It has been about ten months since I gave birth, so I thought that I would be ready to share a little bit about my experience with Postpartum Preeclampsia. I had an unexpected and traumatic birth at 34 weeks in the middle of the pandemic, and you can read more about that here. At the time I was a 29 year old healthy medical student and I knew to take my blood pressures at home, advocate for myself, as well as make it a priority to go to all of my appointments. This could have turned out so different if I didn’t know to look for signs of Preeclampsia.
I had Postpartum Preeclampsia with Severe Features. The danger isn’t over after you give birth. Even in medical school, we were taught that the only cure for preeclampsia was to give birth. Postpartum Preeclampsia is rare, but if the doctors aren’t even looking out for it, it is up to us as patients to monitor our own vitals and advocate for ourselves. Women are at risk up to six weeks postpartum.
Looking Out for Myself
During my entire pregnancy, I was so concerned that I might be another statistic. I bought an at-home blood pressure cuff (which I recommend for every woman!) to track my blood pressures at home. My blood pressure was perfect until the third trimester. During my last prenatal appointment before I went into labor at 34 weeks my blood pressure was elevated. This was the same week that a black doctor recently passed away from Pre-eclampsia. I told my doctor that I was concerned that I might be at risk, and she assured me that she would be monitoring me closely.
The day I went into labor, my blood pressure was elevated again. It stayed that way all throughout my hospital stay after my C-section. On the last day before I was discharged, I started to feel tightness in my chest and called the nurse to check my blood pressure. It was hypertensive in the 140s/90s but my OBs were not concerned. One of the residents (a white doctor) just said that I was just anxious (and it’s in my patient note!) and that my lab results were not concerning for Preeclampsia. Another OB, a black female doctor, came in and scheduled me for a nurse’s visit two days after discharge. I think she did to just make me feel better, and I went home with no medications.
It Still Caught Me by Surprise
I attended my nurse’s visit to check my blood pressure, and it was high in the 150s/90s, but I was sent home with guidance to come in when my BP was over 160/105. The days I spent at home were full of worry. I was afraid to go to sleep because I thought I might not wake up. Thankfully, I had my wound check two days later and I went to the appointment. My at-home blood pressures were still okay, even the morning before my appointment. I went to the appointment as normal.
My husband dropped me off and then went to see Noah in the NICU. I was starting to feel like I was going to throw up, but had no other symptoms. It just felt like I was coming down with a case of food poisoning. It did not even cross my mind that my blood pressure would be dangerously high. I went in and they took my vitals: 180/110. They took it again and it was still extremely high. The doctor checked my C-section wound and then told me that I needed to be admitted.
Treatment and Discharge
I was wheeled straight to the OB ER and was admitted for treatment for Preeclampsia with Severe Features. I called my husband and let him know so he could run home and pack me an overnight bag. After 24 miserable hours of treatment with Magnesium, I was sent home with Nifedipine to take for 6 weeks. My blood pressure normalized and I didn’t have any other complications. I know this could have been so different if I had fewer resources or if I didn’t have a doctor looking out for me. What if I missed my wound check appointment or rescheduled for a later date?
I am still traumatized by this experience. When I feel a little bit off, I still feel compelled to take my blood pressure just to be sure that everything is okay. I am blessed that I survived and that I am able to be around for my son, my husband and for my family. Now, I am making it a point to take care of myself, since having Preeclampsia increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as increases your chances that you can get preeclampsia during subsequent pregnancies. For more information, check out the resources at the Preeclampsia Foundation website.
The complications of Preeclampsia can be devastating. If untreated, it can lead to seizures, stroke, organ damage and death. I hope that every woman understands the signs and symptoms of Preeclampsia so that we can advocate for ourselves.
Tips for Expecting Moms
- Buy a blood pressure cuff that is easy to use and check your own bp at home regularly
- Educate yourself on signs and symptoms of Preeclampsia
- Make it a priority to go to all of your appointments
- Ask questions and share concerns
- Talk to your partner about your concerns and how they can advocate for you if you are unable to do so yourself
- Keep an eye on your health during the first six weeks – pre-eclampsia is still a risk after you give birth
- Stand up for yourself and request a second opinion if need be. Your doctors work for you, not the other way around
- Make sure you ask your doctor to clarify what your diagnosis is and why you are being treated. This way you can advocate for yourself going forward for general health and future pregnancies
How to Help
If you are looking for an organization to donate to and you are passionate about maternal health, consider giving to the Preeclampsia Foundation. They invest millions of dollars in Preeclampsia research and creating educational materials for patients and families. Help us raise awareness for Preeclampsia so that we don’t have to keep losing mothers to this disease.