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Postpartum Preeclampsia After MILD Covid Infection

August 05, 2022 By Lauren Phillps

Postpartum Preeclampsia After MILD Covid Infection

I became pregnant with my baby via IVF because my spouse and I are both carriers of a rare genetic disease. This was my first pregnancy and I was in great health. For the first 7 months all was smooth sailing.

I contracted COVID in February 2022, during the Omicron wave. I was 7 months pregnant, had received the Pfizer vaccine and then Pfizer booster in November 2021. (It may have been my second infection, as I had all the symptoms in March 2020 and I live in NYC, but at the time there were no available tests to confirm my infection.) My COVID symptoms were relatively mild- low grade temp, congestion, slight cough for a few days, and gastrointestinal distress. I saw my OBGYN two weeks after the infection and had a supplemental ultrasound and everything looked normal.

I was due on April 14, but I sailed past my due date with no signs of labor. I was induced 1 week passed my due date. After trying everything in the induction process for a vaginal birth (a foley balloon, large doses of pitocin, position changes, an epidural, breaking my waters…) the doctors considered it a failed induction and proceeded to deliver my baby via c section. My baby boy, Arthur, was born healthy on 4/22.

In the last hours of labor before the c section my blood pressure started to rise, but after delivery it came down enough that I was discharged on day 3 post delivery. On day 5, I experienced a severe dizzy spell. I was sitting down at the time. It felt like a sudden pulse or pressure wave, making the room spin. I’d never experienced anything like it, it felt bizarre, and it frightened me. I called my doctor and she told me to call back if it happened again. A few hours later, it did. My husband ran out to Rite Aid and bought a blood pressure cuff, which indicated my pressure was up to 140/90. I also noticed that my ankles were starting to swell and had become much more swollen than they had even been during pregnancy. I called the doctor and she had me come to the emergency room.

I was brought back to the labor and delivery ward for observation, where over the course of a few hours my pressure spiked to 160/116. Once it hit that level, the medical team started me on a magnesium drip and admitted me for severe preeclampsia. I stayed in the hospital for two days before the doctors had me stable on blood pressure-reducing medication (nifidipene). Happily, my hospital allowed my spouse and son to stay in the hospital with me for those two days, so I could give him a steady supply of milk and hold or breastfeed him when I was stable enough to do so.

After discharge with instructions to take my pressure 4 times per day at home, my pressure spiked again less than 24 hours later, necessitating a return to the hospital. There they gave me a high dose of blood pressure medication (labetelol) intravenously. I was able to return home the same day on two drugs which kept my pressure out of the danger zone. About 5 weeks later, after steady drops in my pressure week by week, I was able to come off both drugs. Now 3 months postpartum, my blood pressure has returned to the healthy levels I had pre-labor.

Having postpartum preeclampsia was one of the scariest events of my life. If I had not had the excellent medical team that I did, or had I not trusted my gut when I thought something was wrong, I might have died. I will never forget having to leave my tiny infant son behind to go to the ER in the middle of the night, or the endless beeping of the machines while I watched my ankles and hands swell in the hospital bed, too tangled in monitors to breastfeed my baby. Having postpartum preeclampsia made the normal struggles of postpartum recovery so much harder. I was extremely careful in trying to avoid COVID during pregnancy, but my luck just plain ran out. I would not wish my experience on anyone. I’ll never know which of my risk factors tipped the balance and led me to have preeclampsia, but I would urge all pregnant people to avoid COVID.

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