Preeclampsia, a get to the hospital now story

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the last few weeks of pregnancy were not fun for me. I was wildly uncomfortable and full of anxious nerves. Each day seemed to last a week and I felt like I was trapped in my own body with symptoms getting more uncomfortable by the day. And to my poor husband, I apologize. I know I was not pleasant to be around.

Around week 36 of my pregnancy, I started having what I called “vision spells,” where out of nowhere I would start seeing stars or “auras” and lose almost all vision in one eye and only be able to see out of my peripheral in the other. It would last about 20-30 minutes and then dissipate. The first time it happened, we were at the Olive Garden—leave me alone, I had a craving for breadsticks—and I couldn’t read the menu. I was trying not to freak out and cause a scene amongst the crowd enjoying their unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks, but I was truly frightened.

Visual disturbances are a symptom of preeclampsia—a serious pregnancy complication that affects roughly 5% of pregnancies, that is often characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, that if left untreated can lead to very serious and even fatal complications to both mom and baby. Other symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling, headache, nausea and shortness of breath, which to be honest are all symptoms of a normal pregnancy too, so don’t freak out mamas. When I saw my doctor for my 36-week checkup, I talked to her about the scary visual disturbance that had happened, and just as I began to talk about it, it happened again. Right there in her office… I mean, that never happens! (You know… Like when you’re driving around for months with a check engine light on, but as you pull into the dealership it turns off?) I started crying—the usual at that point in pregnancy—but honestly, I was really freaked out. I mean, I was having temporary bouts of blindness, that’s scary AF.

I did not have high blood pressure or protein in my urine to indicate preeclampsia, so they sent me to the lab to see if there was anything else going on with my bloodwork that could make sense of the vision spells I was having. The bloodwork showed that my blood platelets were low. They weren’t low enough to worry at that point, but they wanted to check again in a few days to monitor. Blood platelets are what helps blood in the body clot, which is very important during childbirth, because, well, there is so. much. blood. during childbirth. I had bloodwork done 2 more times before my 37-week appointment and continued to have the visual disturbances off and on every day or so. I had also stopped driving at that point because the visual issues happened randomly and without warning.

On the morning of my 37-week checkup, I still had no typical signs of preeclampsia (high BP + protein in urine) but my doctor ordered a rush panel as my platelets had continued to drop over that week, and she wanted to test one more time. She explained to me that she would call as soon as the panels came back, but if my blood platelets had dropped again, it would be cause for induction.

Now, as much as I did not want to be pregnant anymore, this was frightening. Pregnancy is considered full term at 37 weeks, but I did not see this one coming. I was sure I’d be an overdue mama. I called my husband at work and told him what had transpired at the appointment, but told him not to worry, and that I was pretty sure if I were to get induced, it would probably be scheduled for later in the week. When the doctor called a few hours later, she informed me that she didn’t like what she was seeing, that my platelets had continued to drop, and now my liver levels were elevated as well. She then said she felt it was time to end the pregnancy.

Wait. What?

The phrase “end the pregnancy” hit me like a ton of bricks, well, it was more like I ran into a brick wall and got slapped into reality real quick.

With a shaky voice, I asked, “Okay, when?”

Her response, “Now. I’ve already sent your charts over and spoken to the doctor on call. They’re waiting for you. You’ll be induced tonight. You’re in good hands.”

Even though she delivered that news calmly and in the most reassuring way, it left me trembling.

She explained that although I don’t have the typical symptoms of preeclampsia, sometimes it presents itself in strange ways. She classified it as “atypical preeclampsia” which is typical of me to get a rare pregnancy complication and then make it even more rare by not even getting the standard, run-of-the mill preeclampsia.

Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to whine about being uncomfortable and pregnant anymore. My placenta previa-turned low-lying placenta seemed like the most minor of issues, even though just a month or so prior it had me very worried. If I would have known this would have transpired the night before, I might have laid off the theatrics of sobbing for an hour after I realized I had lost a button to my duvet cover. (Pregnancy hormones and nerves will really make ya loco, y’all). But I felt guilty. Like I had somehow willed the universe into giving me a scary complication so that I could have the baby sooner, and now we were both at risk. It was a real “be careful what you wish for” moment for me.

I had now been slapped with a scary diagnosis and it was go-time, I didn’t have too much time to think about it honestly. I called my husband and let him know he needed to get home ASAP. Luckily, we had packed our hospital bags two weeks prior so we were ready to go, but we hadn’t put the car seat in yet as it had been snowing non-stop. He rushed home, and with the help of YouTube got the car seat installed, grabbed our bags and we headed to the hospital. We began calling and texting friends and family to let them know what was going on and shortly after we arrived, we were admitted. To be honest, even though I was shaking violently, I was oddly calm. I knew I had a job to do, and that the best treatment for preeclampsia was delivery of the baby. I knew we were in good hands and we were going to meet our little boy soon. This wasn’t at all how I had expected things to go, but pregnancy is weird like that. It was very surreal that what had started as a routine 37-week prenatal appointment landed me in the hospital, but there we were.

As I got changed into what would be the backless gown I’d wear for the next three days, I couldn’t help but notice my husband pacing around the room. We were going to be parents soon. This was it. This was how our story started and how my pregnancy ended. No dramatic water breaking in public, rush to the hospital story. No middle of the night “I think I’m in labor” moment. My labor would be started artificially, here in this room, by a doctor I was about to get to know very well.

I watched the monitor that was tracking the baby’s heartbeat as I waited for the doctor to come and begin the induction. I listened to the beeping of the machine and looked away winching as the nurse placed the IV in my arm. My phone buzzed with text after text, call after call from family and friends sending their “you got this” messages and well wishes. When the doctor walked in with a full cart of medical devices, I knew this would be the moment that started it all, my life was about to change forever.

Pregnancy Part 2. Hey There Placenta Previa.

Once I emerged from the dreaded first trimester, I was feeling a whole lot better and whole lot more confident that this was real. The chronic nausea was behind me and onions were no longer something out of a horror film for me. A baby bump had emerged and so had the maternity leggings. Things were really moving along!

My second trimester of pregnancy was mostly uneventful, and for that I am grateful. I still cried all the time, but I would soon learn that the tears would stay with me long after the baby was born. Cooking became a thing of the past pretty much from the beginning of my pregnancy. I used to love to cook but while simultaneously cooking a new human in my oven, it just seemed like an exhausting chore. And although I wasn’t nauseas anymore, raw meat still made me queasy. Also, when I did attempt to cook, I would ruin every meal I attempted, or I’d burn myself! I swear, has this happened to anyone else? Where you just totally lose all cooking ability or the desire to? It was a very odd symptom I didn’t expect.

In your second trimester, you are still only seen by a doctor once a month, unless there are any issues that require you to be seen more often. At my 19-week anatomy scan, they confirmed we were having a boy (we had found out at 13 weeks via NIPT blood screening) but they also found that I had something called placenta previa, just another one of the many terms I would learn over the next 9 months.

Placenta previa is essentially a condition where the placenta (the organ that is connected to the umbilical cord and provides oxygen and nutrients your baby) is too low in the uterus, therefore blocking the cervix, AKA baby’s exit door. A normal placenta rests above the baby, but mine was below him. Placenta previa is somewhat rare yet not totally uncommon. It’s said to effect less than 200,000 pregnancies per year; however my doctor was confident that my placenta would move upward before baby was due for his exit. In an effort to learn more, I spoke to a lot of friends of mine who had given birth before, and found a few of them also had placenta previa and it did in fact correct itself. To me, this was just another example about how being open about things that are going on in your motherhood journey can help make you feel less alone. If placenta previa does not correct itself, it means the baby has to be born via c-section. Which is not the end of the world, but ultimately was not my first choice.

What happens if you’re diagnosed with placenta previa? The answer; not a whole lot. I was put on “pelvic rest” at that doctor’s appointment and was scheduled for another ultrasound a few weeks later to check on the placenta’s progress. What is pelvic rest you ask? Basically, it means you can no longer work out, lift heavy things, have sex, or put any foreign objects in your vagina—ya know, in case you were planning to. The reason for this is because the placenta is so low (how many times can we say placenta? Placenta, placenta, placenta…The limit does not exist) that there is a high risk of bleeding. Bleeding during pregnancy = no bueno.

While I was grateful to not be on full bed rest, it was also discouraging to be given limitations. I was only halfway through my pregnancy and already I was being slapped with a list of can nots in addition to the can nots of coffee, wine, soft cheese, deli sandwiches, the finer things in life, etc. It was about 6 long weeks until I was seen again to check on the status of my placenta. I scheduled that appointment for the same day as my glucose test—the test every pregnant woman dreads that checks for gestational diabetes. You drink a horribly sweet syrupy drink, wait and hour, and then have your blood drawn to check how your body responds to the sugar. If you “fail” this test, you have to do it again, and the second time, you have to wait three hours and get your blood drawn every hour on the hour for those three hours. I do not handle blood well—something I’d have to get over as my pregnancy continued—more on that later. So I did not anticipate handling the glucose test well. I was right, I fainted in the waiting room of the lab and had to lie down on the table adorned with puppy posters and reserved for pediatric patients (see main photo in this post, thanks for the pic, husband!)  As embarrassed as I was, somehow I passed the test.

After the glucose test, and after assuring the nurse I did not need a wheelchair escort, I went into the ultrasound room to check on the placenta. I was confident it would have headed north by then, but my confidence was quickly squashed when they pointed to the screen and told me it had moved slightly, but not enough to be in the clear. The placenta needs to be a minimum of 2 cm from the cervix to no longer be considered a previa, and mine had only moved 1 cm. It was really disappointing, but it was out of my control. We continued to monitor my placenta well into my third trimester. Eventually I was told it is the most stubborn placenta the doctor had ever seen, but it had moved  the 2 cm it needed to (although they had hoped for a lot more) and she felt confident I wouldn’t need a c-section. Since my placenta was still considered “low lying” there was still a risk for bleeding, so I was kept on pelvic rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. Hey, at least I had an excuse not to workout, although my initial pregnancy goal was to stay as fit as possible to help make delivery easier. I was also very worried because I was told there is a higher risk of bleeding during delivery, but because I had planned to birth at a hospital, I would be closely monitored in the event bleeding did happen. *Spoiler* placenta previa ended being the least of my worries during the delivery of my little one, and caused no complications.

On a positive note, placenta previa gets you way more sneak peaks of your little bun in the oven as many more ultrasounds are needed! A normal pregnancy usually only gets 2-3 ultrasounds in its 40 weeks, but I got at least 8—enough to fill a whole album with ultrasound pictures!

Did you have placenta previa? Did it correct itself or were your required to have a c-section? Share your story in the comments!