It was a Tuesday night when I went to bed like any other night, but I found myself having a difficult time staying asleep due to a headache. I took some Tylenol and laid back down. After a few hours, the headache started again so I took more medicine.
Wednesday morning, I got ready for a drive a few hours away to prepare for my upcoming baby shower in my hometown. I noticed while getting ready to go that I could no longer fit my wedding ring onto my finger. I brushed it off to third trimester swelling. The slight weight gain and swelling seemed minimal considering I hadn’t gained any weight throughout the pregnancy.
Once I arrived at my hometown, I noticed my legs and feet were severely swollen. My best friend joined me so we could head to dinner. Since she was also a fellow labor & delivery nurse, she suggested we check my blood pressure. Using my mom’s cuff, we checked, and it was 190s over 100s. In disbelief I initially assumed the calibration was off, but everyone else’s blood pressure was normal. A bit later I opted to go to triage at the hospital and was shocked at the numbers on the monitor: My blood pressure was 200/116.
Surprised by High Blood Pressure
After receiving the maximum dose of several medications my blood pressure finally came down to a less severe range. I was admitted to the hospital, and they discussed keeping me until I was at least 34 weeks pregnant.
I felt scared, shocked, confused, and angry. How did this happen? I was “healthy” just last week! I was in the greatest shape of my life, I ate a balanced diet, and had only low to moderate stress. And to top it off, I am a labor & delivery nurse and a childbirth educator. How could I have not realized what was going on?
They put me on a magnesium drip and the following day started checking my urine every 24 hours to establish a diagnosis: Preeclampsia—dangerously high blood pressure in pregnancy. I was 31 weeks pregnant, so I also received steroid injections to speed my baby daughter’s lung development should she need to be born early to save both of our lives from harm, even death.
When Things Got Even Worse
That’s when my health care team noticed something gravely wrong. It was the middle of the day, and my body hadn’t produced any urine even though I was on a continuous IV fluid drip and drinking fluids.
My lab results came back in the most critical range that my team and I had ever seen. I was now in full blown HELLP syndrome. The worst part? I was asymptomatic. My body was going into multi-organ failure, yet I was showing no signs. Had I not already been admitted to the hospital I would never have known something so sinister was happening inside of my body.
Ultrasounds showed my daughter wasn’t growing anymore and in the less than 3% percentile for weight. I was in the hospital alone because I hadn’t planned on staying in my hometown for a longer period after the baby shower. I called my husband and asked him to make the drive because our baby needed to be born by cesarean very soon.
Greeting My Daughter
My husband and mother arrived, and we prepared ourselves for my daughter’s birth by cesarean. Laying on the operating room table, it was surreal being on the other side of those drapes. Following surgery, and through the next full week, my healthcare providers tried to find a medication regimen to control my high blood pressure. Unfortunately, it did not return to normal after delivery. I remained on medications for approximately two months, and even now, one year postpartum, my blood pressure ranges have never returned to their original baseline.
Don’t Rationalize Changes
Looking back, I would tell others to not take slight changes during pregnancy lightly. Preeclampsia does not discriminate and happens abruptly. See your pregnancy care provider if you have rapid onset weight gain, persistent headaches or visual disturbances, or swelling that affects multiple areas. These are emergent reasons to follow up with your provider.
Take your prescribed medications as ordered and have frequent follow ups throughout your postpartum period (the full 12 months following the birth of your baby). And most of all be kind to yourself. No one deserves, wants, or expects to go through such a life-altering experience but it is not your fault, and you could not have prevented it, just as I couldn’t have prevented what I experienced. I share my story to let others know you are not alone.
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