High blood pressure forced me to have my baby prematurely. There were no warning signs.
As Nicole told Audrey Spector
As a maternal fetal medicine nurse, I am used to walking from one patient to the next. But on that day in December 2012, the ground was unusually calm.
So I thought to myself, “What the hell? Can get my fetal stress test done too.”
Just before the 36th week of pregnancy, I still had eight days until my pregnancy was fully carried out.
I expected my blood pressure to be normal because I am completely fine. No headaches, no blemishes, no nausea or other symptoms that would indicate high blood pressure. When my caregiver told me my blood pressure was too high, I thought it must be a mistake that the cuff might not be fitting properly.
Taking my blood pressure was something I did regularly during my pregnancy. It’s a good habit that I recommend to all of my mothers-to-be. Understanding your blood pressure readings is just as important, as you never know when to have high blood pressure, often called a silent killer, will strike.
My foster colleague measured my blood pressure a second time. And a third time. It didn’t go down and my fear increased. I was told to hand over my current patients to my colleagues and come back to be accepted as a patient.
Anyone 35 and older is considered advanced maternal age. At 42, I was all too aware that I was at. was high risk of complications. But up to that point everything had been normal.
If my blood pressure remains high, complications can arise quickly, including pre-eclampsia – a dangerous complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to other organs, usually the kidneys or liver.
Preeclampsia is most common in women over the 20th week of pregnancy. We lost a mother and her baby to the condition on our floor a few months earlier. We all still bore raw grief and I knew exactly what my care team was thinking when they came in and out of my room.
There is no clear way to prevent preeclampsia and the only way to treat it (if you are as advanced as I am) is to have the baby.
It all made sense to me as a nurse. But as a pregnant woman having her first baby, I felt the world go out of hand. There had been no warning signs.
I couldn’t give birth now! It was too early. And by too early I don’t just mean early; I mean a premature birth – which means a higher risk of complications for the baby who is not quite ready for birth.
I wanted to hit that 36 week mark because it meant less testing for the baby and it was moved to the regular crib instead of the newborn crib. It only took me one more day to get there.
But there was no way around it. It did and it happened quickly.
My great doctor called me on the way to the hospital and said, “Listen to me, we’ve come this far. I’m not going to lose this baby and, more importantly, I’m not going to lose you.”
He told me what I already knew but couldn’t hear: I needed an emergency Caesarean section.
It was then that I realized that I had to take off my nurses hat and do what every pregnant woman in my position has to do: all my trust and all my trust in the excellent medical team that looked after me. I was lucky enough to know them all from working with them. There was no question that I was in the best of hands.
And so I gave up – and hoped with all my might that my baby and I would survive it well.
Fortunately, the caesarean section was a success. My blood pressure stabilized and my cute boy was born at 35 weeks, weighed 5 pounds, 18 ounces and was 21 inches long.
I longed to keep and care for him right away, but because he was born prematurely, he was sent to the special care nursery, where he stayed for five excruciatingly long days.
When my son and I finally got home together, I expected to be relieved, but felt even more hectic than in the hospital.
The baby’s nursery, which was being assembled when I underwent the emergency caesarean section, was in a mess. The walls had to be repainted and there were still unopened boxes from my baby shower a week earlier.
My husband and a few close friends came to help, encouraging me to rest, and reminding me that I had just had an operation and that I had to take it slow.
The nurse and the perfectionist in me wanted everything to be exactly as it should be. But just like in the hospital, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that everything would be fine.
It was the most difficult time of my life and yet also the most beautiful because we survived it. But I often ask myself, “What if I didn’t happen to have measured my blood pressure that day?”
My son and I may not be alive today.
More education about pregnancy and heart health is needed. It is important to know your blood pressure readings, write them down so you can see them, and by having your blood pressure measured you will know if your readings are stable or if your blood pressure is rising. Know the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure – although the tricky part is, like me, you may not experience any symptoms. Trust your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right or feels different, call your doctor right away.
That is why I recommend all my pregnant patients to keep all pregnancy dates and to measure their blood pressure frequently. If you can, just go to a pharmacy or grocery store that has blood pressure monitors.
It’s a simple thing. And it could save your – and your baby’s – life.
This resource was created with the assistance of Covis.
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