A few weeks shy of my baby’s due date, I had my first high blood pressure reading. My midwife thought it must be a mistake. She joked about “white coat syndrome” making me nervous and had a nurse check my pressure again. Then, in what felt like an instant, she was sending me to the hospital to possibly have my baby early. I had never even heard about gestational hypertension and had never had a high blood pressure reading so, frankly, I was scared out of my mind.
While I was used to having my blood pressure checked at every prenatal appointment, no one ever explained why. Still, when my numbers shot up I immediately felt like I had failed a test, and like my high blood pressure was a result of me making poor choices. I was still working at my stressful job, had gained more weight during my pregnancy than I had planned, and my growing pregnant body made it hard to work out. This was all my fault, right?
After 24 hours in the hospital saving my urine in a big plastic jar for my health care provider to test, and having my blood pressure checked every hour, I was given a strict set of instructions to take it easy, reduce stress, drink water, eat healthy, and try to get as much exercise as I could. Unfortunately, my work was not supportive of me going on maternity leave early, so I had to go up against our HR department and meet directly with our CEO to make it happen. So much for reducing stress, right?
Now that I have been through three pregnancies, including two with hypertension and one that progressed to preeclampsia, I know that my gestational hypertension wasn’t my fault or the result of anything I did or didn't do. Some people's bodies don’t tolerate pregnancy as well as others, and growing humans is hard work. I also think we need to reduce shame and myths about this misunderstood condition so that moms get the help that they need during pregnancy and after delivery. So with that in mind, here's what you should know about gestational hypertension that not enough people will tell you:
It Can Feel Embarrassing
Before it I was diagnosed I honestly had no idea that gestational hypertension was a thing. I think because people often associate high blood pressure with being overweight or unhealthy, so I didn't think it could happen to me. When it did, I felt like it was a black mark on my medical chart.
You Might Be At Risk & Not Even Know It
According to the March of Dimes, researchers don't really know what causes gestational hypertension. According to the same site you might be at risk if you had chronic hypertension prior to pregnancy or during any previous pregnancies. There is some evidence to suggest that if you are overweight before pregnancy you should try to achieve a healthy weight before you get pregnant to reduce your risk, but there's really no surefire way to prevent it from happening. That's why it's important to get regular prenatal care.
You Might Have To Be Induced
Having an induction was not a part of my birth plan, so I was unprepared, and scared, when I found out I needed to be induced to keep myself and my baby healthy. It didn't help that my mom friends dismissed my high blood pressure as no big deal, and told me I should actually just not show up to the hospital. I now know that hypertension can be really dangerous for both you and your baby, and birth is the only way to make it stop.
You Might Be Able To Monitor Your Blood Pressure At Home
During my second pregnancy my health care providers had me monitor my blood pressure at home, and on a regular basis throughout the day, to make sure it was stable. It was nice to be able to control something at a time when my body, and pregnancy, felt totally out of my control.
You Might Need Medication
I credit medical management with being able to keep my blood pressure stable, via medication, in order to continue my pregnancies longer and let my babies have more time to cook in my uterus before they were born.
It Might Not Go Away After Your Baby Is Born
While gestational hypertension usually goes away on it's own after your pregnancy is over, delivery is not always a cure for the condition. After my last pregnancy not only did mine continue, but it turned into postpartum preeclampsia. It was scary and exhausting to have to worry about my health while trying to simultaneously care for a newborn and recover from childbirth.
It Can Be Serious
According to Stanford Health, gestational hypertension is not just a high reading on a monitor; it can be a serious health condition causing preeclampsia, seizures, stroke, and organ failure in pregnant women. It can also cause multiple health risks to the baby, including death.
It Can Be Terrible For Anxiety
During every single pregnancy I followed medical advice, I repeated calming mantras, I meditated and I breathed deep, but the numbers just creeped higher and higher until my doctors recommended induction. I wanted so much to have some control over my life and my health, but I wasn't really in control at that moment. My anxiety during pregnancy was terrible as it was, so having a potentially serious health condition that I couldn't control made it so much worse.
It's Not Your Fault
It's taken me three pregnancies to come to terms with the fact that my gestational hypertension wasn't my fault. You can do everything to stay healthy — eat a vegetarian diet, run marathons, do yoga, and attend every recommended health screening on schedule — and still get gestational hypertension. But even if you don't do any of those things, it's still probably not something you could have prevented, only something your provider can catch when it happens. So treat your diagnosis seriously so your baby can be born healthy and you can stay healthy, too, but know that it wasn't your fault.