Preeclampsia Awareness Month – My Story

My first foray into motherhood didn’t go how I had always pictured it. I didn’t get the natural, peaceful birth I had imagined just my husband and I breathing together, focused on bringing our first born, our son into this world on a beautiful May day. Instead, it was a terrifying, rushed, surgery on a cold February night. A delivery that was my worst nightmares coming true as anesthesia didn’t work and my child was rushed off to the NICU before I could even hold him only to pass away in my arms 36 hours later.

The pregnancy started normal enough. My husband and I had just started trying when we saw those two lines. We thought we were lucky. I mean after all we knew so many couples who had been trying for months, years, and here we were pregnant within a month and half of deciding we were “ready” to be parents.

We tried our best to keep our little secret until after the “magical” 12-week mark. After all, once you get past that first trimester you are in the safe zone, right? Despite the expected nausea everything seemed to be going right along just fine.

It was in the second trimester that we started to notice that this might not be the picture perfect pregnancy we had envisioned.

My blood pressure was up a little during one of my regular check-ups. Nothing too alarming, but we double checked my protein level since my sister had had preeclampsia (referred to as toxemia back then) when she was pregnant with my niece many years ago. We were much relieved when the protein levels came back normal. Everything continued along normally.

At my 7 month appointment, my blood pressure was once again high. I got sent over to the Labor and Delivery unit at the hospital. Once there my blood pressure went down and I was sent home with orders to follow up with the doctor the next week.

The following week, my blood pressure was up again and this time there was protein found in my urine. I got sent back over to the hospital and this time I stayed.

After three days of monitoring blood pressure and protein, it was determined that our son was experiencing IGUR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction) and our son, Joshua, was delivered by emergency c-section at 29 weeks on February 20, 2013. Unfortunately, we were never able to bring Joshua home.

After our experience, I researched everything I could regarding preeclampsia. I read research papers, I participated in the Promise Walk for preeclampsia, I even stepped completely out of my comfort zone and spoke to Fox 4 News for a health segment regarding preeclampsia. I started writing about our experience in hopes that I could help at least one other mother avoid a similar tragedy.

I took all of my new found knowledge and paired it with a fantastic new OBGYN and a wonderful perinatologist who suggested a full panel of blood work along with an adjustment in vitamins and medication during my next pregnancy. I now have a beautiful four-year-old daughter, Madeline, who we are lucky enough to say was the result of a completely preeclampsia-free pregnancy.  

Over the course of the last five years, I have met several families who have been touched by preeclampsia. I have learned that there really doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason as far as symptoms, cause, or outcome. However, there are a few things that are potential red flag indicators.

During pregnancy, it is important to notify your doctor of:
1. Swelling (especially pitting edema).
2. Pain in the upper rib cage (also notify your doctor of pain in the stomach, lower back, or right shoulder)
3. High blood pressure
4. Severe headaches
5. Changes in vision or visual disturbances
6. Shortness of breath
7. Sudden weight gain after 20 weeks gestation (gaining more than 2 pounds in a week)
8. Your doctor will monitor you for protein in your urine and hyperreflexia

Preeclampsia can begin anytime after 20 weeks all the up to 6 weeks postpartum. In rare cases, it may begin before 20 weeks.

It is possible to experience few or even no symptoms. This is why regular prenatal care appointments are important. Sometimes the only sign will be the presence of protein or high blood pressure that your doctor will monitor. Risks of preeclampsia include stroke, seizures, coma, blood clots, even death.

Every year, 5-8% of all pregnant women will be diagnosed with preeclampsia. Unfortunately, many women still die each year due to preeclampsia and almost always the baby is born prematurely which can lead to complications, birth defects, and even the loss of the baby.

According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, “Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.”

Preeclampsia is believed to be caused by an issue with the placenta. Though the exact cause has yet to be discovered. While the cause of preeclampsia is still not known, we do know that the only cure is to deliver the placenta.

According to the Preeclampsia Foundation’s website there are several risk factors for developing preeclampsia:

  • Previous history of preeclampsia
  • Multiple gestation
  • History of chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or organ transplant
  • First pregnancy
  • Obesity, particularly with Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
  • Over 40 or under 18 years of age
  • A family history of preeclampsia
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Lupus or other autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, and multiple sclerosis
  • In-vitro fertilization
  • Sickle cell disease

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