My husband Bill and I were thrilled to discover we were expecting our first baby in January of 1998. I chose a doctor from our local hospital and my due date was determined to be September 16, 1998. My pregnancy went along pretty much as expected although I had morning sickness for 22 weeks and I started to swell by the fifth month to the point I could no longer wear my rings or shoes. My doctor reassured me these symptoms were normal and that I was doing wonderfully with such an "easy" pregnancy.
I was teaching second grade and spent all day on my feet and could not even leave the classroom to use the bathroom! Looking back now, I realize I should have rested more. Just a few months after I became pregnant, my husband and I bought our first house and began the stressful process of moving and redoing our little dream home. I was exhausted but determined to not let my pregnancy slow me down in my responsibilities. I did not respect the fact that pregnancy is a time that requires you to be in tune with your body and take life easier than usual. After all, we are growing a human life in our body!
I entered my last trimester just in time for a hot New England summer - I will never again plan a pregnancy for this time of year! I began to swell more and more until even the larger "fake" wedding ring I had purchased no longer fit, and I had to wear ugly flip style sandals every day. At my checkup on week 34, the doctor noted there was protein in my urine but told me not to worry. I did worry and rightfully so because I was on my way to developing a fairly severe case of pre-eclampsia. At my next visit a week later not only had the amount of protein in my urine increased but my blood pressure has shot up as well. I was put on bedrest as the doctor tried to get me to 38 weeks to deliver.
I made it to week 37 before my liver function became affected and my blood pressure continued to climb. On Monday, August 31, I was admitted to the hospital following a doctor's appointment. I was told not to even go home to get my bag but to drive straight on to the hospital. Needless to say, my husband and I were scared to death. I was quickly checked in, hooked up to an IV and blood pressure cuff, told to lay on my left side (where I would have to stay until much later that week) and given a dose of cervidil which is used to soften the cervix for delivery. My doctor told me that cervidil took at least 12 hours to have any effect and that in all likelihood I would be given two doses meaning that Pitocin would not be started for 24 hours! My husband and I were told to not expect the baby until Wednesday or Thursday. I was very concerned that things would not be moving along more quickly as my blood pressure continued to climb and my fears that my baby was in danger grew.
Within several hours after my first dose of cervidil I began experiencing cramps. I was told this was a side effect of the medication. By about 9:00 that night the nurse convinced my husband to go home and told me I had to take a sleeping pill because it would be a couple of days before my baby appeared. By 10:30 my water broke! I called the nurse who told me she thought labor was starting (you think!) but not to call my husband because it would be many more hours. Thank God I didn't listen to her and made my husband come right back! My contractions had become unbearable by the time he got there and dilation was moving right along. A new nurse came on shift who made it clear she hated her job and having to be there in the middle of the night - talk about your supportive birthing experience! She told me I would never get through labor by rolling around and moaning and said I needed a tranquilizer. I don't know if I ever really gave consent as I was pretty out of it from the sleeping pill, but she gave me a shot of something that knocked me out. I would wake up to the pain of the contraction, but all the medication made it impossible for me to speak clearly so it was difficult to get support.
By 2:00 AM I was given an epidural at 5 cm. After that my husband and I slept until I was told it was time to push at 5:00 AM. My wonderful nurse came in yawning loudly and asked my husband to go get her a cup of coffee! She napped on my bed in between telling me to "push." Finally my doctor arrived who told me how to push properly and ordered the nurse to hook me up to a pit drip (she forgot to turn it on so for an hour I pushed in vain). The baby's heart rate was dropping with each contraction and my husband overheard the doctor saying if the baby didn't come in the next 20 minutes I would have a section. Pediatric specialists were called into the room and a vacuum extraction was prepared for. I had an episiotomy and the vacuum sucked Benjamin Michael right out at 7:33 AM on September 1, 1998. He was 5 pounds, 0 ounces.
My blood pressure continued to rise during the next few hours, no doubt from calling relatives and having my mother and sister come in. I was started on a drip of Magnesium Sulfate that would last for 48 hours. During this time I was not allowed to have visitors, breastfeed, or move from my bed. I remained on my left side in bed having little chance to see my precious baby. Every 15 minutes the blood pressure cuff would go off on my arm causing me to have a panic attack about the numbers that would read out. Every four hours my blood was drawn to check my organ functions. By the time I left the hospital my veins had collapsed. I was hallucinating on the drip and kept thinking angels were touching my hair and feet - I think they really may have been. I wanted to see my family and my baby and each blood pressure reading kept me from them.
Finally on Thursday I was sent to the recovery ward where I was given limited visits with my baby. He had been on the bottle for almost three days and could not latch on when I tried to breastfeed him. I was devastated. By now I had also developed what would later be diagnosed as white coat hypertension and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don't think I had an accurate blood pressure reading from that day on because I would have a panic attack each time the cuff was put on my arm. I had terrible insomnia and thought I was going to die for the duration of my hospital stay and I am sorry to say I was never made to believe otherwise by the staff. I thought I would never get to go home again and that I would be hooked up to another round of Magnesium Sulfate. I did not get to bond with my tiny miracle.
The doctor waited until she told me I could go home on Friday before telling me my baby would probably not be going with me as he had dropped to 4 pounds 11 ounces. Thank God for my wonderful pediatrician who, with many years of practice under his belt, said I could take my healthy little boy home. In his experience babies thrive when they get home and sure enough Benjamin did. He weighed in at 10 pounds by his eight week checkup and has continued to thrive each and every day.
I, on the other hand, had continuing problems because of our ordeal and was diagnosed with postpartum depression / post-traumatic stress disorder after severe insomnia that lasted two nights. I have taken antidepressants for the past year and am now weaning off of them and I also have been seeing a wonderful psychologist who has helped me gain wisdom from my experience.
My husband and I are planning to have several more children but want a nurse midwife and a doula for our future deliveries. We also will be seeking out an alternative hospital next time! When I look at my one year old son, I know how blessed we are to have him here with us. In researching pre-eclampsia over the past year I have come across many stories of babies who did not survive because they were taken so soon. Even after the traumatic experience I had I realize how lucky we are to have had such a wonderful outcome. I have given up teaching for now so I can spend every day with Benjamin, and I treasure every moment I have with him!