It honestly never occurred to me that pregnancy could be dangerous. Then it almost killed me. It's hard to believe that, in 2017, pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are on the rise. People aren't talking about it, though, and I get it. After all, it's upsetting to consider things might go wrong with your pregnancy. But if we don't start talking about the very real dangers of procreation, we won't make things better — and safer — for pregnant women. Pregnancy almost killed these eight women, and there are things they want you to know so that, hopefully, you don't find yourself in the same terrifying position.
Unfortunately, in our culture it feels like women literally have to be dying before people take them, and their feelings, seriously. And in most of the cases with these eight women, they had to be relentless advocates for themselves in order to receive the vital care they needed. I can totally relate. During my second pregnancy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum. For 22 weeks I vomited several times a day, but the doctors and nurses at my local hospital kept sending me home, telling me it was just morning sickness and to drink some ginger ale. Finally, and after repeated attempts, I got someone to listen and prescribe medication for my nausea, but not before I became dangerously dehydrated, lost 15 percent of my body weight, and my kidneys started shutting down. I guess it wasn't just morning sickness, after all.
It gets worse, though. Despite the fact that I was treated for preeclampsia before I delivered, a postpartum nurse ignored my complaints of blurred vision and a racing heart, refused to check my blood pressure, and tried to give me a sedative to "calm my nerves." It turned out that I had postpartum preeclampsia. The staff was going to send me home, and I could have died as a result.
Sadly, I'm not alone in my experiences. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 700 people die due to complications related to pregnancy or childbirth every year. A recent analysis of this trend by NPR and ProPublica revealed that the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, and that rate is rising. These numbers don't include the people who survived, either. We have got to start talking about this problem, and we must listen to survivors' stories. While upsetting, they are so important in helping us, as a society, better care for pregnant women.
"I am young and had a very normal, uncomplicated pregnancy. After birth I had a piece of retained placenta, lost 1.8 liters of blood, and was rushed to operating room where my only half-working epidural meant that I felt most of my D&C. The outcome would have been very different had I chosen to birth anywhere but the hospital.
I would like others to know that the safest place to give birth is a hospital with full emergency care facilities. It doesn't matter if your pregnancy is uncomplicated, things can still go very wrong. Trust yourself. If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not right. Advocate for yourself (or for your partner), because no one knows you better than you do. Ask for a second opinion if you're still not happy. Formula is not the devil. The best kind of baby is a fed baby. Without formula my baby would've needed bili lights, fluids, and a longer hospital stay. Without formula I would've got no sleep at all which is quite frankly dangerous when you have a newborn."
"I don't actually remember most of it. I'd been admitted to the hospital a couple weeks prior, due to preterm labor and preeclampsia. The evening I was 24 weeks and one day pregnant, I was feeling worse than normal. The anesthesiologist had a bad feeling about me and spent his time between other patients in or right outside my room. My maternal fetal medicine specialist had insisted a few days previously that I be moved to the room closest to the operating room. I honestly believe that these decisions are what saved my life that night. The rest of the story is only what was told to me after the fact. I don't remember it.
My blood pressure began to climb rapidly. The anesthesiologist was the first to notice and was able to quickly set off the proper alarms and get me moved to the operating room. He had talked me into placing an epidural earlier that afternoon. (I was having significant pain and they thought that reducing my pain might help with pain induced high blood pressure, as I have a history of major increases in blood pressure due to pain). Because that was already placed he was able to top it off, literally in transit. The time from "decision to incision" to deliver my baby was less than five minutes and full delivery was less than 10. It was not a moment too soon. I began to seize right as they were pulling the baby out. I don't remember anything until two days later. I was in a lot of pain, my liver was failing, and my baby was fighting for his own life in the NICU. Recovery for me was awful. I spent another 10 days in the hospital, before I was well enough to be released and it was six months before my baby could finally come home."
"After a pregnancy filled with speed bumps (hyperemesis, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia), I was finally admitted and induced at 38 weeks when my blood pressure started to get too high. I spent 50 hours in labor, hooked up to IV Pitocin and magnesium sulfate, before the doctors finally called it and I had a C-section. A few hours after my gorgeous daughter was born, my vision and hearing cut out almost completely, as though someone had unhooked a cable from my television, and I started mashing the "nurse call" button. My blood pressure had dropped to 60/30, and the doctor and nurses exchanged terrified looks, as they surveyed the amount of blood I was losing. I'd lost about 2.5 liters. They manually cleaned out the clots from my uterus (about as fun as you'd imagine) and gave me six donor units of blood. My blood pressure fell twice more before they parceled me up and rushed me to do an emergency D&C. I spent the next day and a half with an ICU nurse assigned to me, and a saline-filled balloon applying pressure to the inside of my uterus to try to stop the bleeding. Thankfully, that did the trick, and I was able to leave at the same time as my daughter.
I've learned quite a bit more about the maternal mortality problem in the U.S. since then. First, if I hadn't been at a top-notch teaching hospital I would not be here. It's worth the hour drive for every appointment and for the birth itself. Second, it feels like the current focus of medical professionals in obstetrics seems to be on the baby, rather than on the mom, which is unfortunate because I was focused on my baby, too. I know that I needed to pay attention to how I was feeling, too. My baby passed her Apgar tests with flying colors, but there's no Apgar for postpartum moms and I needed to advocate for my own care. Finally, it's worth it to find the best darn in-network doctors that you can. My doctor is a professor at the medical school. They got me through it. Also, bring a whole bunch of treats for your nurses, because those nurses have got game and hustle, and they will save your hide."
"I can tell you about my last dumpster fire of a pregnancy. I had severe HG, and then a collapsed right lung due to upward pressure from the uterus, as early as 24 weeks. I had to be hooked to oxygen until birth, was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 33 weeks, and had a C-section at 36 weeks, when they could no longer treat it effectively. Then, to top it off, I had HELLP syndrome at five weeks postpartum. Two days later came an impacted kidney stone causing hydronephrosis."
"My husband and I went through five rounds of fertility treatments to finally get our rainbow baby. Pregnancy was nerve-wracking due to some potential complications that they were following, so we were always afraid that I could lose the pregnancy. Then I ended up with unusual swelling in one leg. A blood clot was ruled out, but the swelling continued. Then spread. I was never really sick enough for them to diagnose preeclampsia until just a few days before my due date. Then, my blood pressure skyrocketed. I was transferred from a check up with my midwife by ambulance.
They started the induction process while controlling my blood pressure. I gave birth two days later (after 12 hours of active labour) to a healthy baby girl. Finally holding our baby, we had a moment where we finally felt, 'Iit will be OK, we have her.' Then the midwife called for the doctor and the room started filling with doctors and nurses. I was bleeding due to a piece of retained placenta, and they couldn't stop it. I lost two liters of blood by the time they got me into surgery.
I just had to have faith that I would see my husband and daughter again. My husband still can't talk about it without getting emotional and often cries. He was left holding his newborn daughter, having seen all the blood loss and all the doctors come in, and was scared to death that his wife might die. He is scarred forever, by being just left alone holding a newborn, and I was gone for hours. For the men out there, it's OK to be vulnerable."
"I demanded a C-section for my second child in a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)-friendly women's hospital. My OB-GYN was totally cool and supportive, but was not on call when my water broke spontaneously a week before the scheduled C-section. The nursing staff and on-call doctor repeatedly tried to pressure me into a VBAC. I kept insisting on the C-section. They relented, he opened me up, and my uterus was beginning to rupture. Literally a few seconds more of stalling, and things would have gotten extremely bad. My insistence on a C-section probably saved both of us."
"I lost over half my blood volume during my second C-section. The nurses could not understand why I wasn't recovering fast enough for them. I kept falling asleep, while I was talking, and I couldn't think or form words. One nurse said I would never heal or be able to go see my son (who had been taken to a NICU in another town) if I didn't get out of bed. So, I tried to get up and fell, splitting my incision. Only after that was my doctor alerted and I had a blood transfusion. Trust yourself if something does not feel right. I was alone, because my husband was deployed, but if I would try to have someone there who is willing to advocate for you."
"I developed postpartum preeclampsia one day after giving birth. They completely missed it in the hospital and discharged me on day three. On day four I was back in the ER with nonstop vomiting, severe flu-like symptoms, and trouble breathing. It took them hours to diagnose after a CAT scan, 2 MRIs, an EKG, and numerous blood draws. They gave me the standard 24 hour mag sulfate drip and sent me home with a low dose blood pressure medication. On day five postpartum, just a few hours after being discharged, the symptoms came back. The on-call OB-GYN I talked to told me it was just anxiety and that I needed to 'suck it up.'
Two days later, one week exactly after giving birth, I suffered eclamptic seizures at home. The paramedics asked me if I knew my name, what year it was, who the president was, which I did. They asked me when I had had my baby, and I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember being pregnant or having my baby at all until we arrived at the hospital and it all came flooding back. They admitted me for three more days. I couldn't drive for three months to ensure I didn't have any more seizures. Out of a plethora of doctors and nurses that I saw during my three separate hospital stays, only one nurse had seen a case of postpartum eclampsia.
If anything feels 'off' or wrong during pregnancy or especially postpartum, don't just brush it off and don't let the doctors or nurses brush it off, either. Advocate for yourself. Tell a loved one or a friend and ask them to help advocate for you if necessary. We must be heard and taken seriously."