By Guest Blogger Sarah Scott
Hypertension. Swelling or edema. Proteinuria. Sudden weight gain. Headache. Nausea or vomiting. Changes in vision. Racing pulse. Mental confusion, heightened anxiety, trouble catching your breath. Stomach or right shoulder pain. Lower back pain. Hyperreflexia.
These are all symptoms of preeclampsia, a common pregnancy complication that typically occurs during the second and/or third trimesters. If left untreated it can progress to eclampsia, an acute and life-threatening complication characterized by the appearance of tonic-clonic seizures, usually in a pregnant mother who had developed preeclampsia. Why is this information relevant to you? It may not be at the moment, but it is important information to carry with you. It may save your life or others.
I certainly didn’t think that I would ever have to worry about having a serious pregnancy complication like preeclampsia or that I would have to be induced 5 ½ weeks early in an effort to save my child’s life and my own. I definitely never saw myself giving birth to a premature infant and having to worry if he and I would survive his birth. I never saw myself spending a week in the NICU worrying, surrounded by strange machines and busy nurses. I never saw it coming. After all, everyone in my family has given birth to large and healthy babies. Everyone in my family was able to hold their babies after giving birth and begin nursing when they wanted to. Everyone in my family was able to spend those first precious hours mothering their children in their hospital rooms, surrounded by loved ones. I always assumed I would too.
The truth is that they tell you briefly about preeclampsia in your pregnancy classes and in that ten minute debriefing in your doctor’s office. They even have a short section about it in every pregnancy book. The information is there, I just never thought I would need it. My pregnancy was progressing very well until Week 34. I had been eating well, walking daily, sleeping well, gaining weight at a normal rate, and was glowing with energy and excitement about my son’s birth. However, at the beginning of my 34th week, I woke up with a splitting headache in the middle of the night. This soon progressed to extreme nausea and an unbearable pain in my abdomen (which I later found out was the beginning of liver failure). Within 24 hours, I gained a total of 13 pounds, couldn’t use the bathroom, felt extreme lower back pain, and couldn’t keep anything down (even the medicine my doctor prescribed to keep food down!) I called my doctor and was told by a nurse that I probably just had a stomach bug, to put my feet up, and to rest. I insisted that something was seriously wrong and that I wanted to come in. The nurse told me that if I were to come in they would just tell me to rest and send me home. If only in that moment I had the information I am giving you today. If only I had been informed, had known the symptoms, and had trusted my intuition. I may have been able to prevent my son’s premature birth. I may have made it to the hospital earlier, before my condition worsened.
Later that night I was rushed to the emergency room. After bloodwork, I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, which is a very critical pregnancy complication and is life threatening to baby and mother. After speaking with my doctors, NICU specialists, and neonatal specialists, we made the decision to induce labor for my health and the baby’s health. I gave birth to our son, David at 12:22 AM on Sunday, July 18th, 2010 which made him approximately 5 1/2 weeks premature (our original due date was August 24). He was 4 lbs & 8 oz. So small, but such a fighter.
We were so lucky. Why us? This is something I think about every day as I hold our healthy son in my arms. For many women with preeclampsia, the journey of pregnancy ends with tragedy. This is what drives me to raise awareness. If more women are aware of this complication and its symptoms, perhaps we will be able to make a difference. More research is needed. Medical professionals are still unsure what causes this complication. Weight, diet, age, and lifestyle are not known causes. We need to know, we need to prevent, and we need to save lives. Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year. This is unacceptable. We need fully funded research, we need answers, and we need hope.