Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Paige

Female
Age at interview: 20
Age at diagnosis: 19

Brief outline: I had pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy. I was taken into hospital at 7 months (32 weeks) and my daughter, Seren, was born the next day. I also had some serious problems with blood pressure after I had given birth. Seren was discharged after three weeks.

Background: My name is Paige, I am 20 years old and a university student. I live with my partner and have one daughter, aged 13 months. I identify as White Welsh.

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Symptoms and seeking help

I developed pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy. At my first midwife appointment, it was noted that I had high blood pressure but nothing more was said about this. My blood pressure was high when it was checked at subsequent appointments. I was told at a 5 months (25 week) appointment to go to hospital if I had any headaches. However, when I did get a slight headache, I spoke to my midwife and she said it was probably just a cold. My headache continued for a few days and so I called my GP, who advised me to go straight to hospital. I did but I was sent home again after having some tests. At 7 months (32 weeks) into my pregnancy, I developed other symptoms. I had swelling all over my body, chest pains and my vision was affected with black spots in my right eye as well as a constant headache. My mum was very worried and said I should get medical help. I was seen by my GP who sent me straight to hospital. I felt relieved that someone was finally listening to my concerns that something wasn’t right in the pregnancy.

Going into hospital

I was taken into hospital and started on blood pressure tablets. I was also given steroid injections to help my unborn baby’s lungs develop. I had the medicines as a drip when the tablets didn’t work, and this helped settle my blood pressure overnight. But then the next day, the doctors were concerned that my kidneys weren’t working. They told me that I would need to have the baby within the next 12 hours. This was a huge shock. I was upset to find out my baby would need to be delivered by c-section, as I’d been hoping for a water birth. 

My baby girl, Seren, was taken straight to SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit). She was in good health but, as a pre-caution, she was fitted with a breathing aid called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) which kept air blowing into her airways.

After giving birth

I continued to have serious problems with my blood pressure after I had given birth. I was bed-bound with my blood pressure unstable and I needed two types of medication to manage it. Despite this, I was discharged two days after the caesarean. I think this was too soon. My swelling started to return and I was re-admitted when it became clear that I was still very unwell. The second time I was discharged was more organised – they talked to me about follow-up care and gave me some leaflets to read. I continued to take blood pressure medicines for six months after giving birth and had frequent check-ups. I thought about buying a blood pressure monitor so I could check it at home. I decided against it in the end as I thought it might make me panic. I have some ongoing health concerns with my eyesight which I think might be a result of having had pre-eclampsia.

I wasn’t able to see Seren until 26 hours after she was born. Initially, I couldn’t touch or hold her and I could only watch her through the incubator. I hadn’t planned to breastfeed but decided to try after seeing my baby in SCBU. I had some difficulties at first but had good support to keep going. One of the blood pressure medications reduced my milk supply, which made breastfeeding more difficult and meant eventually moving Seren on to formula milk. The nurses encouraged me to get involved with caring for my baby and showed me how to do things, building up my confidence bit by bit. It was difficult to get to the hospital to see my daughter as the c-section meant I couldn’t drive. I had nearby family who helped a lot. Seren made good progress and was discharged after three weeks. I was delighted to take her home, but it was also a bit daunting.

Information and support

Up until being admitted to hospital, I hadn’t been told that I had pre-eclampsia. I think the diagnosis had been written in my medical notes for a few weeks but no one had discussed it with me. I wish I had been told and wonder whether earlier treatment might have helped me continue the pregnancy for longer. I was repeatedly dismissed by medical professionals in the run up to being admitted to hospital and then prematurely discharged after giving birth. My key message to medical professionals is to listen to the concerns of pregnant women, use less jargon and recognise that women with pre-eclampsia may be very scared. I looked online for information and also found support groups, which gave me opportunities to vent and talk to other people with similar experiences. I feel strongly that there needs to be more awareness about pre-eclampsia.

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