Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Josie

Female
Age at interview: 45
Age at diagnosis: 39

Brief outline: I developed pre-eclampsia around 6 months (29/30 weeks) into my second pregnancy. I spent two weeks in hospital before I went into labour and had an emergency c-section. My baby spent several weeks in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).

Background: My name is Josie, I am 43 years old and runs a children’s bookselling business. I am married and have one son, aged 6. I identify as Mixed ethnicity.

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Health concerns and seeking help

My first pregnancy ended with an early miscarriage. In my second pregnancy, I developed pre-eclampsia around 6 months (29/30 weeks). I had been to my pregnancy clinic on a number of occasions because I was worried that I couldn’t feel my baby move much in the womb. Sometimes my concerns about this were dismissed. When my ankles became swollen, my husband (who is medically-trained) took my blood pressure and found it was high, so I went to hospital. I had my blood pressure measured again and the reading was quite high. I also had a urine sample checked and this showed some protein. I was sent home and told that my midwife would run these checks on me again in a few days. 

My blood pressure was lower when it was checked again. I still felt worried though that I couldn’t feel my baby move in the womb much. I decided to pay for a private ultrasound scan, which showed my baby was small for the dates and the amniotic fluid level was low. At this point, I was 6 months (30 weeks) pregnant and I went back to the hospital. I was told that these two aspects were not cause for concern at the moment, but I was admitted because my blood pressure was sky high again and there was protein in my urine.

Leading up to giving birth

My blood pressure was monitored at hospital. However, it was difficult being on a ward with other women who were waiting to be induced at full term. I had steroid injections to help my baby develop in anticipation of him being born early. I stayed in hospital so that my blood pressure and my baby’s heartbeat could be monitored. I took some medicines but some of them had side-effects.  One called Adalat (nifedipine) made me light-headed and woozy. I didn’t always realise how serious the situation was and it could be very confusing. I remember some times when doctors said that I would need an emergency c-section right away but then the plans were postponed. 

At 7 months (32 weeks), my waters broke and my unborn baby’s heart rate was closely monitored. The changes in his heartbeat were a cause for concern but I had been given injections with a blood-thinning medicine shortly beforehand so I couldn’t be operated on for some time. Early in the morning, I was rushed into the operating theatre and my baby was delivered. I remember there being a sense of panic. My baby was taken to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). I was very unwell, with a high temperature and intense pain once the epidural wore off. There seemed to be an expectation that I would start expressing milk right away, and the doctors and nurses didn’t want to give me strong pain-relief because of this. I was able to see my baby the following day in NICU.

Following the birth

After having my baby, I was again in a ward with new mothers and babies which was hard. I was discharged three days later but had to keep checking my blood pressure at home. My baby stayed in NICU for several weeks before coming home, and he had jaundice and breathing difficulties at first. It was frightening going into the NICU with the busyness of all these machines that make a lot of noise all the time and being around other poorly babies. I’m unsure whether my baby’s prematurity will have any lasting effects on his health, but I think he may have a sensory processing disorder.

Emotional impacts and messages for others

I saw a counsellor at the hospital and attended some meetings of a support group for the families of premature babies. I was given some leaflets about the charity Bliss when I was discharged. I had forgotten about the leaflets and it was many months later when I got around to reading them. I had a follow-up meeting with my consultant – this was interesting but mostly focused on what would happen if I wanted to get pregnant again. It was reassuring to speak to a friend who is a doula and had previously been a neonatal nurse, and this gave me a chance to talk about the emotional side of things. I think there should be more information about pre-eclampsia in GP clinics and hospitals. It should be flagged earlier on in pregnancies, especially to women at ‘high risk’ of developing the condition. It’s important to know that a woman with pre-eclampsia may not show all of the ‘classic’ symptoms. I didn’t have any of the pre-eclampsia symptoms that medical professionals say to look out for, such as epigastric pain or seeing bright lights, and I didn’t think my headaches were a cause for concern at the time.

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