I am well accustomed to rare pregnancy illnesses what with my Obstetric Choleasthasis and Low Platelets. I was lucky and both were treated and managed carefully once diagnosed. However, sometimes things get missed. Today we have a guest post from reader Kate at Albert and Me who is kindly sharing her experience of Eclampsia with you. As always please do leave any comments or questions below.
Eclampsia isn’t something I’d ever heard about until it happened to me. I’d been told all about pre-eclampsia and knew that it was a very bad thing. I also knew its symptoms – very swollen ankles, high blood pressure and protein in your pee. What I didn’t stop to consider is that the pre- in pre-eclampsia meant this very bad thing came ahead of something much, much worse. The first thing I knew about eclampsia was a rainbow of flashing lights and lost vision seconds after the delivery of my baby boy, emergency buzzers sounding, the outline of several people frantically working at my bedside and then blackness.
I’d had a pretty standard pregnancy or so I thought. My baby was growing well and my bump was measuring the right size for my dates. During the last couple of months of being with bump my ankles swelled up a lot but I was told it was nothing to worry about as my blood pressure was fine and I had only a slight hint of protein in my wee. But my ankles kept swelling and my feet did too. They got to the point where they were so sore and hot to the touch they didn’t resemble my feet anymore and wouldn’t have looked out of place on an elephant. In their hot, massive state I would sit with them elevated on a cushion and imagine the skin bursting open like a cooked sausage. They were that swollen.
As my midwife wasn’t overly concerned I sought some advice from my mother-in-law. She tried to reassure me that her ankles swelled when she was pregnant too and I shouldn’t worry. But something was niggling at me so I went to see the doctor. He dismissed my fears and told me to just put my feet up and drink lots of water.
I thought I must be worrying over nothing so I left it. Flash forward to 38 weeks into my pregnancy and my labour started. After heading to hospital and finding out I wasn’t dilated at all, I had a hot aromatherapy bath to help ease the pain. Before they sent me home I was checked again. I had dilated 4cm, not the usual one, in an hour. Things were happening so in the hospital we stayed. I was later told by a midwife that the fact I had gone into labour early and was dilating so quickly was my body’s way of trying to make me better – the only way to cure pre-eclampsia is the deliver the baby and placenta.
Albert’s birth wasn’t a straight forward one. I’ll spare you the gory details but he was back-to-back with his head at a funny angle so we went down the perthidin and forceps route with a cut and a tear without an epidural as there was no time (despite being in active labour for more than an hour). The feeling as he was born is one I will never forget as it was truly amazing, but I couldn’t enjoy it as seconds after it all went sideways. As soon as he was delivered everything went blurry and all I could see were rainbow flashing lights. My blood pressure had sky-rocketed and caused the disturbance in my vision – pre-eclampsia had caught me out. I knew something was badly wrong and started shouting “I can’t see my baby! I can’t see my baby!” Buzzers sounded, another 10 people piled into the room and then I lost two hours of my life. It’s this bit that makes me the most sad as I had been robbed of that precious golden hour and skin on skin time with my baby and my husband and I will never, ever get that back.
What happened was an eclamptic fit and blacking out. Fortunately for me I was in the best possible place and the hospital staff on the labour ward brought me back with no long term adverse effects. Eclampsia can bring on multiple organ failure and death but thankfully that wasn’t my fate. I can’t think about what would have happened if Albert hadn’t been born when the fit struck as the odds on his survival would have been pretty low. My husband has only just recently told me his view of what happened as he finds it very upsetting. He was ushered into the corner of the room, our bright red, newborn baby wriggling in his arms, while a screen was put up around me and consultants and nurses dropped everything to rush into the room. One consultant stood on a stool with a megaphone and orchestrated proceedings, shouting instructions to the amazing people who were frantically working to literally save my life.
I came round attached to so many drips and machines that my stitch up job had to happen there in the delivery room and not in theatre as it was too difficult to move me. I was eventually moved to another room on the labour ward and was kept under constant supervision for the next 48 hours with my blood pressure checked every 15 minutes day and night with a vast array of tablets and injections to take. Again, it was only afterwards that I found out this is because eclamptic seizures can reoccur postpartum.
In the weeks after the birth I’ve got to say I was a wreck. If I tried to talk about what happened I just cried and all I wanted was to hole up at home with Albert and my husband, just the three of us. As it was, the visitors came and of course you can’t send them away as they are people who care about you. But thinking about it now I don’t know how I coped. I’d gone through such a trauma, been brought back from the brink, stitched up and we had been given a screaming red mini human to look after. That alone was enough but I had to get dressed and play host too while our precious bundle was passed around. It sounds selfish but I just wanted him to myself, I think because I had missed out on that bonding time straight after his birth. I also now think I must have been in some state of shock and with the raging hormones it took a while to settle down.
So what is the point of me writing this? Well I guess it’s two-pronged really. Firstly if your feet and ankles are swelling and you think something isn’t quite right, get yourself checked out and if you still think things are off don’t settle for being fobbed off like I was. To think that all of this could be avoided. It turns out my normal blood pressure level is fairly low so the fact it was actually quite raised was missed as it was still within a normal range.
Secondly, if you know someone who this has happened to, please be kind. Give her space and don’t expect her to talk about it for a good while, if ever. Maybe don’t expect to see the baby in the first few days or weeks but let her know you’re there if she needs you. There’s every likelihood she does, it’s just that she will want to hold her baby close while you make the cups of tea and talk about anything other than childbirth.
Image by Albert and Me.