Clear Blue Difficulty: A Journey through a Difficult Pregnancy
Posted On Thursday, July 18, 2013 by heather
Two blue lines. When a woman is trying to get pregnant that is about all she can think about. For me, it became an obsession in fact. My husband, Matthew, and I had been married for almost a year when we decided we wanted to try getting pregnant. Before any attempts were made on our behalf I went to my OBGYN for a preconception check-up. My exam and lab work revealed I was healthy and had the green light to try. Despite this reassurance from my physician that I was healthy and fit for pregnancy I could not shake this feeling I had that there was trouble ahead. At the time I suspected this trouble might be infertility.
After one month of trying Matthew and I had conceived. On October 31, 2012 I took a home pregnancy test. The test had a positive result. We were elated. It was obvious that we were not infertile but I still could not shake the feeling that there was difficulty in our future. The same week that I found I out I was pregnant my OBGYN sent me a letter informing me she was relocating and closing her practice. I was left scurrying to find a provider who a) was in my insurance network, b) was accepting new patients and c) would take a patient who was already pregnant. I was able to find an OBGYN group who met all the criteria. I made my appointment for my first prenatal visit.
Sometime between finding out I was pregnant and my first prenatal visit I was struck with the ever-dreadful “morning” sickness. For me it was morning, afternoon, and night sickness. I was vomiting around the clock and if I wasn’t vomiting I felt like I could. Smells and the sight of food made me very ill. At my first prenatal visit the nurse confirmed my pregnancy and gave me a bag full of literature that was suppose to serve as an adequate means to properly educate a mother-to-be. As I was being swiftly ushered out the door by the nurse, because at this visit a patient does not see a doctor I was informed, I asked if I could please talk to one of the doctors because I felt my pregnancy-related sickness was a bit extreme. The nurse informed me she would speak to the doctor on my behalf. Moments later the nurse came back with a prescription for anti-nausea medication. I found it odd that the doctor did not want to see me or even ask about my sickness, known drug allergies, and other pertinent information. At this point I did not care. I was sick and needed something, anything really, to help me stop the vomiting and the nausea. I needed to rejoin the living and return to society.
I took the anti-nausea medication as prescribed but it did not even touch the sickness. Although this was my first pregnancy I knew what I was experiencing was not right. I could not eat and could not keep liquids down. I was so weak that even walking to the bathroom was a taxing event. My poor husband had to do everything around the house because I was essentially incapacitated. During this same time it was announced Kate Middleton was pregnant with the royal heir to the throne and had been hospitalized due to hyperemesis gravidarum i.e. severe morning sickness. I was so jealous of her for the fact she got to go to the hospital and hopefully got some relief from this miserable condition.
Two weeks after I had my initial visit with the OBGYN I went back for my first ultrasound and this time I was able to see a physician. In two weeks I had lost 12 pounds and had a severe electrolyte imbalance. The doctor wanted to know why I hadn’t taken action and done something to address this sickness. I informed her I had told the nurse who had told one of her partners who had written my prescription for this condition. It was not noted in my chart. This physician wrote me yet another script and gave me a specific course of action to aid with the condition. With some time the medication did seem to take the edge off but it still did not cure me. I knew, still, there was something wrong.
Over Christmas Matthew and I traveled for a family vacation. I was feeling better but I was far from my normal self. I was exhausted. Standing and walking wore me out. I was a very active person prior to my pregnancy. In fact the week I found I out I was pregnant I had ran a competitive 5K. I ate very little and could only drink hot tea. I still got sick but not at the same frequency. Shortly after the holidays Matthew had to travel overseas for a 90-day assignment for work. While I didn’t want him to leave I knew it was his job and I would be okay.
I eventually overcame the sickness but still wasn’t feeling right. I voiced this to the OBGYN group but no one took me serious. I was brushed off as being a weak, complaining first-time pregnant woman. I found it odd that I wasn’t gaining very much weight and people commented how small I was presenting to be in the second trimester. At 20 weeks I had my second ultrasound. This was exciting because I was going to see my baby again and find out the gender. It was girl! After the ultrasound the doctor wanted to see me in his office. I was hit with the news that they found a complication with the baby in the ultrasound. The baby had been diagnosed with a two vessel cord, a rare condition that occurs in less than 1% of all pregnancies. The outcomes vary from a perfectly healthy baby to down syndrome to Trisomy 18. Most of what the doctor told me was a blur.
The next day I went to see a high-risk specialist in Orlando who confirmed the baby did indeed have a two vessel cord and further more had a condition known as a hypercoiled umbilical cord which essentially means the cord did not coil. Yet more bad news. With these two conditions presenting the odds were very high that my baby may have a bad condition. The specialist was recommending genetic testing and screenings. I couldn’t think about anything other than talking to my husband who was in the Middle East and a world away from me. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot that day crying harder than I had ever cried before. My mom was with me and she kept telling me it was going to be okay. I told her no, I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to be okay. There was something wrong and I could feel it.
After this diagnosis I had weekly appointments. I would see my regular OBGYN one week and the specialist the next week. Each appointment with the specialist meant extensive 4D ultrasounds, Doppler exams and EKG’s on the baby and agony for me. Each specialist appointment revealed another complication. One week they found the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. Another appointment showed the baby wasn’t growing at the appropriate rate. Another appointment landed me on bed rest. I hated these appointments. I hated the fact this was happening to us. I hated the fact my husband was away working. We did everything right to have a healthy baby yet we were getting hit hard with bad news.
On April 16, 2013 I went into my OBGYN for my first third trimester visit. I had been feeling horrible for about three weeks at this point. I had bad heartburn, bad headaches, spots in front of my eyes, my feet and hands were massively swollen, I knew I had put on a considerable amount of weight in a short amount of time and I was back to the vomiting. I chalked it up to normal issues with pregnancy. As usual I gave my urine sample, had my weight recorded and my blood pressure taken. My doctor came in with a grave look on his face. My urine sample revealed I had a large amount of protein in my urine. I had gained 30 pounds in two weeks and my blood pressure was 200/101. I had pre-eclampsia he informed me. Pre-what I asked? Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy related complication where the mother has high blood pressure. Contrary to the common train of thought about high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia related blood pressure does not occur because of poor diet and poor lifestyle choices but rather because of unknown factors related to the mother’s body rejecting the placenta.
For some women bed rest is all she needs to keep pre-eclampsia under control. For other women who present with more severe cases hospitalization and delivery of the baby are necessary. I was a severe case. I was hospitalized that day. Shortly after being hospitalized, in fact a few hours after being hospitalized, I took a turn for the worse. My blood pressure had skyrocketed so high that my kidneys were starting to shut down and I began to experience seizures. I was critical and the only cure to the condition was to deliver the baby or else both she and I would die. I was transported to a hospital in Orlando that had a pregnancy intensive care unit and a Level III neonatal intensive care unite (NICU). My high-risk specialist I had seen for the baby’s umbilical cord conditions took my case over and watched me closely. My husband had been called and came home as soon as possible. During his 23-hour flight home he was plagued with the terror that his wife and baby may not make it.
I was told I would not be discharged from the hospital before I delivered the baby. I began thinking while in my hospital bed and wanted to know why didn’t I know about pre-eclampsia? I was an educated individual who read the pregnancy books. I have a master’s in public health and am a licensed health educator and yet did not fully understand pre-eclampsia. I wanted to know why didn’t my OBGYN practice take the time to educate me over this serious condition? I had the warning signs way before I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. If I had known these were the warning signs I could have called my doctor. Action could have been taken sooner. But then again, would they have listened or would they have brushed me off as just a weak, pathetic first-timer who didn’t want to be pregnant?
After two days of traveling my husband was home and with me in the hospital. Despite how horrible I felt I was happy to have him by my side. The night of April 21, 2013 was the worst night of my life. I could not sleep, I could not breath, I could not think of anything other than the fact I was dying. Something was wrong. The first nurse I complained to said I was just giving up and that being pregnant was hard and I needed to buck up. The second nurse I complained to said I was just having a panic attack from being stuck in a hospital room for so long. Neither nurse would call the doctor liked I asked. I was given a sleeping pill and labeled as “the crazy pregnant” woman. The next day, April 22, 2013, did not bring any relief to my feeling of dying. I knew I was in bad shape and that if interventions were not taken my baby was going to die. I had the worst headache of my life. I had double vision and my blood pressure kept creeping up. I was vomiting black bile as a result of my kidneys shutting down. Finally, a nurse heard my and Matthew’s cry for help. She called my doctor. He came to my room at 5:10pm. His examination revealed I was about to fall into another seizure and that if the baby was not delivered within the hour I was going to fall into a bad eclamptic state and both the baby and I would die.
I do not remember much after that other than having a feeling of relief for myself and for my baby. I did not care what happened to me during the emergency cesarean section just as long as my daughter would be safe. At 6:11pm our daughter was born. She was 29 weeks gestational age and weighed a whole two pounds, two ounces. I was not allowed to see her when she was delivered as she was quickly taken away for medical assessment and treatment. It was the scariest yet most precious moment of my life.
Our daughter spent two months in the NICU. Other than being small and needing time and help growing she was born perfectly healthy. The conditions of her umbilical cord did not impact her. I was able to recover from eclampsia and C-section. While our story could have had a devastating ending it does not. I share my story not for the purpose of sympathy or attention but rather as a means to educate and empower other women. If I had known what pre-eclampsia was and the warning signs my daughter may not have been born 11 weeks prematurely because interventions could have been taken. If my doctors would have listened to me, my pregnancy may have been more enjoyable and less stressful.
I want women, rather they are pregnant or one day may be pregnant, to know you know your body best. Your instincts are strong and a tool to survival. Listen to them and do not be afraid to voice your fears and concerns. If your doctor does not listen make him or her listen. If he or she still does not take note of your concern find a practitioner who will. Stay educated and know that you have the ultimate say as the patient and mother-to-be. I hope that through my experiences I can help educate other women and that we can become allies in promoting healthy pregnancies.