I Had Symptoms of Preeclampsia After Birth & Here’s What It Was Like

Published: June 22, 2017

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symptoms of preeclampsia after birthTo prepare for my first pregnancy, I attended every class offered by my hospital. I read every mommy blog and had my Target registry peer-reviewed by mom friends. After my baby showers, bags of diapers and baby clothing were sorted and stacked by size. Before going to the hospital, I ordered extra witch hazel pads and healing sprays for my delicate areas. In the days leading up to my induction, I gave my in-laws my family’s phone numbers and vice versa. Maps to the labor and delivery area were distributed, down to the recommended parking garage. Casseroles were prepared in bulk and freezed for our return.
 
I was prepared … for a vaginal birth with zero complications. Instead, complications separated me from my child for three days, hours after discharge. I left my four-day-old daughter behind for the emergency room, not knowing when I’d be back home. I would share a room with a dying woman and her daughter while I pined for my own daughter back home. I would hang on the every word of hospital staff … waiting for those magical words: “You can go home.”
 

The Diagnosis

According to the Mayo Clinic: Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system like the kidneys or liver. Left untreated it can lead to serious complications for mother and baby. I was diagnosed toward the end of my second trimester. I was induced at Week 37.
 

What Happened

Except for hospital construction going on outside my window during labor, my birth story started out pretty normal. After induction started, I labored for 12 hours before being given a C-section (I had only made it to 2 cm at the time). After the birth, baby, Dad and me were taken to a room where we spent the rudimentary three days recovering.
 
On the fourth day they kept me due to high blood pressure. It was very disappointing, but I appreciated another day of learning from nurses how to care for my new baby. Plus, they took her away once in awhile so we could sleep. All in all, could be worse. Finally, on Day 4 in the afternoon, we were released. The nurse implored me to monitor my blood pressure and to phone a doc even if it hadn’t reached the “scary number”. Better to call when it got close.
 
That night, it got close. Every time I tried to lay down I couldn’t breathe, and this sent me into a panic. Since I have anxiety disorder, I thought I was just having a panic attack. The nurse’s instructions rang in my ears one more time and I took my blood pressure: 157/109. In minutes, family had arrived: my mother-in-law would take me to the hospital and my father-in-law would stay with my husband to care for the baby.
 
I couldn’t even walk to the admission desk from the car. Once I was wheeled in, I was given oxygen through a nose tube and hooked up to an IV and machines. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would be hooked up to all but the oxygen for three days. After eliminating blood clots and a scary, rare heart condition from the possibilities, it was determined that I had fluid in my lungs and hypertension related to preeclampsia. Most obvious to everybody but me was that I would be admitted to the the hospital – there was no way in hell I was going home anytime soon.
 

And Then There Was Pee

I peed nonstop for days, thanks to the hospital-grade diuretics served up to me intravenously. In one afternoon I had parted with 2 liters of fluid. They made me pee and pee until my swollen cankles gave way to slender legs. In my first week since the birth of my 7-lb 15-oz baby, I lost 20 pounds.
 
Between nurses disconnecting me from machines so I could pee then reconnecting me, a sub-plot was developing on my roommate’s side of the room. A woman probably in her 60s or 70s was told she needed to be operated on to live, but that the operation would kill her. I laid there as dozens of family members came to pay their respects, followed by a rosary and some quality family time that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Her daughter, who was her primary caretaker, had slept in the room with her during the entire stay. I’ll never forget the sight of those two folding chairs sandwiched together in a makeshift bed. I started to think of my own daughter back home and wondered if she felt my absence.

 

After a couple of days of being held captive, I started to go to some pretty dark places. Places where my daughter didn’t miss me and my husband and his family had happily moved on with a freshly baked baby. (Hey, I said it was dark.) Even while consciously knowing these thoughts were ridiculous, I now had a motherly instinct (and pregnancy hormones) that wouldn’t allow me to see  my mother-in-law on video chat holding my child. A texted picture of my daughter to confirm her happy baby status likewise hurled me into a spiral of hysterical tears. I had never missed somebody so much that I physically hurt. For everyone’s sake, I tried to put my daughter out of my mind to get through the rest of my stay, instead filling my head with television. I worked on a blog project and stared at the ceiling. I slept until I couldn’t sleep anymore. I pumped every four hours to keep my milk supply up while my family fed her formula at home. Finally, with no more fluid to drain off of me and with a steady blood pressure I was given my discharge orders.
 

Going Home

When I came home from the hospital, family members were expecting a smiling, beaming mom ready to move on with life. I instead came home feeling like a war survivor who could barely muster a hello. I cradled my daughter while seated on the couch and tried to keep my tears soft so I wouldn’t startle her. I tried to thank my in-laws for keeping my baby girl safe, but I couldn’t find the words. In the next couple of days of setting new routines and a new life, I tried to put the terror of what happened out of my mind. I tried not to lose it whenever I felt myself catching my breath or if a single heartbeat felt a little out of place. Finally, I’m now able to sleep when the baby sleeps instead of being afraid of what will happen if I let myself fall asleep.
 

They don’t tell you this stuff because it’s so rare. An expectant mother needs all of the information to protect her child, but too much information is no service, either. Would I have wanted to know this is what I was in for? Honestly, I was already such a bundle of nerves, I’m not sure I would have handled it well. Ironically, the one thing you can’t do with pre-eclampsia is raise your blood pressure.

 

If I had to tie a bow on this whole experience – it would be to say this: trust yourself. If something feels “off”, if something feels “wrong” – go to the emergency room immediately. It’s been more than four months now and medical professionals are still telling me how grave my situation was. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had tried to suck it up and not ask for help. We were exhausted, it was our first day home … what if I was overreacting? The thing is, there are no take-backs. And you don’t know it’s too late until it already is. I’m glad I listened to myself and made that inconvenient trip to the hospital. Because of it, my baby girl still has her momma.

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4 Comments

  • Hi Sarah –
    Thank you for sharing your story, I am sorry to hear of your experience. We don’t all have that “perfect” birth story, do we? Yet we are not less than because of that. Good luck to you and I hope you are well and enjoying the strong bond of motherhood! Much love to you, Kathy

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks Kathy. 🙂 Nope, not all birth stories are perfect! But our little angels definitely are and are totally worth it!

  • I really appreciate your candor in this article–I currently work as a postpartum nurse and hearing your story from your perspective is something I appreciate! I’m so glad you listened to your instinct and returned to the hospital, even though it was not at all how you would have preferred to spend your first week as a new mom! Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks Chrysti! I owe a lot of thanks to the nurse who helped discharge me …. when she was going over the discharge instructions she stressed to me to come in even if I was close to those BP numbers the doctor had prescribed.

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