About 6 months ago, I gave birth to our third child. After three fairly uneventful pregnancies, three fairly quick, natural labors, and three healthy babies, I was expecting things to continue along the same path. Spend a couple of nights in the hospital, get home, and jump back into normal life with a newborn in tow. I was especially anxious to get home from the hospital, as I missed my two older boys, and, desperately wanted to see their preschool Christmas program. The program was scheduled for Thursday night, just after my due date, and so I either wanted the baby to come early or late, knowing that if he arrived on his due date, I would still be in the hospital.
Monday afternoon I came home from work, got the two older boys settled for some quiet time, sat down on the couch to rest, and my water broke. After some phone calls to my husband, doctor, and mom, I did some calculations and thought, I should be out of the hospital by Thursday. My water broke at 2:30, and at 7:47, a perfect healthy BIG baby boy arrived, weighing in at 9 lbs, 9 oz. I had all of the emotions - excitement, exhaustion, elation, joy, love. And I expected, after having a very similar delivery, to have a very similar recovery.
But immediately after delivery, the doctors started mentioning my blood pressure being a little high. I'd never had blood pressure problems, during pregnancy or otherwise, and so they thought it would probably come down soon after delivery. But it didn't. So they started me on blood pressure medication, and I thought, great, this will kick in and I can go home as planned. But it didn't. So I stayed an extra day in the hospital, worried about not being discharged in time for the Christmas program. Baby was discharged, but stayed with me, and no one seemed terribly worried, they just wanted to keep an eye on it.
(Photo by Bonney Girl Photography)
Thursday morning, my blood pressure was still on the higher side, but knowing that I had kids at home, and was ready to be back home, the doctors increased my dosage, gave me instructions to pick up a blood pressure cuff and take my blood pressure at home several times a day, and take it easy. I obediently took the prescribed medication and checked my blood pressure, though I don't know that I would say I took it easy, really. I felt fine, I was ready to pick up my boys from school and settle into life with a new baby. Thursday night, I took my boys to the Christmas program, my husband staying in the car to keep baby away from the germs. I was thrilled to get to see the program, they were adorable, and life was good.
Friday, we took the baby to the doctor for a checkup and then Friday night, I fed the baby around 10, and went to take my blood pressure before falling asleep. A reading of 178/115, and the doctors had said to call if it got above 160/110. I debated - its almost 11 pm? Do I need to call the doctor? Or should I just lay down for a little bit and see if it improves. I sat on my bed. I thought. I'm not one who likes to call the doctor unless I really need it. I was probably okay. I felt fine. I had just been nursing which made my blood pressure a bit high. I remembered a story a facebook friend had shared - her sister, who passed away suddenly weeks after giving birth to her third child. She'd had a few symptoms, dismissed as normal new mom things. But they weren't. I picked up the phone. I called my doctor.
I was immediately told to head back to the hospital. A house full of sleeping kids, I gave them each a kiss, grabbed my keys, and drove myself back to the hospital, feeling like I was missing something without my baby beside me. I wasn't sure what to expect or how long I would be staying. I thought they would probably take my blood pressure, maybe give me an extra dose of medicine, watch me for a few hours and then I would be back home.
I headed to triage, where just a few days earlier they had checked to make sure I was ready for the delivery room. After just a few minutes, the doctor came and let me know that they would be hooking me up to a magnesium drip as well as increasing my medication - one to keep me from having a seizure, the other to keep me from having a stroke.
Oh. This was serious.
I would be on the magnesium for 12-24 hours, depending on how I responded. I wouldn't be home by the morning. The nurse told me the drip was going to make me feel really out of it, and then she left to find me a pump. I thought of my brand new baby at home, and I cried. Alone and scared. I texted my husband to give him the update. He told me not to stress. I tried to sleep.
Saturday morning, the doctors said I could have someone bring my baby, but I'd have to have another adult in the room the whole time, because of the magnesium. My husband had been planning to take the two older boys to a basketball game, to give me some time at home with the baby. The boys were excited, I didn't want them to miss out on the game. They needed things to be as normal as possible. So my husband brought the baby, my mom came to sit in the hospital room with us, and they headed to the basketball game. After the game, some sweet friends had them over for a playdate and dinner, so that my husband could spend some time at the hospital with me.
I was able to go off the magnesium before the full 24 hours, which I thought was a good sign. They moved me to another floor, still in the women's center. They took my blood pressure, every 4 hours. I was able to keep the baby with me since I was no longer on the magnesium. At night my husband took him home, so I could rest as much as possible.
Christmas Eve was quickly approaching, but my blood pressure wasn't going down enough. I worried over whether I would be home or not for baby's first Christmas. I worried about not being able to be with my 2 and 5 year old on Christmas morning. I worried about all the what-ifs. I tried to rest, I tried to stay off google, I tried to think positively, but I was terrified.
My story has a happy ending. I had a few scary days, an unexpected additional hospital stay, but I got to go home (the morning of Christmas Eve!). I was able to spend Christmas with my kids. I had doctors who listened and took me seriously, fantastic nurses, a husband who urged me to put my health first, family and friends who helped by watching our kids, bringing us meals, praying for and supporting us.
Not all women are so fortunate. I'm sharing my story, because someone else shared their families story, a story that did not have a happy ending, and it made me take things seriously. The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, and in fact, the maternal mortality rate in the US is increasing, instead of decreasing like in other developed countries. There are far too many stories of doctors not taking women's health seriously, of symptoms being brushed off and ignored.
We can do better. We need to share our stories, advocate for ourselves, and for a health system that focuses not only on the health of baby, but also on the health of mothers.
If you'd like to learn more about postpartum preeclampsia or the maternal mortality rate in the US, here are a few links -
Maternal Mortality Rate