Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Kay

Female
Age at interview: 42
Age at diagnosis: 38

Brief outline: I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia 5 months (25 weeks) into my second pregnancy. I was kept in hospital and, whilst there, ended up in Intensive Care three times. My baby, Imogen, was born by emergency c-section. She stayed in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and spent three months in hospital.

Background: My name is Kay, I am 42 years old and a bus driver. I have two daughters, aged 18 and 4. I identify as White British.

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High blood pressure problems developing

I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia 5 months (25 weeks) into my second pregnancy. The first sign was probably my ankles swelling three weeks earlier, but I thought this was because I had been on a flight recently. I started to feel overheated and had cold-like symptoms. Due to a mix up with dates, I had the anomaly scan (usually at 20 weeks) when I was 25 weeks into my pregnancy. This appointment showed that I had high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine. My midwife contacted the hospital and I was told to go to my GP surgery the next day for re-testing. When the measurements were taken next day, I was immediately sent to hospital so they could monitor me. I was given some tablets to reduce my blood pressure before being sent home and told to return the next day for more checks. I was told the next day that it was now pre-eclampsia and so I would have to stay in hospital. I wasn’t keen on this, especially because I felt fine except for the cold-like symptoms. My partner persuaded me it was for the best that I stay in hospital.

Becoming more unwell

During my stay in hospital, I started to feel very unwell. The situation went from bad to worse as I started to have other symptoms. I felt sick and faint; I had blurry vision, swelling on my face, back pain and some nosebleeds. I felt overheated all the time, which I later found out was because of problems with my kidneys from pre-eclampsia. I was rushed into Intensive Care on three separate occasions. I was becoming very ill and my doctors told her me I would need to deliver my baby soon, but I was in denial and struggled to believe it was true. I was 6 months (27 weeks) into my pregnancy and so my due date was still months away. I had a look around NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) – the size of the incubators were shocking, but it was also reassuring to see that the facility and medical staff were set up ready to take care of Imogen as soon as she was born.

Giving birth and health impacts

I had no fight left in me by the time I was taken to Intensive Care for the third time. I was told that I would need an emergency c-section. This went ahead but we weren’t told much about what was happening. My partner and I were unsure if our daughter had survived the birth until a nurse told us she had been taken to NICU. Imogen was 1lb 8oz at birth. She was very poorly, had breathing problems and was at high risk of infection. It was 10 days before I could cuddle her for the first time. I discharged myself four days after giving birth as I needed to get back to normality – I hoped it would mean that everything was going to be okay. Imogen stayed in hospital for three months and I visited her every day, although I was still very unwell myself. I continued to have check-ups and took blood pressure medicine. 

I have some lasting damage to my kidneys and often get tired quite easily. I found out that I now have low levels of iron in my blood and so I can’t be a blood donor. This really upset me because Imogen had needed blood transfusions to live, as do many other premature babies. The whole experience left me with post-traumatic stress disorder and I feel guilty about what had happened to my baby as a result of pre-eclampsia. My oldest daughter was also very upset – it had been incredibly frightening for her as she didn’t know if she would lose both her mum and unborn baby sister.

Receiving support

The medical staff who looked after me and Imogen were great. I felt safe under their care and I really trusted the consultant I saw. Although this consultant has quite a direct tone, I appreciated his honesty and he went out of his way to offer me reassurance at the times when I needed it the most. I knew there was a support group at my hospital for families who had premature babies. I didn’t want to be involved at first though. I was worried all the other parents attending would have their babies with them whilst mine was still very ill in NICU. I eventually became close friends with another of the support group members – she had also had pre-eclampsia and so she understood what I had been through. At the time, I felt I couldn’t open up to anyone about what was happening. I put on a brave face but now think I should have talked more about how much it was affecting me.

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