Have you ever heard about Pre-eclampsia? What about HELLP syndrome? Do you know these pregnancy related syndromes affect women of color more than anyone else? I can tell you this- I for one, did not know. I’ve touched on my traumatic birth experience story before but here’s the full story and the reasoning behind why WOC need to advocate for healthy pregnancies.
I was 8 months along with my first born and woke up one morning not feeling great. At this point I had JUST hit 36 weeks. It’s hard to put my finger on just WHEN I started feeling badly but sometime in the early morning, I started feeling off. That particular day, I felt sick and tired. By afternoon what felt like heartburn was causing excruciating pain so I asked my husband to come home.
When I called the advice nurse she told me to eat some crackers and milk. Now let me say this. After hanging up I sort of knew that milk and saltines weren’t going to make me feel better. But I didn’t push back. I didn’t ask to speak with a doctor. At this point it never crossed my mind that I was “sick” it just felt a really bad pregnancy day and everyone has those right?
AND THEN THE PAIN DIDN’T GO AWAY
By 4:30pm I knew something was drastically wrong. My baby had quieted down and had barely moved. Any pregnant woman will tell you that you notice right away when your baby stops moving and kicking. By this time my legs and feet were badly swollen. My chest was on fire and as soon as my husband stepped into the house I told him to take me to the ER. He rushed me there. I had on sweats, no purse and rode in the car gripping the door handle so I wouldn’t vomit.
I was barely functioning.
Within an hour of arriving at the ER, my blood pressure had skyrocketed. The ER staff sent me immediately to labor and delivery where several doctors took tests but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I heard chatter about blood pressure and kidney stones but nothing concrete until about 1am when I was informed that I had both Pre-Eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. I was told that I needed to have an emergency C-section or both my baby and I would die.
PANIC and CONFUSION set in.
Even now, 10 years later….typing that out makes me feel overwhelmed. I. almost. died.
My organs were shutting down and I was in and out of consciousness. The last thing I remember was taking a deep breath of anesthesia. I woke up nearly 10 hours later my body in shock and my stitches bleeding out. My body was in dire need of a blood transfusion and ended up with two total.
More pressing was the fact that I wasn’t able to hold my daughter until almost 24 hours after she was born. My husband and parents were busy taking turns feeding and holding her in the nursery but I don’t think everyone realized that I hadn’t yet met her. I finally got to hold her after screaming at the ICU doctor that I hadn’t even seen my baby, what was he talking about moving my room? Thankfully they were able to wheel her into ICU so I could introduce myself to her. She was 3lbs 13 oz and perfectly healthy.
Finally holding her was the most amazing feeling.
My road to recovery was a long and painful one. Because of my high blood pressure, my vision was damaged. Ten years later, my corneas are scarred and will never return to normal. My body was in such shock that I was delayed on producing milk for my daughter and I had to supplement with formula (not a huge deal but it was an unexpected expense.) Emotionally I was a wreck. I was constantly crying and feeling totally lost as a new mom who could barely provide sustenance to my child.
Looking back now I can see things with a clear head. Because I had severe pre eclampsia, I also developed HELLP syndrome. The name is an acronym for hemolysis, the breakdown of red blood cells; elevated liver enzymes; and low platelets, the blood cells that are necessary for clotting. About 10-20% of women who have severe pre-eclampsia also develop HELLP. (source) According to the CDC there were 700 deaths and that half of those deaths may have been prevented. The report also states black women are three to four times as likely to die than white women. (source) That statistic is key to why WOC need to advocate for healthy pregnancies.
I’ve read that women of color and especially African American women should get continually screened for high risk pregnancy complications throughout their entire pregnancy and up to three months afterwards since HELLP can develop AFTER childbirth. Statistics show that On an average, there is approximately 1 maternal death for every 100,000 births, but for African American women, this number triples. African American women are three times more likely to die from preeclampsia and other childbirth-related issues. (source) Since many don’t know about preeclampsia or HELLP syndrome it’s so important for WOC to educate themselves AND find a doctor who understands these types of pregnancy complications.
HAVE A PLAN.
My advice to WOC who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant? Educate yourself on the pregnancy syndromes that affect us. If I could go back I wish I would have read up on the pregnancy syndromes that ravage our bodies. Also ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELVES AND EACH OTHER!! Do you have your natural/ epidural birth plan set? Great! But also read up on emergency c-sections just in case. Don’t feel like your doctor is listening to your pregnancy issues? Get a new one ASAP. Need extra advocates? Hire a doula! Can’t afford a doula? Ask a friend to be your person who knows exactly what you want in the birth room! Make sure you go into those doctor appointments and your birthing room with people who will fight on your behalf.
My second pregnancy was drama free but if I had started to get sick again we knew exactly what to do and what to tell the hospital staff.
Don’t wait, be proactive and let’s start turning those statistics around. Do you have a similar birth experience? Please share in the comments!