When I got pregnant with my fourth child, I had no idea that preeclampsia was a risk. I had no history of it, my family had no history of it. Other than some blood pressure spikes, likely caused by stress, in my second and third pregnancies, I’ve never had high blood pressure.
All of my pregnancies have been low-risk (although due to age and my husband’s family history of cardiovascular health, my last three were classified as high-risk until the 20 week scans showed that all was well.)
The easiest pregnancy ever…
When I got pregnant with Ladybug, I kept forgetting I was pregnant. This was welcome, because with my boys, I had horrible sciatica, and with my year old, I had terrible morning sickness for the entire pregnancy. I also suffered from paralyzing anxiety and depression while pregnant. In fact, with Ladybug I didn’t even have the debilitating fatigue I’d had with my 2 year old. I felt energetic, happy, and pretty amazing, well into the pregnancy. I even was losing weight while pregnant due to healthy eating and being able to continue being active.
Then, things changed.
I got a nasty version of the flu, and it turned into pneumonia. I was really sick. I was probably hospital sick, but I’m stubborn. When I saw my OBGYN, she was a bit taken aback that I hadn’t gone to the hospital. Her words, “If you think you might need to go to the hospital, Ronda, you should pro
bably go to the hospital.” I was due in late May, I got sick in mid-March.
I didn’t really recover. I continued to feel awful. Each appointment, I was suddenly putting on a lot of weight. I wasn’t thin by any means, but I’d made it down to 275 when I got sick. When I was induced, about 6 weeks later, I was up to 354lbs. We’ll get to the induction in a minute.
I had no energy. I constantly felt zapped. It was still really hard to breathe. Just walking from the couch to fridge, about 20 feet, would wind me. I couldn’t keep up with my other kids. I skipped out on some of my oldest’s events, because I had no energy. I sent his grandparents instead to take photos. Then, one morning, I woke up, and I was really swollen. When I say really swollen, I mean, really really swollen. I felt horrible. I had an appointment with my OBGYN that afternoon.
The fight for a diagnosis
I had no history of preeclampsia. My OBGYN wasn’t even collecting urine samples, because she was that confident that it wasn’t an issue. That day, I actually wound up not seeing my OBGYN, but her nurse practitioner. She saw me, and asked if I’d been eating a lot of salt. “No.” She took my blood pressure. It was 135/84, extremely high for me, but still within the range they considered normal. I pushed the issue.
The swelling wasn’t going down with rest. It wasn’t going down with putting my feet up. I’d gained a lot of weight over the past 5 weeks, and I felt terrible. I was out of breath. No, it wasn’t just baby pushing on my lungs. It was different from other pregnancies. Something just didn’t feel right. So, she agreed to check my urine. She told me if I didn’t hear anything, that I was fine. That was a Thursday.
The long weekend
I kept feeling worse. I was supposed to go see my oldest’s awards ceremony. I had no idea he was receiving any awards, so I sent my in-laws instead. He was due to graduate high school in a few days. I kept checking the portal to see if my lab results had come back. I hadn’t heard anything.
I went shopping with my husband to prepare for my son’s graduation party and for my sister to come into town to visit and see the graduation. I kept feeling worse. It felt like I was getting the flu all over again, and my face and hands were now swollen. I knew something was wrong. I was feeling extremely emotional over it. But, I hadn’t heard back, and the results showed they were in (I just couldn’t view them), so I figured everything was fine and I was just coming down with a fresh bout of crud.
Monday and Graduation
Monday, 20 minutes before my OBGYN’s office was to close, I got the call. “You had protein in your urine. Come into the clinic, and we’ll do a blood draw.” By the time I got the message and called back, they were packing up and told me to come in, first thing in the morning. I was scared. I had a friend who’d had preeclampsia, so I knew it wasn’t good. I showed up in the morning, the morning my oldest was going to be graduating. I was terrified I wouldn’t get to see him graduate. I was feeling icky by then, and had seen a flash of light while showering. They took my blood pressure. It was 150/93. My OBGYN wanted me to go in right away to be induced.
I asked whether it would be safe to see my kiddo graduate.
I then went through a bunch of tests to make sure Ladybug was okay. Once my OBGYN was convinced that baby was safe, she told me to go home, rest, and head to the hospital either if I had a headache or right after graduation got out. I played it down, though, as I didn’t want anyone worrying about me.
The headache started in the middle of graduation. By the time I got out, and we got to the hospital, I was feeling terrible. The induction began. It was rough. I wasn’t allowed to move around, I was asked to stay on my back by the nurse. I was in tears. Laying on my back, pregnant, at 354 lbs was excruciating. My blood pressure was 210/105. I promised myself that if I made it through the induction and birth process that I would do everything I could to begin running again.
I was happy when my nurse changed and the new nurse let me guide her. I opted for no pain medication. I bounced on an exercise ball. I made my sister, who came thinking she’d see a graduation and wound up also seeing a birth, and my husband laugh. I stayed calm. My blood pressure returned to almost normal. 19 hours later, Ladybug was in my arms. I’d had the worst headache the entire labor, but it dissipated after food. At 36 weeks, my gal didn’t need any NICU time, and she was born at 6lbs 10oz and 19.5 inches long, making her the smallest of all my children.
Everything returned to normal after birth. I was healthy, Ladybug was healthy. She’s now a very healthy 16 month old. It was probably pretty stupid of me to go to graduation knowing what a risk it was, but seeing my big kid graduate was something I just really needed to do. He’d worked so hard during high school. I was discharged a day after Ladybug was born (I’ve since learned that this is not typical in cases where preeclampsia was a factor). Not long after returning home, I went through a terrible bout with anxiety and depression from the trauma of really processing it all. I went through physical therapy, and yes, I’ve started running again. I have my first half marathon later this month.
What you need to know about preeclampsia
While preeclampsia is most common in first pregnancies or first pregnancies with a new partner and subsequent pregnancies where there’s a history of it, it can happen in subsequent pregnancies where there is no history of its occurance. My pregnancy with Ladybug was actually my fifth, as my second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 8 weeks gestation. I had no history of high blood pressure or complications with pregnancy. Here are some of the risk factors, though an actual cause isn’t known. It is known that having pneumonia or the flu while pregnant greatly increases the risk of occurrence:
- Age – being older when pregnant can increase risk (I was 39).
- Obesity – I was overweight
- Nutritional deficiencies – I was still breastfeeding my younger son for half of the pregnancy; I consistently forgot to take my prenatal vitamin
- Pre-existing conditions – things like diabetes, thyroid disorders, lupus, etc can increase one’s risk
- Genetics – there seems to be a hereditary component.
- Other things that go wrong – here’s a list from the Preeclampsia Foundation on other things that can contribute to the risk.
- No symptoms, there is just no symptom that presents because many people don’t feel their blood pressure increasing. I did, because my blood pressure is normally around 95/65, so I was pretty uncomfortable.
- High Blood Pressure
- Proteinuria – Make sure you get your urine checked at every appointment. They could have caught this earlier in me, had we not gotten complacent.
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Abdominal or shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Sudden weight gain
- Changes in vision
- Hyperreflexia (when your reflexes are extraordinarily strong)
- Shortness of breath & anxiety
If you are more than 20 weeks pregnant, and you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to bring it up with your healthcare provider ASAP. It could be nothing, but it could be something. Preeclampsia can be deadly for both mother and fetus if left untreated. If you have severe swelling, vision changes, and a headache, don’t waste time – head into the labor and delivery department.