Postpartum Preeclampsia: What I Wish I Had Known

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My head felt like it was about to explode. Like a ticking bomb.

The pounding in my skull was so loud I could hardly hear my husband desperately begging me to stay awake.

Sunlight and even the depressing fluorescent lights of the ER seared my eyes.

All I could discern was the sound of my own voice screaming in agony and the doctors muffled orders to get an MRI and CT scan done ASAP. I recall being stabbed with an IV and given magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. 

I was a new mother to a week old infant, diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia. 

postpartum preeclampsia

How I survived without having a stroke or succumbing to a coma, I will never know. 

I had had a healthy full term pregnancy, no risk factors and an uncomplicated C-section. Barely 24 hours after I was discharged, I began to feel like a pachyderm had stomped on my chest. I attributed it to being normal after delivery. I was taken to the ER when my symptoms progressed to gasping for breath. My blood pressure was elevated but I was admitted because my heart rate was significantly low. Multiple CT scans ruled out any heart conditions and despite developing a severe headache, I was released to follow up with my primary care physician. (The utter incompetency of the hospital is a blog post all on its own). 

Less than 8 hours later, it had intensified to an excruciating headache and a blood pressure of 220/110, which could’ve potentially killed me.

My husband could’ve been left with two young children to care for on his own. Just the thought of how close that came to being a reality humbles me at being alive today. 

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll recall Lady Sybills tragic demise at child birth from ‘eclampsia’. I know, I cried too.

Preeclampsia is a condition that develops during pregnancy, from 20 weeks up to 6 weeks post delivery, characterized by high blood pressure, headache, protein in urine, blurred vision and swelling in extremities.

Since blood pressure is usually monitored during regular prenatal visits, it can be detected early. Left untreated it can cause maternal organ failure, premature delivery and a host of other problems for the baby. 

Post partum preeclampsia is rare and dangerous in that, new mothers are not aware of the symptoms to watch for, nor or are they given appropriate education about it at the hospital. Most mothers, like myself, would dismiss a symptom like a headache. It affects 6-8% of pregnant women in the US and has caused the death of 76,000 mothers and 500,000 infants worldwide. 

Those are scary numbers… a sobering thought considering I could’ve been one. 

In countries like India, even today many are not aware such a condition exists and if they do, they identify seizures with ‘jinni’ or spirit possession. 

I wish more health care providers and and hospitals considered the statistics and educated women about it prior to discharge. Failure to properly diagnose women in time, resulting in them becoming a statistic, in a developed country like the US, is unfathomable. 

If you have had postpartum preeclampsia, share your story.

It just might save a mother’s life.  

 

 

5 COMMENTS

    • Todd, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife. I cannot begin to fathom the devastation your family experienced. I’m looking forward to the Promise Walk, here in Orlando.

      Thank you for sharing your story and championing for a condition that few are aware of. I wish you and your family well, God bless you.

  1. I had it as well, after my second baby, and again after my third. The first time I was easily treated with blood thinners and bp meds. The second time, however, was much more serious. I was discharged after my c section, all was normal, but my feet and ankles began to swell in the following days, and my blood pressure spiked and my heart rate dropped to 35. I could barely lift my head and was rushed to the ER. They ran all the tests to determine that I was not in danger of a heart attack or stroke, but they did discover a murmur, which they believe was caused by the pregnancy. I’ve never had symptoms of one before. They were also concearned that it could be myopathy, which thankfully it wasn’t I was highly unsatisfied with my OBGYN’s response in that my chief complaint throughout my pregnancy was extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. It was blamed on pregnancy and I was told to take it easy, and they were aware that I had problems after my second baby. It was a frightening experience, to say the least. I too feared not being alive for my husband and children. Needless to say, our family is complete as I would be unable to go through another pregnancy or child birth again without extreme risk. I too feel that OBGYN’s could better prepare new Moms for signs and symptoms so you could know what to look for. Thank you for posting this! It does help to hear someone else’s story. Glad it turned out well.

  2. I had a ton of swelling during my first pregnancy but zero other symptoms except for a persistent sharp pain on the right side of my ribs. My mom had preeclampsia with me but that was nearly 35 years before. Other than those my pregnancy was totally normal, my delivery was awesome and I came home from the hospital 2 days later joking to my husband that I could finally breathe agtafter having a baby up in my lungs. Fast forward two more days and I noticed when I was trying to fall asleep it was like my body would forget to breathe in again and I would startle awake. We had our newborn checkup the next day and my pcp happened to be in the same building so since it was really hard to breathe we went there after the baby’s appointment and my blood pressure was through the roof. They did an ekg and got me an emergency appointment for a CT scan. They were convinced I was having congestive heart failure and referred me to a cardiologist, we were convinced I was dying a week after I had finally done the one thing I had wanted my whole life. They suggested we let the OB know and she knew right away what it was, my lungs were filling with fluid. They put me on bp meds and a water pill. In a week or less my bp was normal and I had lost 20 lbs of water weight. Definitely so scary and the only reason I didn’t think it was pregnancy related was because I had none of the symptoms they told me to watch for. My advice to everyone is that if ANYTHING seems weird or off, don’t assume it’s normal or not related. Go to your OB first if you possibly can, or at least call them first.

  3. I recently delivered a few weeks ago at 35 weeks along. I tried explaining to my OB doctor that during my pregnancy beginning at around week 30 something didn’t feel right. I had swelling in my legs and ankles, racing heart/heaviness in my chest, anxiety, headaches, and I was throwing up for no reason it seemed. She said just monitor your blood pressure at home so I did. I arrived in labor and delivery with contractions and a month before I was due with a blood pressure of 210/110 but I felt fine other than the pain of contractions. They put me on magnesium and I delivered within a few hours of admittance. Baby was sent to NICU with some breathing problems but quickly recovered. After delivery the swelling was still there and my blood pressure was still high for 6 days they kept me in the hospital trying to control it with water pills and blood pressure medicine. Finally my blood pressure stabilized. Unfortunately the doctor who was treating me who was to be releasing me that day had worked a full 24 hour shift on multiple floors that day and she looked exhausted. In her error she had forgotten to prescribe blood pressure medication for me to go home with that day. So upon discharge I asked our nurse why the medicine was not on list and she said oh you must not need that medicine. So I believed her. 24 hours later I was feeling headache fuzzy vision chest squeezing. So I took my pressure at home because i just wasnt feeling right and it came back at 194/112. If I had not checked my blood pressure that night I may not be here to write this. We raced back to hospital and was put back on magnesium and given quick release blood pressure medicine. They said 1 out of 10 people will have this happen after delivery and cause them to be readmitted. Everything stabilized and I now have to be on blood pressure medication until released by my doctor. If you don’t feel right or if you don’t trust that your health care experience is what it should be please speak up or you may be playing with your health and your life. ♡

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