Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Emma

Female
Age at interview: 38
Age at diagnosis: 34

Brief outline: I developed pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy which went to nearly 9 months. I was diagnosed at 8 months (38 weeks) and immediately sent to hospital. My baby was vaginally delivered with suction help from the doctors using a special cup placed on his head. My baby spent a week in SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit).

Background: My name is Emma, I am 38 years old and a scientist. I am married and have two sons, aged 4 and 1. I identify as White British.

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Early signs and being diagnosed

I developed pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy. I was diagnosed at 8 months (38 weeks) by my GP and immediately sent to hospital where I was admitted. I think my pre-eclampsia could have been picked up sooner – I had an appointment at 36 weeks with a midwife and, although I saw that my blood pressure reading was high, it was not commented on by the midwife and she didn’t ask me about any other symptoms. I had felt ill for most of my pregnancy with morning sickness and I didn’t think much of my headaches as I have a history of migraines. It wasn’t until I was in hospital that I realised these could be symptoms of pre-eclampsia. The diagnosis of pre-eclampsia shocked me but I was also relieved to know I would now be looked after. My GP was helpful and gave me some practical advice about packing a bag for hospital as it was likely I would have to stay there until my baby was born. I’m glad that some information about pre-eclampsia was held back at this stage though, such as the increased risk of stillbirth.

Being in hospital and giving birth

While in hospital, I was closely monitored and I took medication to reduce my blood pressure (labetalol). I also had medicine for morning sickness. The ward could be noisy and quite chaotic, and the nurses were sometimes so busy that I had to remind them to run tests or to give me medicines on time. It was frightening when I saw another patient on the ward have a fit as a result of high blood pressure (an eclamptic seizure). My blood pressure was checked every four hours, including throughout the night, and I had blood samples taken daily. I was also attached to a machine to trace the baby’s heart rate for an hour each day. After three days in hospital, I was induced and rapidly went into labour. My unborn son became unwell and had to be delivered quickly with suction help from the doctors using a special cup placed on his head. My baby wasn’t breathing at first and he had to be resuscitated. 

After this, my baby was sent to SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) and given a 48 hour course of antibiotics in case he had an infection. I felt unwell after the birth and my blood pressure was very high for about two days afterwards, so I couldn’t always visit my baby in SCBU. It was reassuring that the medical staff encouraged me to rest after the birth and I didn’t feel pressured to be with my baby on SCBU all the time. My husband spent time with our baby and, after a couple of days, I was able to have my baby with me on the ward. Both my baby and I were allowed to go home a week after the birth. 

After the birth

I continued to take blood pressure medicines for about a month. I also had my blood pressure checked daily either at my local GP surgery or at the hospital on weekends. I didn’t have any side-effects from the medicines. I found breastfeeding difficult and there was a lot of pressure to do it from medical professionals who didn’t take into account the fact I was poorly with pre-eclampsia. Back home with a new baby, it was difficult for me to remember to take the blood pressure medicines. It helped to draw up a chart to keep track of when I should take the medicines.

My next pregnancy

I had two miscarriages before getting pregnant with my second son. I was really worried about this pregnancy but I was closely monitored. It was good that I got to see the same community midwife throughout and she was well-informed about my history. I saw a consultant at 3 months (16 weeks) and was told to take aspirin to reduce the chances of developing pre-eclampsia. I didn’t go on to develop pre-eclampsia in my pregnancy with my second baby.

Information and support

An important source of support was my local children’s centre. I was put in touch with other women who had developed pre-eclampsia in their pregnancies. It was really helpful to speak to other mothers who had subsequent pregnancies after pre-eclampsia. I encourage other women in my position to also talk to people who have experienced it. I think it might also be useful for women who had pre-eclampsia to have an opportunity to talk to a medical professional about their experience a few weeks after giving birth.

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