I woke up with my head pounding. A week before, I had given birth to a beautiful, healthy girl, but something wasn’t right. My first clue was the swelling. I was more bloated post-birth than I had been during my pregnancy. And then there was that headache. A head splitting, tear-inducing pain I’ve never known.
“You need to take me to the hospital,” I told my husband, surprising myself as much as him when I shook him awake. I’m typically one who doesn’t complain.
At the emergency room, I rattled off the details: I had given birth last week by C-section. I was discharged three days later and now this headache.
“I never get headaches,” I said to the nurse who was taking my blood pressure.
“Please come with me now,” he said, motioning me towards a bed. My blood pressure was 220 over 110. I was about to stroke out.
Over the next few hours, I was subjected to CAT scans, MRIs, blood tests, and a battery of other exams. What those ER doctors failed to catch early that morning was that I was suffering from preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia most commonly afflicts pregnant women. It is marked by high blood pressure, protein in the urine and sudden weight gain. The cure for it is delivery. Yet, I already had my baby. I was one of the rare cases of preeclampsia postpartum.
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, 80 percent of women who die from preeclampsia die postpartum because they lack familiarity with normal post-birth experiences and are often sleep deprived and putting more attention on the newborn. For myself, I was never told about the condition or the warning signs when I was discharged, despite the fact that the condition can present even as late as six weeks after birth. Where were the pamphlets? The checklists?
I spent three more days in the hospital on a magnesium drip and a potent mix of pain-killers. Luckily, the OB/GYN on staff advocated for me to be treated in the delivery ward, rather than the intensive care unit, where I would have been exposed to germs and diseases and unable to see my baby.
After my release, I had residual cardiovascular damage that restricted my movement for the next six weeks. Eventually, I healed, but what stuck with me was the lack of awareness and education about developing this condition after pregnancy. I was screened for the disease while carrying – a routine urine examine – but I never discussed the condition in depth with my doctor.
Almost 300 women die each year from preeclampsia – another 75,000 have near misses like me. Preeclampsia needs to be discussed more in depth by women and their doctors. Mothers are at stake.
Did your doctor talk to you about the dangers of preeclampsia before and after pregnancy?