Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Tracey

Female
Age at interview: 39
Age at diagnosis: 29

Brief outline: I developed pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome in my first pregnancy. I was diagnosed 6 months (29 weeks) into my pregnancy. My baby daughter was born by emergency c-section and stayed in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for three months.

Background: My name is Tracey, I am 39 years old and a catering manager. I am divorced and have two children, a daughter aged 10 and a son aged 5. I identify as White British.

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Becoming unwell

I developed pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome in my first pregnancy. I felt poorly throughout and was often sick, which I put down to being ‘normal’ morning sickness. 6 months (29 weeks) into my pregnancy, I got in touch with my GP about a burning pain I had in my chest. The doctor said it was probably indigestion and I should take heartburn medicine. I did this but felt more uncomfortable and unwell as the day went on. I couldn’t get hold of my midwife so I went straight to hospital. I had lots of tests and was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia. The pain in my chest happened because my liver had not been functioning properly. 

Everything happened very quickly and I had an emergency c-section. This was horrific and there were lots of medical staff gathered around me. Everyone just appeared in a whole rush with panic on their faces. I was given a general anaesthetic to send me to sleep but I woke up in the operating theatre, needing more pain-relief. I was taken to Intensive Care after the operation. It was traumatic as I didn’t know where my baby was when I woke up from the operation. My blood pressure was monitored and settled without further treatment once my daughter, Niamh, was born. 

My baby’s health

Niamh was taken to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I wasn’t able to see her for two days. I was given a photograph though – it was a huge shock to see my baby as a little red blob in a plastic bag, a little woolly hat and wires everywhere. At the time, it was unclear whether Niamh would survive. My baby was given something called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) which kept air blowing into her airways so she could breathe more easily. After a while, she started breathing on her own and didn’t need CPAP anymore. 

I was discharged after 12 days but went into the hospital every day to spend time with my baby. It was difficult to bond with Niamh at first and I felt guilty about what had happened. The nurses took on most of the roles in caring for Niamh, but this mean that I didn’t feel like a mum. I’m pleased I expressed breast milk though, which was tube-fed to my baby. Niamh spent three months in hospital before I was able to take her home. My baby was still very small and it was upsetting seeing bigger babies when I went for weigh-ins at the doctors. I didn’t want other people to pity me or ask questions about what had happened to my daughter. 

The emotional impact

I struggled with the emotional impact of my experiences for many years. I recently started counselling which has helped. I felt cheated by the negative experience of my first pregnancy and birth, and it put me off having more children. However, a few years after the birth of Niamh, I began to rethink this. I met with a midwife to discuss the changes of me developing high blood pressure problems again. I was told that I would be closely monitored as a ‘high risk’ pregnancy. My second pregnancy went well. It gave me the opportunity to have the kinds of positive experiences that other women have of pregnancy and birth, which I felt had been taken away from me in my first pregnancy. Although the birth of my second baby required a forceps delivery, being awake for the birth made a huge difference as I knew what was happening and was able to see my son straight away. 

Areas for improvement

I felt very let down by the lack of after-care from the hospital following my first pregnancy, both in terms of physical and emotional support.  I was frightened throughout my time in hospital and there seemed to be no recognition of this or efforts to reassure me. Shortly after giving birth, I was left alone in a hospital room for hours on end. I wasn’t offered the opportunity to talk to someone at the time or soon afterwards, but I would have liked more information about what happened to me. My advice to medical professionals treating women with pre-eclampsia is to communicate clearly about the situation. I know that I had little choice in the emergency c-section and that it was necessary, but I wish someone had taken the time after the operation to explain to me what had happened. I hope that things have changed in the 11 years since my experience and that pregnant women with pre-eclampsia are now better looked after.

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