I never knew Preeclampsia had its own awareness day (which was actually yesterday - 22nd May 2018). I suffered with this serious disease during my pregnancy with George and to be honest, my knowledge of this was basically nil. As preeclampsia can affect up to 10% of pregnancies worldwide, I’m hoping that this blog will raise awareness, and inform and educate ladies who may be showing signs of it, as it’s so important to catch it early!
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a disease that is related to high blood pressure. It can appear suddenly, particularly in the second half of a pregnancy or even up to six weeks after giving birth. For both mother and baby, it’s so important that it’s treated in its early stages.
What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?
- Severe headaches
- Chest pain
- Swelling of the face, hands and/or feet
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea after mid-pregnancy
- Changes in vision (vision loss, spots)
- Upper right belly pain
- Weight gain of more than five pounds in one week
The risks for a mum can be seizures, water in the lungs and even death. For baby, the risks can be premature birth, low birth weight, stunting and again, death. Sadly, preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and infant death with 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year worldwide.
My preeclampsia experience
I had had a rough pregnancy with Hyperemesis Gravidarum for the first trimester, but the second and most of the third seemed like a breeze apart from the odd bought of heart burn. I had VERY swollen feet and a rather puffy face from about 24 weeks, but thought nothing of it as most pregnant ladies suffer with a bit of swelling. It wasn’t until I went to my routine 36 week midwife appointment that the midwife showed some concern. And to this day, I am so thankful to her for spotting these symptoms and using her gut feelings to refer me straight to hospital (shout out to my midwife Terry!).
At the appointment, my midwife took my blood pressure which was incredibly high (warning one of preeclampsia), she tested my urine which showed up large levels of protein (warning two of preeclampsia) and she took note of the swelling in my feet and face (warning three of preeclampsia). At appointments previous to this, my midwife always asked whether I had been suffering with severe headaches - but I hadn’t and even up to the birth of George, I didn’t.
After spotting various warning signs, my midwife told me to go straight to the hospital to get checked. At this point I was really quite chilled out about it all. I even told my husband not to rush from work - but he was having none of it and wanted to be by my side as soon as he could.
When getting to the Antenatal Clinic at my local hospital, they took my blood and again measured my blood pressure. After about 20 minutes, a doctor informed me that I would need to stay the night so that they could keep an eye on things. I was quite shocked as thought I’d be going home that day!
I was taken to the Maternity Ward where I was given a bed and some food by my husband to tire me over, as I was starving by this point. I was hooked up to a machine to keep an eye on George’s heartbeat and a monitor for myself. The next morning, I was given an ultrasound scan to see how George was doing. Again, I thought nothing would be wrong and I’d go home that day. Funnily enough, Greg kept saying “Our baby could be here this week!”. I thought that was complete nonsense. At the ultrasound scan, the nurses identified that my placenta was failing, meaning that the baby wasn’t getting enough nutrients from me. Due to this, his waist was extremely small. And to top it off, he was also breach. I burst out crying, thinking that something could be wrong with my little boy. I suddenly realised how serious this had become.
The nurses couldn’t tell me anything and said to wait until the doctor comes to see me. This felt like forever. When I got back to the ward and the doctor made his way round to us, he told us that they needed to get the baby out and would be waiting until I was 37 weeks (the time when baby is fully developed) in order to deliver him. The downside was that I needed to stay in hospital until then.
Later that afternoon, a midwife came up with a wheelchair and wheeled me down to the Labour and Delivery Ward. This was a bit of a surprise, as I wasn’t due to deliver for a week yet. When I got down to the L&D Ward, I was given my own room and 24/7 monitoring with a midwife who stayed in the room with me. I still had no idea what was going on. I am so thankful that my husband was with me through all of this!
The doctor came round again, who we had seen that morning, and informed us that they needed to get this baby out as soon as possible. We would be having an emergency c-section the following morning, first thing. Yikes!
Just to say, I felt completely healthy and fine (apart from the swelling) all of this time. I kept saying that it was weird being in hospital and being rushed around because I didn’t feel there was anything wrong.
I was given steroid injections to mature little George’s lungs, so that he could breathe unaided when he came out.
Me and Greg had roughly 12 hours to get our head around the fact that our son would be with us the following day. How crazy. It was such an emotional rollercoaster. I was excited that our baby would be here soon, but nervous at the thought of a c-section and serious surgery. Greg rang our parents to inform them of what had been going on and that they would be grandparents in less than 24 hours.
The c-section went really well - further details of the surgery and delivery can be found in my Birth Story Blog - and George Gregory Stephens was born fit and healthy at 5lb 4 ounces at 9.15am on 20th October 2017.
What a whirlwind few days that was!
Has preeclampsia affected me since the birth?
Not really. Following the birth of George, I was giving betablocker tablets to take for a few weeks afterwards to keep my blood pressure down. I was lucky that my body went back to normal pretty quickly. I know some ladies who have suffered from preeclampsia and they’re either still taking the tablets months after giving birth, or are still taking tablets years after giving birth.
The midwife did come to see me a few more times than the average new mum, but that was just to make sure I was ok and everything was going back to normal.
I’m glad to say, I’m completely back to normal seven months after welcoming George into the world.
I hope reading this has informed you a bit more about preeclampsia. For me, it was a silent disease which I wouldn’t have known I had. Because it can be so serious, I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to highlight any concerns you might have with your GP or midwife.
Have you had an experience with preeclampsia? Did you have to have a c-section because of it? Let me know in the comments below.