Surviving Postpartum Preeclampsia

Post On Tuesday, August 21, 2018 By Jennifer Silver

Surviving Postpartum Preeclampsia

I wrote this a few weeks after returning home from the hospital. I never thought this would be my birth story.

As I hold my newborn daughter’s tiny perfect hand and stare at her beautiful face, I realize how close I came to not having this moment. Despite how sick I was, I remember way too clearly that night in the emergency room, where it was made alarmingly clear. Things were missed, things were done wrong, and while maybe it couldn’t have been prevented there is a chance that it could have been.

I am sharing my story in the hopes that it can raise awareness and to teach that you have to be your own advocate. Because of the fact that pregnancy and labor and delivery are typically involving young, healthy women, it doesn’t mean you don’t still have to advocate. I was a young, healthy woman and almost died. I was hours away from being a story you read about and think, “It could never happen to me”. No previous medical history, had a healthy pregnancy, and could have died without warning just days after delivering my baby. I did not even know there was such thing as post-partum conditions. Even being in the healthcare field myself, I naively thought once you deliver the baby everything is fine.

I was admitted into the hospital to be induced, as my perinatologist wanted the baby delivered by 39 weeks due to gestational diabetes (Side note, this was the week of a major category 5 hurricane expected to hit exactly where we live. The stress and fear with that alone is hard to convey through words). The induction process was absolutely horrible. Five rounds of cytotec. Two rounds of pitocin. Back labor, the worst back pain I could ever imagine. Fasting, starving. Two days of being pumped with drugs and fluid. Mentally and physically painful and exhausting and the process did not work for me. Almost 48 hours later, my sweet baby girl was born via c-section.

I kept telling them I was swollen. Really swollen. They kept telling me it was normal and that it will get worse before it gets better. My blood pressure spiked repeatedly. They told me it was from pain after my c-section, or because I had just attempted to go for a hallway walk.

After the hurricane lockdown was lifted, we were discharged after 6 long days. I was so excited to go home. I was also so scared driving home with our brand new baby and all of the traffic lights down. I prayed the entire drive home. We came home to our home boarded up with hurricane shutters and our trees down, but all that mattered is that we were home safe with our girl and we could finally start to settle in.

While my husband spent the next few hours taking down the shutters, I was inside with the baby relaxing. Almost immediately after sitting down for the first time in her rocking chair holding her, I felt a glimpse of shortness of breath. I called my mom and told her about it. I told my husband and our friends who were there helping. Everyone assured me I wasn’t feeling great because I was tired, still recovering from the c-section, or just overwhelmed. But I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was so happy to be home finally.

I knew I felt somewhat off, but it was nothing emergent feeling at all. I took a nap. I woke up and still didn’t feel completely right. I took my blood pressure, I thought it couldn’t possibly be right because it was way too high. In the 160’s/90’s. I spent the next few hours with my husband, sister-in-law, and baby just resting and relaxing and enjoying the baby together. It was getting late and I couldn’t wait to shower and sleep in my own bed, but I mentioned one more time to them both that I still felt like I wasn’t able to take a nice full deep breath, and it kind of felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I took my pressure again and it was extremely high. We got in touch with my doctor who told me I needed to be looked at and that I should go to the emergency room.

I didn’t want to go. I didn’t feel that bad at all, just a little off. I didn’t want to leave my husband and baby even for a short while on her very first night home. I didn’t want to drive back to the hospital the same day, now at night, with no lights. I just wanted to shower and finally rest in my own comfortable bed and I almost did just that. I know now that if I had made that choice, I would not be here writing this story. I was hours away from having either a severe seizure or stroke. But my sister-in-law convinced me, little did I know at the time actually saving my life, and insisted on me getting in her car and letting her take me to the hospital.

The emergency room was almost empty thanks to the post-hurricane curfew we broke driving there. I had never been in an emergency room as an adult. They took my weight; it was higher than my last pregnancy weight. They took my blood pressure, it was close to 200/100 and the intake woman accidently said out loud that that wasn’t good. I started getting scared. I remember vividly laying in the small room and feeling like things were getting worse. They took samples. They took me for a CT scan and when I layed down on the flat table to go through the machine, I started tearing up because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. In that moment I knew something was really wrong. We waited for a really long time. Then I felt like I couldn’t breathe again and monitor alarms started going off. My oxygen level dropped and they immediately put oxygen on me.

Test results came back, I was told things were not good and that I’d be going to the ICU. My life was flashing before my eyes and in that moment I thought I was dying. Full blown panic set in, I was hysterical, I thought I’d never see my husband or baby again. I remember the doctor yelling at the nurse to give me medicine immediately to calm me down and then my world blurred.

I was misdiagnosed with congestive heart failure and then misdiagnosed again with post-partum cardiomyopathy. In reality, what I did have was post-partum preeclampsia. This was properly diagnosed surprisingly not by the OBGYN who came to the ER that night, but instead by the ICU doctor, who I also credit with saving my life. They were right; my swelling did get worse before it got better. It was all around my heart, lungs, and brain.

I spent the next 2 days in the intensive care unit being pumped with magnesium, which is the cure for preeclampsia. The magnesium made me feel like what I’d imagine a recovering drug addict going through withdrawal would feel like, except I’ve never taken drugs. I was again fasting, starving. I have never been more nauseous. I have never felt sicker, weaker, or more scared in my life. I lost over 20 pounds of fluid in 36 hours. I was absolutely terrified, shocked that this happened, and so heartbroken feeling ripped away from my baby. I would not wish the feelings I experienced on my worst enemy.

Once stabilized, they had to move me out of the ICU. I returned to where it all started, the labor and delivery floor. I was welcomed with hugs from nurses who had become friends. I was put in the room right next door to our original room. It was full circle, except this time I was here with my mom and not with my baby. They made an exception and allowed my husband to bring the baby to visit me that day. I can never explain in words how it felt to hold her in my arms again. I have never been more overcome with emotion.

The next day, I was discharged. I was discharged without blood pressure medication that the cardiologist had prescribed while in ICU because the OBGYN did not think I needed it. I came home to my baby girl and amazing family, my village of support. The very next day, I didn’t want to believe it when I took my blood pressure and it was in the 180’s/high 90’s. After back and forth phone calls and a visit to the OB office, I was kindly asked by a nurse there to try to not have a stroke, and was prescribed medication.

It is horrifying to think of the multiple times I could have lost my life in this experience by not trusting my gut. I still wake up hearing noises of the beeping of the hundreds of monitors in the ICU. I still obsessively take my blood pressure, even though it has been normal without medication for weeks now. Strong life lessons were learned in a very scary way. Trust your instinct, be your own advocate, if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. But I am here, getting stronger every day, with a whole new perspective on life and health. Every single day I look at my daughter and am thankful for her life and that mine was saved to share it with her. I look at my husband and family in a different way, valuing and appreciating every minute with them.

No one talks about post-partum conditions other than post-partum depression. Women need to be educated about post-partum preeclampsia and know signs to look for. It is beyond irresponsible for all monitoring to go out the window the minute the baby is born. This must change in order to save lives of mothers.

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