you’re bound to feel off. By the time they did reach the hospital it was too late, she had passed away. I’m sure as you do reading this now, I felt so horrible for this family. It was such a tragedy and made me realize how very fortunate I was. Mark and I were also debating about going to the hospital and if it weren’t for my doctor’s urgence I may have waited too long.
Sorry to post something so terribly sad. I’m not writing about this because I want your sympathy. In fact, I’m pretty uncomfortable posting this. The only reason I am is to bring awareness to this condition. Perhaps if enough stories get posted around the internet more women will call their doctor and/or go to the hospital when they too have some of these often subtle symptoms during pregnancy or after. Things can turn bad very fast with preeclampsia and just because your blood pressure isn’t in the danger zone doesn’t mean you are safe from complications. I want all my colleagues and other healthcare providers to know it isn’t just high blood pressure that is easily controlled. Instead, I’d describe it as a run-a-way train that seems impossible to get under control. Most importantly, I want all pregnant women and new moms to hear this message loud and clear, call your doctor or go to the hospital if you suspect something isn’t right. Especially if you have swelling and your vision is off. My vision was really dramatic, but sometimes women see “spots” or “starbursts”. Always listen to your initial instincts and don’t hold off or wait to see if things get better.
This month is preeclampsia awareness month. You can help support awareness and education through the Promise Walk at: http://www.promisewalk.org/. Whether you join a walk, donate money or simply pass the link around your facebook and twitter pages it all helps!
Thanks for listening to my story!