I am one of the unfortunate women to have had Pre-eclampsia. But I was very fortunate in the outcome, as both me and my son survived. This condition, which only occurs during a pregnancy, is becoming more and more common. If a woman is not receiving prenatal care, there is a slim chance she will even have a clue that she has this condition.
Pre-eclampsia usually starts after the 20th week of gestation and affects 5-8% of all pregnancies. I can’t recall exactly when mine started, but I would guess around week 28. I only made it to week 34 before giving birth, and I don’t recall being told I had it too far back.
The first symptom to hit me was the swelling of the feet, ankles, and lower legs. I had a yard sale about six weeks before I gave birth and my feet were huge. My feet and legs were throbbing and aching. They were swollen a bit before that, but it was that day that provoked me to tell my OB that the swelling was insane. My blood pressure was normal, but she had me do my thing in a cup (I *hate* doing that) and did a protein check of my urine. The test came back positive, so she told me I needed to come in for a checkup each week now.
Two checkups later the protein was at a higher level than before so she had me do a more extensive test. After this, the cup thing wasn’t that big of a deal. She gave me a large red container with a twistable lid on it. For 24 hours I had to collect *all* of my urine in a special cup with a large top on it and then dump it into this container. Oh, fun! But you haven’t heard the best part yet. This container had to be kept in the refrigerator. As soon as the 24 hours were up I had to take it back to the OB’s office.
The results showed a lot of protein in the urine. With that and the increased swelling, now starting to show in my hands and face, she told me to cut back on salt. I informed her I’m not a salt person. I didn’t and still don’t add salt to my foods at the table, and I wasn’t eating a lot of chips, so I didn’t feel salt was my problem.
I think it was the next visit when she took my blood pressure and it was up - it wasn’t bad, but definitely an increase since I almost always had a perfect reading of 120/80 at each of my previous visits. It was then when she told me she figured I had Pre-eclampsia. The next checkup my blood pressure was up more, but nothing was done about it as it still wasn’t elevated that much.
Now this is where I can put a timeline to this story. It was Monday, June 19, 2000. During this visit to the OB, when she took my blood pressure her eyes got big. I knew it wasn’t good … yet, I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t feel like my blood pressure was high, but it sure was, especially for me. The top number was in the 140s and the bottom was in the 90s. She told me to go over to the hospital, which was maybe 200 feet from her office. I asked if she thought I could go home to get some things, as I knew I was at least going to be at the hospital overnight. She only agreed because I lived less than 2 miles from the hospital and I swore I’d hurry back.
Oh, how I wish it was just an overnight stay. They checked the baby’s heartbeat and thought it was a bit too slow. My blood pressure was still about the same. That hospital wasn’t prepared for complicated pregnancies, so I was taken by ambulance to another hospital about 35 miles away. I got hooked up to a monitor to keep check on the baby’s heartbeat, and another one kept track of my heartbeat and blood pressure. And don’t forget the wearer-friendly I-V.
Readings basically stayed the same until sometime Tuesday when the baby’s heartbeat lowered. They then decided to do an amniocentesis (sticking a huge needle through my stomach and into the amniotic fluid and withdrawal some) to check to see how well the baby’s lungs were developed. It showed that the baby’s lungs were fully developed; therefore it was time to induce labor. Inducement started sometime Wednesday afternoon.
My OB didn’t get to be with me at that hospital, so I was sure to tell the doctors there that I wanted drugs and a lot of them! I wasn’t going to go “natural.” So when my contractions weren’t so mild anymore, it was epidural time. But I guess I was cursed, as the epidural only took effect on the left side of my lower body. So I say I was half drugged, half natural! Yet, I did get a nice sleepy-time narcotic to help me rest and take the edge off what I could still feel.
The epidural could have been redone but it would slow down my progress, and since I had trouble getting from 4 cm to 8 cm, they didn’t feel it was a good idea, but it was up to me. I’m glad I went with their advice as it turned out my son had his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck once, and if he stayed in there longer, it might have gotten wrapped around more or gotten tighter.
I don’t recall when I actually went into labor (I was told it’s when you reach 4 cm). But I do know I didn’t push for that long - maybe an hour and a half. The nurses and doctor couldn’t believe how well I pushed and seemed to know exactly when to push. They said I was a natural at childbirth. I just looked at them funny, as to me if you are a natural at something, you should be doing it often. Uh huh, sure.
My son Seth was born on June 23 at 11:48 am. From inducement to birth it was around 44 hours. With being 4½ weeks premature, he weighed a whopping 7 pounds 4 ounces. The doctor told me I’d have had at least a 10-pounder on my hands if I went full term. He breathed right away but was a bit blue from the lack of oxygen from the cord around his neck. I figure it got like that because he was squirming around in there like mad and I swear he was pushing his feet up against my ribs trying to get out! He did have jaundice but what stunned me was when I was told he had an e.coli infection. I thought that was from eating raw meat. It can be, and maybe I had a bit of it and didn’t know it. Since we shared the same blood, to him that bit was a lot. He had to stay in the Neonatal ICU for 10 days just to be on antibiotics. Definitely was the longest 10 days of my life. Luckily I was able to stay at a Ronald McDonald House that was basically built in the parking lot across from the children’s unit.
I now have a totally healthy boy, and am very grateful for it, as Pre-eclampsia can cause the death of a baby and/or the mother. The symptoms are nothing to overlook. The other symptoms of the condition that I didn’t experience are sudden weight gain, headaches, reduced or no urine output, abdominal pain, a change in reflexes, dizziness, changes of vision, and excessive vomiting and nausea.
Yet, some women don’t have many symptoms, especially if the condition progresses rapidly. That’s where the protein check comes in handy in diagnosing Pre-eclampsia. There is the condition eclampsia which is the final and most severe phase of Pre-eclampsia and occurs when Pre-eclampsia goes untreated. When it gets that severe is when it can cause the mother to go into a coma and/or die. The baby can also die before, during, or after childbirth. Pre-eclampsia can cause the placenta to not receive enough blood, which can cause the baby to be born very small. It is one of the leading causes of premature births which can cause other problems: learning disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and hearing and vision problems.
The exact causes of Pre-eclampsia are unknown, but some researchers tend to lean toward three possible causes: the mother having poor nutrition or high body fat, or if there is insufficient blood flow to the uterus. You are at a higher risk to get Pre-eclampsia if you have a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy, have had Pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy, a history of it in your mother or sisters, obesity prior to pregnancy, carrying more than one baby, or have a history of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. It is most often seen in first-time pregnancies, in pregnant teens, and in women over 40.
As for treatment of Pre-eclampsia, a mild condition can be treated with bed rest or medication to try to prolong the pregnancy to increase the baby’s chance of survival. But when the symptoms are severe and/or the baby is in distress, as it was in my case, labor will be induced or a C section performed.
Editor's Note: Pre-eclampsia is still a condition that pregnant women should be aware of and is an issue may still effect a substanstial number of women every year. Prevention and/or early diagnosis can insure a healthy outcome for both mother and child.