Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Olivia

Female
Age at interview: 32
Age at diagnosis: 28

Brief outline: I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia 8 months (37 weeks) into my first pregnancy, but I had symptoms from 3 months (14 weeks). I went into labour and vaginally delivered my baby. The birth was traumatic as I wasn’t given the pain relief I had asked for.

Background: My name is Olivia, I am 32 and a social care worker. I am married and have one son, aged 4. I identify as White British.

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Seeking a diagnosis and medical help

I had pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy. I spotted that I had raised blood pressure readings and linked this to pre-eclampsia from around 3 months (14 weeks). However, the condition wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 8 months (37 weeks) into my pregnancy. I was very anxious about the pregnancy throughout. Adding to this was the sense that my concerns and symptoms were not being taken seriously. For example, I had my first dizzy episode with visual disturbance when I was 3 months (14 weeks) pregnant, swelling on my hands and feet from 4 months (20 weeks), and pain around my bump from 7 months (34 weeks).

Despite me repeatedly telling community midwives about these symptoms, it wasn’t until my blood pressure reached a ‘magic number’ threshold at 8 months (37 weeks). I was then admitted to hospital but had to wait for a bed to be available. The process was very frustrating and scary. Because the midwives didn’t seem to recognise the seriousness of the situation, my main source of information on pre-eclampsia was from online pregnancy forums. I had some other health concerns during my pregnancy too, such as cervical polyps which caused some bleeding, and I was investigated for a suspected blood clot in my leg.

Staying in hospital

In hospital, I was officially diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure was monitored but I wasn’t given any medication for it. I was told to rest as much as possible and a week of this helped. My blood pressure lowered, so I was about to be discharged to continue bedrest at home. However, my cervical mucus plug then came out, which meant that labour would soon start. I was sent home anyway but returned a few hours later because my waters were leaking – a particular concern since I had tested positive for Group B strep (GBS – a bacteria that can be passed to the baby and cause infections). I was examined and my blood pressure had become high again. My unborn baby was showing signs of struggling and his heartbeat was slowing down. I was given antibiotics to reduce the risk of passing on GBS to my baby and I was induced. The birth was traumatic – I had requested an epidural but never received one. I was in a lot of pain and didn’t feel I was being listened to.

The emotional impact

After giving birth, my baby and I were both monitored because of GBS infection risks. Although I later learnt that high blood pressure can still be a serious problem after birth, this wasn’t communicated to me at the time and I wasn’t monitored properly. I had to remind the midwives to check on me. 48 hours after giving birth, I was discharged with no further information about follow-up care or signs of blood pressure problems to look out for. I developed post-partum depression and became a very anxious new mother. My bad experiences left me feeling that I don’t want to have another pregnancy again. I also have some unanswered questions about whether I’m more likely to have blood pressure problems again later in life. 

My key message to other pregnant women is to keep contacting their midwives if they suspect something is wrong. If information about high blood pressure problems in pregnancy is not forthcoming from their doctors and midwives, I encourage pregnant women to educate themselves about it.

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