Thursday, October 27, 2016

The "Fit" Assumption: My Scary Experience with Pre-eclampsia

Hello. Long time, no see.

My toddler is currently at the grocery store with his daddy and my three week old is passed out from being milk drunk - so I thought I would share something I've been tossing around in my head for the last...couple years, really.

**I want to say that I am in no way pointing fingers at anyone here, certainly not my doctors or the medical staff that helped bring my babies into the world. I am just sharing my experience, because I can't be the only one.**

I am going to make this as snappy as possible - because - milk drunk, napping baby.

With both of my pregnancies, I stayed very active. I ran well into my third trimesters. I cut the grass until the very end. I went for super long walks. That is no great feat; I just kept on living the normal life of an adult that is bad at sitting still. As a result, I didn't gain a ton of weight (19 pounds and 17 pounds respectively) and my pregnancies were pretty smooth. My doctor was supportive of my choices during pregnancy, commenting regularly on how it was "nice to have patients without health problems."

She jinxed it.

Toward the end of my first pregnancy, my blood pressure readings started to creep up. Blood pressure has never been a problem for me. My pulse is barely detectable (thanks marathons) and my BP is typically textbook 120/80. But alas, the numbers steadily increased from week to week. And the urine samples I had to turn in every week started to show trace proteins. These two symptoms are classic preeclampsia signs. The thing that is not typical of a preeclampsia patient is me. I'm not a teen mom; I am not over 40; I am not obese; I wasn't carrying twins; I don't have any other health problems. My doctor recognized this discrepancy, too - and my symptoms were not explored any further. 

Fast forward to my due date. I woke up and proceeded to get ready for work as usual. As I looked at my face in the mirror, I realized I couldn't see half of it. I was completely blind in one eye. WHAT THE HELL??? I rubbed my eyes and held my hand in front of my face - I couldn't see it. I thought it might just be a migraine but I called the doc anyway. They had me come in to L&D triage immediately. My BP was in the 170s/100s and not budging. They promptly put me on the hellish cocktail of pitocin (to induce labor) and magnesium sulfate (oh my god - the.worst.) As we sat in the birthing room, they explained all of the risks associated with pre-E (we are on a nickname basis:) stroke, seizure, organ failure, death of mother, death of baby. I had no idea how serious the situation was, until I watched my husband's face turn white. 

Long story, short: after a long day of laboring and an eventual emergency c-section, my bouncing and screaming baby boy was born. And he was perfect. 

I, however, would have lingering pre-E symptoms for the following heavily-medicated month. Understandably and to the delight of my own parents, we immediately swore off the possibility of any future pregnancies.

How quickly we forget.

We found out that baby #2 was coming in early 2016. As happy as we were, I couldn't shake the feeling that we might be tempting fate. I was legitimately scared to the point that I promptly maxed out all of my life insurance options. 

I considered changing doctors, but ultimately, I decided to stay with my old doctor because at least she knew my history. I expressed my concerns to her right away. "What if it comes back? What are the odds...? What are the risks to my baby?" She assured me that it "almost never comes back" - that she could count the number of return cases she's had on one hand and again, "You're not the typical pre-eclampsia patient anyway." I was pacified, but only briefly.

Much like the last pregnancy, I stayed active. I stayed distracted. But I couldn't ignore the thought that it was going to come back. I just felt it in my gut.

I told the doctor as much. I asked why they weren't checking my urine for protein and I was told it was no longer standard practice. (Of course not. Perfect timing.) But the "something isn't right" feeling stayed. 

In August, I had another vision disturbance - and again, I found myself in L&D with elevated BP - but I still had twelve weeks to go in my pregnancy. I stayed in triage until my BP came down on its own and my blood tests came back normal. "See you in 3 months," they said.

They jinxed it. 36 weeks and 2 days.  

I went in for my final ultrasound. It was a routine growth ultrasound to see how baby girl was growing in the final weeks. As always, they took my blood pressure first thing. The tech adjusted the cuff and took it again. She didn't say the numbers - but her hesitation gave it away. She said, "You know what? I think my machine is broken. Let me take it manually." After her cuff slowly deflated, she looked at me and said, "It is that high." 178/108. A specialist was consulted and I was told that I would be delivering in a couple hours via c-section. A couple HOURS. I just kept sobbing and repeating, "She's not ready. I am not ready." She still had four weeks to go. 

They assured me that the only way to stop pre-eclampsia is to stop the pregnancy - and that once again, we were both at risk if we continued any further. 

My baby girl was born five hours later. And she was perfect. I am forever grateful for the care I received and the decisions that were made that day.

A healthy lifestyle is certainly a wonderful thing, but it does not make anyone a super-human. Assumptions were made about my health, because I didn't fit a type - even with symptoms presenting. Trust your instincts, always be your own advocate and get the answers you are looking for. Get that spot checked out. Go to your dentist. Update your life insurance policy. Don't be cute about your health.



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