If you'd met me four months ago, you'd have seen a happily pregnant 41 year old African woman enjoying life in the heart of Africa. Pearlita was an unexpected baby. My husband and I were content with our two kids and had gotten to a point where we were focusing on "other things" in life. However, we were both ecstatic when we realized that I was expecting another baby. We felt that she was a gift from God and we started including her in our dreams for the future. We loved her from the moment we knew she existed and my hubby gave her a goodnight kiss every single night and told her that he loved her. My first trimester was a bit rocky and I struggled a lot with morning sickness. The second trimester was uneventful. I was extremely busy at work (I'm a school teacher) and for some reason had been given an unusually busy teaching schedule which kept me extremely busy both at work and at home. I was constantly tired but felt that I was coping well with the pregnancy and the workload. My antenatal visits were uneventful and the midwife was pleased with the baby's welfare until one fine day at the start of the third trimester when she expressed some concern about my blood pressure and urine and referred me to a gynecologist. She gave me some blood pressure medication to tide me over until my appointment with the gyn. I took them when I got home, immediately threw up violently and gave up on them not realizing the implications of blood pressure and the fact that I was preeclamptic. Ignorance is one thing but I now wonder whether there might have been an element of "denial" i.e. "if I bury my head in the sand and pretend not to see what's happening it will just go away." Anyway, I did see a gyn a few days later. He went through my file from the midwife and sent me home with some more bp meds saying that I would be put on bed-rest if things got any worse. He examined my most recent ultrasound results and said that the baby was now grown enough to survive an early induction if need be. He didn't seem particularly concerned.
Needless to say, about a week later, in what I assumed was my 31st week of pregnancy (though apparently the baby was 26 weeks ges), I was feeling restless and tired ,and had a headache as well as as abdominal pains. My husband rushed me to hospital where I was promptly admitted and put on magnesium sulfate, and a catheter to monitor my urine. The gyn said I'd have had a seizure if I'd failed to go to hospital that evening. I was told I had severe preeclampsyia. I was closely monitored in hospital for the next three days and my blood pressure was treated with methyldopa. I was starting to realize the significance of my situation and using the hospital free wifi, found the preeclampsyia foundation for the first time. I started to educate myself even as the hospital staff continued to monitor me closely. At this point, ultra sound results indicated that the baby was fine and her heartbeat was closely monitored by the nurses. They gave me steroid injections to strengthen Pearlita's lungs in anticipation of a possible early delivery.
On the 2nd of April this year, the midwife on morning duty expressed some concern about Pearlita's heartbeat which was kind of faint. She summoned a gyn who examined me, listened to the baby's heartbeat and said she was "struggling." He examined my cervix after I mentioned seeing a discharge of mucus that morning. The gyn said I was in the early stages of labour and that the best delivery option at that particular moment was a c-section due to the baby's weak heartbeat. As I was prepared for an emergency c-section, I called my husband who had rushed home to shower and check on our kids. He rushed back to the hospital,scrubbed and joined me in the delivery room. He was there as Pearlita came silently into this world and he filmed everything. Although she was alive, she did not cry. Her lungs had not yet developed sufficiently and she failed to respond to the additional steroid injections that she was given after birth. My husband kept vigil as I recovered from the C-Section and Pearlita struggled in NICU. She's daddy's baby since he's the one who was with her in NICU. Our angel passed away the following day. I never got to see her in person or to hold her in my arms yet I feel her spirit even now. I love and grieve for her more deeply than I've ever grieved for anyone or anything.
I've struggled a lot both physically and emotionally since the loss of my dear daughter. At some point, I was so sick I visited the hospital virtually everyday and could hardly even walk. I was on blood pressure medication and bought a bp monitor so I could check my pressure at home. I suffered anxiety attacks and depression and was put on valium by one doctor though I asked to be taken off it after reading about its side effects. Another doctor put me on prozac which helped me to get that much needed sleep though sleeplessness set in once I was done with the prozac. Somehow, I ended up with gastritis which caused me excruciating pain. My heart palpitated madly. I thought I was going insane and doubted that I would survive. My doc said I was now chronic hypertensive. I was put on amlodipin which caused my heart to flutter dangerously. My kids were grieving too and life was so dark and full of sadness. Since I don't live in my country of birth, I had no family around me. I have very few friends here. My mum came for a few days but had to go back home to look after my dad who has also been unwell recently. My colleagues rallied around me and sent emails, cards etc. They organized meals for my family and some of them came to visit. My students made me a card. My husband has been my anchor since we lost Pearlita. I don't know what I would have done without him. I've also received some counseling and have been journaling and visiting grief sites online and reading about the experiences of other mothers who've struggled with preeclampsyia. Slowly the dark cloud has lifted and there's a glimmer of hope in the distance .
Although life is taking on some appearances of normalcy and I'm starting to function, I still feel the loss of my daughter deeply. I take responsibility for my ignorance and know that if I'd been better informed I'd have insisted on being hospitalized or put on bed-rest early enough. Having read the stories of mothers who've lost their babies despite early interventions (in countries with much better medical care than where I live), I realize that there's no guarantee that Pearlita would still be here despite earlier interventions. However, there's always that nagging "what if" and that ever consuming feeling of guilt, sadness and anger.
My heart and arms ache for my baby. My greatest fear as I've recovered from PE has concerned the well being of my family since my husband's currently studying and I'm the main breadwinner. I wonder what would have happened to them if I had lost my life to PE. I know that I'm not completely out of the woods yet. My bp isn't too bad but my medication has been stopped temporarily due to the side effects of the meds. I know that as a PE survivor I'm more susceptible to cardiovascular complications. For this reason, I cannot risk another pregnancy, yet my heart longs for a baby - not to replace Pearlita but to ease the ache in my heart. If you're a mother and a grieving one at that, you know how it feels to long for a baby. It's early days and I know I'm still grieving but I've already talked to social workers about the possibility of adoption.
Have you been where I am? Have you you blamed yourself for not doing "enough"to save your baby's life? Have you cried so much it hurt? Has your heart felt so heavy and broken? Have your days felt so dark and pointless? Have you felt so sick that you didn't know if you'd live to see a new morning? Have you woken up in the wee hours of the morning with this feeling of dread and despair? Have you been so scared for your living kids simply because you'd lost a baby and realized that kids die? Have you been ashamed and afraid of returning to work and felt that the whole world was blaming you for the death of your baby? Have you taken medications that left nasty side effects and made your heart flutter and thunder? Have you wanted a baby so so bad? Have you felt really sad whenever you saw a family with a young baby or a happily pregnant woman? Have you ever felt that God had deserted you and that you were all alone? Have you ever sat down and deeply deeply regretted your ignorance? I've experienced all of this thanks to Preeclampsyia. My dream is to ensure that no woman in my side of the world goes into a pregnancy blindly without knowing what the implications are and what to look out for. I want to ensure that there's sufficient informational material out there for both rural and urban African women and that medical workers are sensitized about the need to inform and guide their patients appropriately. My midwife did her best but it wasn't enough because I wasn't well informed. The patient is not safe until the patient knows and understands. Knowledge is power and I want African women to be empowered such that maternal and infant morbidity rates can decrease in our continent. I don't know how I'll do this but I'll try my best because if I knew then what I know now, maybe, just maybe, Pearlita would be alive and I'd be a happy mother of three living kids.