Pregnancy Complications: Not Your Fault

During the month of May, we’re talking about maternal health and the staggering amount of women who die from complications of pregnancy or child birth. We want you to know how you can help.

But we also want you to know that these complications don’t just happen in Third World countries. They can happen anywhere, and the women who lose their lives – or almost do – in the effort to bring children into this world are not to blame.

This is Cecily’s story:

It took nearly two years of trying and some extremely talented doctors to get me pregnant. Thanks to a medication my mother-in-law took during her pregnancy, we needed hard core medical intervention for actual fertilization to happen. But when it did happen, we were doubly blessed: twins! Both boys! I was going to be the mother of sons.

Even though we were expecting twins, we pursued a natural birth plan. We sought high and low to find midwives that would treat twin pregnancies. Unfortunately, I nearly immediately developed a minor complication: pregnancy induced hypertension.

Soon, sadly, that minor complication turned into a major complication: at nearly six months pregnant, I developed full blown preeclampsia. In a very fast and tragic series of events, one twin died, I nearly died, and the pregnancy had to be terminated, ending the life of my surviving son. Two days after being admitted to the hospital, I went home with an empty uterus and a broken heart.

We waited nearly a year to try again. With an embryo frozen from that first IVF cycle we tried again, this time pregnant with just one baby. We saw a high risk obstetrician, we monitored the hell out of the pregnancy, and everything was fine until my 34th week. On the day of my daughter’s birth, I woke up in a pool of blood, stood up and gushed like a horror movie. I passed blood clots the size of softballs before we managed to get it together and get me to the hospital. Turned out my placenta had abrupted, leaving barely 30% of it attached and providing oxygen to my daughter. Placental abruption is one of the leading causes of Cerebral Palsey, but we were very, very lucky. My daughter was born 100% healthy and fine.

A real life miracle after a tragic loss.

During that dark year between pregnancies, I was awash in shame and guilt along with my grief. If only I’d seen a high risk doctor; after all, I was 36 and pregnant with twins. Then there is the issue of my weight: if only I’d been thin, it wouldn’t have happened (never mind that I found out later that weight has little bearing on preeclampsia). If I’d eaten healthier, done more, been better, something, anything, maybe my sons would be alive.

But now, six years later, I know that the death of my sons was not my fault.

Pregnancy complications happen. I’m a rare bird; only 5% of pregnancies suffer from preeclampsia and almost none of those appear as early as mine did. Placental abruption happens in less than 1% of pregnancies. For me to have had BOTH of these complications puts me into a high risk pool of maybe 100 other women. But it still wasn’t my fault.

Know this: even though I lost my boys, I’m lucky. I live in a major city in the United States. I had excellent health insurance. I had a brilliant and kind doctor.

I survived. Many women who get preeclampsia don’t.

When I suffered my placental abruption, I not only survived and my daughter survived, but I kept my uterus.

Lucky.

And none of it was my fault. I’m a healthy woman that just happened to have some crazy ass pregnancies. And if you suffered from complications as well, hey – it’s not your fault either.

Complications happen. They suck, and it hurts, but they happen.

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If you have questions about preeclampsia, The Preeclampsia Foundation is an excellent resource with articles, supportive forums, and great information.

About Aiming Low Does Good

Aiming Low Does Good shines a spotlight each month on causes that deserve attention and people who need help. We’ll give you some ideas of how you can help, either with your money, time or talents. We’ll also show you how to get involved in your own communities and how to spread the word.

Comments

  1. IzzyMom says:

    I developed pre-eclampsia when I was in labor and the super high blood pressure continued for a week after delivery. I only had a vague idea of what pre-eclampsia was and the only reason I knew I had it was because my husband overheard the nurse talking about it. Maybe they had their reasons but they didn’t even tell me my BP was off the charts and that it could harm my baby or cause me to have a stroke.

    My blood pressure has always been ridiculously low so PE was never even a consideration in my mind. And no, weight has nothing to do with it, either…I had only gained 38 lbs while pregnant and was of average weight prior to that. It can happen to anyone.

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  2. Krystal says:

    It took me about 2 years to come to terms that my daughters premature birth was not my fault. I developed HELLP syndrome at 31 weeks and after a week of wrong diagnois’ and my health getting worse, she was born at 32 weeks and 2 lbs 11oz. She was very small for her age because my placenta was full of clots. I blamed myself and swore to never have kids again because my body had failed my daughter. However 4 years later she is a very healthy girl and I now have a son who was full term and healthy.

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  3. Sara says:

    My heart breaks every time I hear of a pregnancy gone horribly wrong. My MIL had problems (PE & gestational diabetes) with both her pregnancies, but was fortunate enough to be able to keep both her son & daughter, even more so considering she gave birth over 30 years ago. It seems especially cruel that something that is supposed to be such a blessing and joy can cause so much hurt, even when it never happens at all. It’s hard to be thankful for my kids every day, but stories like yours remind me of how much of a blessing kids really are.

  4. Lucyna says:

    I am SO thankful that I live in North America and in these times. If I was elsewhere, 2 out of three of my children’s births would have resulted in death. I never had any major issues during pregnancy, but my body was NOT built for birthing.

    My first child was not positioned properly (transverse), and they didn’t figure that out until WELL into labor. All they could do was give me a shot of morphine as they did an episiotomy, vacum and finally forceps to get her out.

    My third labor, I had an abruption during early labor. I thought my water had broken, but the nurse came and looked, turned white and said ‘oh’…and ran and got the doctor. I was immediately sedated and had an emergency c-section.

    I often hear of those women that get pregnant by thinking about it, and are walking around and doing yoga within a week of giving birth. I feel inadequate around them, like I’m lacking some kind of precious female tidbit.

    Now that it’s over, I have three healthy children, I will never have any more, and I can just move on and be thankful. Those are just faded bad dreams now.

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  5. Megan says:

    I had high blood pressure with my pregnancy as well, but it hid itself very well by hiding every time I went to the doctor. I think mine started early as well. I had an emergency C-section at 31 weeks because my preeclampsia caused the amniotic fluid to basically disappear.

    Six months after my son was born, he was diagnosed with right hemiparesis following an in utero stroke.

    This after miscarrying my first pregnancy.

    Talk about feeling like a failure. It took me a long time to stop blaming myself for all of it.

    I’m so sorry that you had to endure such tragedy. And I’m glad your daughter is healthy and whole.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  6. X says:

    Yeah, your own link there says that obesity is a major factor in preeclampsia.

    • It can be a contributing factor only IF you already have high blood pressure (which I do not). It’s also interesting to note that the highest rate of preeclampsia in the world occurs in Ethiopia, where obesity is rare.

  7. Anne says:

    Pregnancy complications suck ass. I’ll never forget that year between your pregnancies. How can one be a mother when her babies are gone? But you can’t not be a mother, either, after you’ve carried them for so long. I know I’m blessed that you’ve taken me on this journey with you and allowed me to grieve with you, and rejoice with you.

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  8. Sarah says:

    I’m glad that the self blame is gone Cecily. I was a reader then, still struggling with my own infertility. And then I got pregnant, and developed gestational hypertension too. I was 30 weeks and went on bedrest, blah blah blah. It was certainly scary and a nailbiter to the end, but we all came out alive, and knowing that others weren’t so lucky honestly kept some of that self pity in check for me. So thanks for that.

    A local friend was due at the same time as I was and got HELLP and almost died over the course of ONE day. We became best of friends as we both struggled to put everything back together again.

  9. beth says:

    Thank you for this post Cecily. You have given voice to much of what I have felt. Although I have not struggled with infertility per se, I was one of the women who developed “mild” pre-eclapsia before the birth of my twin boys. All the doctors told me, “Birth is the cure for pre-eclampsia.” Unfortunately, that was not the case for me. My blood pressure sky-rocketed the day I was discharged home after the birth. It was very scary and painful (physically & emotionally) and led to a very rough and traumatic start to motherhood. A year or so later while reading a publication for parents of twins I read the obituary of a women who had the same presentation of pre-eclampsia as I did except she lost her life…I felt haunted, grieved, and grateful. Five 1/2 years later I am still processing the trauma of pre-eclampsia and it’s impact on my first year of motherhood. It is a scary illness with no known etiology. My favorite doctor once said, “Whoever figures out pre-eclampsia will will a Nobel Prize.” I bet she’s right!

    • The version of preeclampsia that hits after birth is particularly risky and causes most of the fatalities associated with the disease. I am so sorry you struggled with that!

  10. Laura says:

    Cecily, I knew your story well from reading your blog, so when I got pregnant with my twins, I felt a little better prepared. I monitored my hypertension and swelling like crazy, and saw my OB and perinatalogist every two weeks. I prayed all day, every day, and spent a month on bedrest. I consider it the triumph of my life that my girls and I made it to 34 weeks before I developed HELLP, and had to have an emergency c-section. My twins spent less than 2 weeks in the NICU, and they are perfect and healthy. Thank you, Cecily, your story educated and helped me immeasurably.

  11. emmay says:

    I remember a friend fo mine telling me to have my doctor schedule my delivery at a different hospital just in case there were complications. i naively told her I was fine and wouldn’t be having nay. Ha! After a brutal miscarriage and a pregnancy fraught with complications, I developed pre-eclampsia at 27 + weeks, and transferred to that ‘better” hospital. They held me off as long as they could but the pre-e coupled with a bizarre uterine anomaly, resulted in my daughter’s premature birth at 28w2d. Two years later we had a complete repeat with me second daughter, born at 30w exactly. They spent a combined 76 days in the NICU, but looking at them today at 7 and 5, you’d never know it. The doctor asked us to seriously consider not having a third, as planned. We weighed the potential risks and decided the two happy healthy girls we have are blessing enough. My freinds often comment on how awful our birth experiences and the girls’ NICU stays were, but I know we are incredibly lucky.

  12. emmay says:

    I wanted to add that my first symptom in both cases was labor. No rise in BP….no protein as per test in Dr. office. The firs time, it was after my ambulance ride, when they removed the catheter and saw blood and suspected a UI, that the docs did a 24 hr. urine catch and found the levels of protein consistent with pre-e. and it was bad enough that they wouldn’t let me go home even after my labor had been stopped. The second time, I reminded them about the pre-e after I went into preterm labor again and they assured me I was fine, did the catch again to appease me and lo and behold, another pre-e diagnosis. So being that I got it early and it was super sneaky, I am also off the pregnancy wagon. (well, that and a hysterectomy). All that to say that pre-e is some pretty scary stuff.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Complicated Pregnancy By Becky, on May 21st, 2011 The Ladies and Gents at Aiming Low are highlighting pregnancy complications this month.  Specifically highlighting “It’s not your fault”.   I have never blogged about [...]

  2. [...] to promote awareness and bring about change for the 500,000 women per year who die as a result of pregnancy complications. As we come to the end of May, we want to remind you that you can make a [...]

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