I often share this story to my pregnant clients in the middle of a pregnancy Pilates class or within our physio sessions. My experience is always met with many inquisitive and ears and many questions afterwards. Pre-eclampsia is not talked about much, or enough in my experience, but yet it affects 1 in 10 pregnant mothers. I know that I knew nothing of it until it happened to me
This is my story.
For me, my first pregnancy was relatively easy and uncomplicated. Lots of exercise, no morning sickness, quick ante natal visits at Royal Women's Hospital at Randwick. A dream pregnancy really and a plan to work as a physio right up to the end of my 38th week. But, this all changed when at my 38 week visit there was some commotion over my blood pressure and its steep rise from the last visit. An early 8am appointment and then straight to work was the plan on this particular day. However I was suddenly admitted for the day for further testing and I had to cancel my entire day of clients and classes. I was not impressed! I had been feeling perfectly fine. No symptoms whatsoever. What was all the fuss about?
In the day unit, I was to have blood tests for liver and clotting function, another urgent ultrasound assessment for the health of baby and constant blood pressure checks almost on the half hour. I still felt fine, not a sign or feeling of illness to speak of.
However, later that afternoon, I was met by the endocrine specialist OB ('the Prof'). According to him, I was apparently gravely unwell - I was showing signs of severe liver failure, and my baby was distressed with less than than the usual amniotic fluid measured around him. I was for immediate admission to the hospital to be monitored and for probable induction into early labour in the coming days. I couldn't believe it! Hubbie joined me for dinner- he bought in take away and all my belongings. I had not packed my maternity bag as yet. I know now that I should have been better prepared! We spent the night sorting out my early exit from my physio clinic- things to do, ends to tie up, people to notify.
Pre-eclampsia, formally called toxemia, is when a pregnant woman shows high blood pressure and high protein in their urine. It can range from mild to severe. It usually happens late in pregnancy, but can happen as early as 20 weeks, or even after delivery. Pre-eclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a serious condition that can have health risks for mum and baby and, in rare cases, cause death. The only cure for pre-eclampsia is to give birth. Even after delivery, symptoms of pre-eclampsia can last 1 to 6 weeks or more.
It is uncertain why this occurs for 1 in 10 pregnant women. It is thought to be related to the placenta not working the way it should. Some experts think high body fat might contribute, or a lack of blood flow to the uterus. Genes are also a factor.
For me, I had an uneventful first night after admission and Thai take away, and I was up early for brekkie. I was allowed to walk around the hospital, but to stay close. At lunch time, I started to feel quite strange. Poor hearing, almost as if I were inside a bubble. I had started to develop a headache, one of the common signs of pre-eclampsia, but what startled and scared me the most was the loss of vision. I began to lose peripheral vision to the right, with a blackout in this visual field. It came on all so quickly, within the hour, and after a quick response visit from 'the Prof' at my bedside, I was in for a C section within the hour. I don't think I really ever felt in danger until the rush to theatre to give birth and to get the placenta out. The urgency in the staff, the sudden calls to my husband made it all very real.
Baby Oliver was born via C section at 38+4, all OK but with breathing difficulties. He spent an hour or so on oxygen and perked up quickly. And yes, hubbie made it just in time to get on the gowns and be with me during the birth. Oliver was checked regularly for that first night- I think they were more concerned about him than me. I do recall not much sleep that night as my blood pressures were checked every hour. Apparently all settling down without any further todo after the birth, which I understand now was lucky for me. I did not have to take any meds for my blood pressure, went home at day 4 and needed no medical intervention until the usual 6 week post natal check-up with my GP.
All in all, everything worked out OK, however I do often think I was a lucky girl to have had this picked up on the day of my ante-natal visit. I often wonder, if my appointment was a few days after, would I have just soldiered on, thinking that these mild symptoms were a part of pregnancy in the final weeks? How long would I have waited before thinking a hospital trip to A&E was warranted? Would could have happened to me or Oliver if I were slow to act?
Watch for the signs of possible pre-eclampsia and act on them immediately. I could not believe the speed at which I suddenly felt unwell after such an easy pregnancy. It can happen to any of us. Watch for
- sudden weight gain due to a large increase in bodily fluid
- belly pain, especially in the upper right side
- peeing less or not at all
- sudden vomiting and nausea
- visual changes like flashing lights, floaties and blurred or greyed vision
Remember also, that some women with pre-eclampsia don’t even have any symptoms, so it’s important to see your doctor for regular blood pressure checks and urine tests.