On the day I was hospitalized (week 24 of pregnancy), I went for a 4-mile hike, and felt completely fine. Sound familiar to anyone who used to be certain you were perfectly healthy? In fact, I’ve been an athlete since I was 14, with a low BMI and a muscular body type, yet I've had chronic hypertension since I was 19. It's a medical mystery.
When my primary care doctor learned that my fiance and I were trying to conceive, she took me off Lisinopril - an antihypertensive which had very successfully controlled my blood pressure for several years prior - because it is contraindicated in pregnancy. Unfortunately, the new drugs I was prescribed poorly managed my hypertension, so I spent majority of my pregnancy with a wide range of blood pressure readings, most of which were too high.
I called the hospital the night of the hike around 9 PM, because my blood pressure, which I was checking daily with a home monitor, had very abruptly sky rocketed (systolic was somewhere in the 190s). The tip-off was that, despite having been aware that I had developed severe hypertension by that point, it had never before been as high as it was this night. Additionally, after I took my Labetalol (I was on 100mg, twice a day), my blood pressure still remained very high, which was atypical. I had also been spotting all day, and had been experiencing intermittent upper abdominal pain over the prior two weeks (in hindsight, I should have addressed the abdominal pain earlier, but I initially thought it was heartburn - even though I'd never had heartburn before). But, moreover, I had a gut feeling that something just wasn’t right.
The nurse I spoke to on the phone told me to come in, and, following blood testing, I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia. I was not told that this is what I had at the time, however, I was just informed that my blood pressure was far above healthy levels, so I’d have to be put on Magnesium Sulfate, given steroids and then sent in an ambulance to another hospital that could better manage my condition. Honestly, I didn’t believe them, because, even with my systolic blood pressure at 220 (which they didn’t tell me about, because they didn’t want to scare me), and an apparently failing liver, I still felt COMPLETELY NORMAL. Also, there was no way I was letting them put a catheter in my body.
Note: hospitals cause me a palpable level of anxiety, so I thought that a calm ride, in a familiar vehicle, with a familiar face, without being stabbed with needles would surely lower my blood pressure. So, against medical advice, I had my fiancé drive us to the other hospital in his vehicle. I noticed, after entering the emergency room, that the doctors - who were waiting for me, poised to admit a very sick person - were visibly surprised; there I was, talking to them with a normal demeanor, whilst somehow not seizing on the floor.
After forcing them to explain to me wtf was going on (the doctors at the initial hospital only informed me of the gravity of the situation, and then dictated how it should be managed, but never outwardly told me what the problem was), I then had a direct, honest discussion with a very serious doctor from Ukraine, whom I respected for these reasons. I then agreed to put on a gown and be hospitalized. One of my deep fears had been made a reality this day.
After two weeks in the hospital, during which time it seemed I was drastically improving (I had practically come out of Preeclampsia entirely, which the doctor said he'd never seen before), my liver tanked again, unexpectedly one night, beginning with some pretty severe upper abdominal pain. After the blood test results returned, and the doctors were made aware that HELLP Syndrome had ensured, they performed an emergency C section. Our daughter was delivered at 26 weeks and, for the first two days, her prognosis was excellent. She got rave reviews from the neonatologist, but then suddenly on the third day her heart rate became irregular and she stopped breathing on her own, for - again - no apparent reason. She died 3 days later of respiratory and kidney failure.
I still have not learned the true cause(s) of anything that happened with this pregnancy, nor the reason why our daughter declined for no identifiable reason in the NICU. While I do have primary hypertension, it was not at such a level where it would have independently threatened my pregnancy, particularly since I was on medication. Something about this pregnancy caused my blood pressure to spiral out of control, and I intend to find out what it was.
March of Dimes fights for the health of all moms and babies. We're advocating for policies to protect them. We're working to radically improve the health care they receive. We're pioneering research to find solutions. We're empowering families with the knowledge and tools to have healthier pregnancies. By uniting communities, we're building a brighter future for us all.
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