Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Lyndsey

Female
Age at interview: 39
Age at diagnosis: 34

Brief outline: I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia 8 months (35 weeks) into my pregnancy. I was taken to hospital for bedrest and, soon afterwards, my baby was delivered by c-section. My baby, Thomas, was very small and he was cared for on SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) for three weeks.

Background: My name is Lyndsey, I am 39 years old. I am married and have one son, aged 5. I identify as White British.

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Being diagnosed with a high blood pressure problem in pregnancy

After two years of trying to conceive and shortly after surgery for fertility investigations, I became pregnant. All went well with my pregnancy until a routine midwife appointment at 7 months (33 weeks) showed I had high blood pressure. I went for more checks at the labour ward before being sent home; I was told to come back every few days so that they could keep an eye on my blood pressure. At a growth scan at 35 weeks, I was told that I had pre-eclampsia – the diagnosis was made because I had protein in my urine sample and a low platelet count from a blood sample as well as high blood pressure. I had not heard of the condition before and did not have any symptoms like swelling or problems with my vision. I did have an ache at the top of my bump at one point but it went away after a few hours; I just thought I had overdone it walking up and down the stairs at work that day.

Staying in hospital and giving birth

I was admitted to the antenatal ward and I was told that I would probably be induced when my pregnancy was nearing the end of 8 months (37 weeks). However, shortly after being taken into hospital at 35 weeks, my blood pressure was checked again and it was very high. I was told that my baby needed to be delivered sooner as it was not safe to continue the pregnancy. I was shocked and in denial. I went to the labour ward, had a magnesium drip (to reduce the risks of a fit) and my blood pressure was continually monitored. After three attempts to induce labour with pessaries and lots of waiting, my doctor mentioned a c-section to the midwives in attendance. I seized upon this option as I was exhausted by that point and had little hope of the birth I had actually wanted. My doctors were initially reluctant but I am glad I pressed for a c-section as the delivery was quick and the atmosphere in the operating theatre was very relaxed.

My baby’s health

My baby, Thomas, was very small when he was born. I think there had been a mistake at the dating scan and that my baby was actually two or three weeks younger than they had estimated (i.e. I think he was born at 32/33 rather than 35 weeks). Thomas had fluid on his lungs and he was taken to SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit). To help his breathing, he had CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) which kept air blowing into his airways. 

My breast milk didn’t come in for several days. When it did, there often weren’t enough breast pumps on the post-natal ward to go around. There were some good spaces screened off on SCBU that I could use to express though. At first, I was only able to look at my baby lying in his cot. I was soon able to get more involved with changing nappies and dressing him. Thomas stayed in hospital for three weeks.

My health after giving birth

I was in and out of consciousness after the c-section. I was moved to a post-natal ward and given medicine to reduce my blood pressure. It hadn’t been explained to me that my baby would be taken to SCBU after the birth and so I had expected him to be in the room when I returned from the operating theatre. Being on the post-natal ward with other new mothers and their babies was hard. It was also difficult to visit my baby in SCBU as I recovered. On one occasion, the nurses said that they couldn’t take me. It wasn’t until I became very upset that someone explained there was an emergency which meant the nurses were currently unavailable. 

I discharged myself from hospital a week after giving birth. I had my blood pressure checked at the hospital sometimes when I was visiting Thomas in SCBU. I stopped taking my blood pressure medicine once my baby was home as I was busier. I wasn’t given any information about post-natal pre-eclampsia risks and only found out about this sometime later. I also found out from my medical records that my blood pressure had been steadily rising throughout the pregnancy, but nothing had been said to me about it at the time.

The emotional impact

It was difficult being apart from my baby. I was in shock about the situation and found it difficult to bond with Thomas as I couldn’t touch or hug him at first. The medical staff in SCBU said my baby would be going home soon but they didn’t explain how long they meant by this. I didn’t want to talk to people about what had happened to me at first and I declined offers from friends to visit me and Thomas in hospital. Instead, I wanted to wait until we were both home and settled. It was helpful to hear others’ similar experiences through an online support group. I also shared some tips I learnt, such as taking a lip balm into SCBU as I found the air very dry. My advice to other pregnant women is to speak up if things don’t seem right and to be involved in decisions if possible.

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