I chalk it up to an easy first and second trimester. It has to be the world evening things out because that third trimester of mine was a doozy. Countless doctors visits and two (!!) hospital stays before giving birth. All ending with an unplanned cesarean to boot. We are extremely thankful for our healthy baby boy, but getting him to term was eventful to say the least!
Let me start from the beginning. I have high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension. The condition is concerning on its own, but it adds another level of complication when you’re pregnant. Hypertension is when the force of your blood flowing is too high against your artery walls. If left untreated, it can lead to a number of health issues: heart attack, stroke, kidney disease/failure, to name a few. I’ve been trying to manage my HBP for the past 4-5 years. EKGs, cardiologist visit, an ultrasound on my kidneys – – all tests have come back normal. I’m relatively young, average weight, not diabetic, etc. so they haven’t been able to find any typical cause. My doctors have concluded that it must be genetics. Knowing that, I wanted to try natural ways to lower my BP before agreeing to medication.
Early on I read everything I could find about how to naturally lower your BP. I ate a banana every day (and still do) as potassium is shown to lower it. I added blueberries to my yogurt/oatmeal/cereal because they, too, are shown to help lower. I started to buy low-sodium everything, since salt is not your friend with HBP. Unsalted butter, unsalted peanut butter, low-sodium bread, low-sodium chicken broth, low-sodium soy sauce. You name it, I tried to find the low/no salt version.
*Note: Take the time to read your nutrition labels. The amount of salt in some every day foods is crazy. Major culprits are prepared foods that come frozen or in cans. Check those microwavable low-calorie frozen meals! Cheese, deli meat, soups, salad dressings, sauces, cottage cheese, baked goods, cereal. Even pancakes. It’s mind-blowing. And a bit depressing. Okay, a lot depressing when you realize what you need to start cutting out.
My typical breakfast: fruit, plain non-fat greek yogurt, chia seeds, and a drizzle of honey.
I began working out 2-4 times a week, eating better, watching my sodium intake. And what do you know – – at my next doctor’s appointment my BP readings were back in the low 120s/80s. Success! Or so I thought. That same week I was also having dental work done, and at that office my BP readings were still charting high. To the point where I almost needed to reschedule the procedure because the oral surgeon was afraid I was at risk for a stroke! Long story short, I think I received some false hope from my first doctor, so I changed practices and finally decided it was time to start taking medication. The longer my BP remained consistently high, the more damage I was doing to my body in the long run. And unfortunately no matter how much I changed my diet and exercise habits, it would be difficult to control without proper medication.
That brings us back to the beginning of this year and the start of my third trimester. I was taking the appropriate, safe-for-pregnancy medications throughout and my blood pressure readings were normal. Until I hit my 31st week. My BP had slowly been creeping up, but at 31 weeks I was at 140/120. That bottom number, your diastolic reading, should not be that high. I was sent to Triage at the hospital to be checked out and my doctor ordered me to start routine antenatal testing right away. From then on I was at the hospital and/or doctor’s office at least twice a week until I delivered. Not exactly the smooth ride to baby I was hoping for, but at least the appointments weren’t supposed to take too long. Again, so I thought.
Antenatal testing is a series of procedures to detect potential problems with the growing fetus and/or mother. Essentially they were checking baby via ultrasounds, monitoring the heart rate, and checking my blood pressure during each visit. In my 32nd week, my BP wouldn’t stay under normal levels and I was admitted to the hospital. We stayed for 2 nights before I was released. I was given magnesium sulfate the first night because my BP was so high they administer it when they fear a patient may stroke. For the record, it’s THE WORST. You’re nauseous, swollen, and completely depleted of energy. And it’s that way for the 24 hours it’s in your system. Ugh.
As if the hospital stay wasn’t bad enough, I was admitted the night before my baby shower. On Friday, the 13th. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. I cried and tried to plead with every nurse who would listen to me that my baby shower was the next day and I couldn’t miss it! Of course they felt terrible, but there was really nothing they could do. So there I was the next morning, texting friends from my hospital bed that the shower was cancelled and sending apologies to those who flew into town to celebrate. But a short time later, my sweet family and a small group of friends brought the shower to my tiny hospital room and we celebrated together. I could have burst with happiness. Special shout out to my sister-in-law, Rachel, and brother, Brian, for coordinating the whole thing and then rolling with the punches once we found out we couldn’t have it as planned.
My second hospital stay came the very next week. Two days later to be exact. I was at my regularly scheduled antenatal appointment and that pesky HBP showed up again. This time I was admitted for 3 nights for monitoring before being released with some new medication. I was already on modified bed rest after the first hospital stay, but my doctors reiterated the need for me to be as bored as possible until I delivered. I wasn’t supposed to carry anything heavy, walk up and down stairs too much, do any extensive walking – – literally nothing that could be too strenuous. So much for the graceful pregnancy I had so desperately wanted.
Fast forward through more doctor appointments and too much time on the couch, I was at my very last antenatal appointment at 37 weeks before my scheduled induction that Thursday. With how the last part of this pregnancy was going, my doctor scheduled an early delivery as a standard precaution (I was considered full term at this point). The last appointment was on Valentine’s Day, which is a special day for us. It’s the anniversary of my first date with Michael and the day he proposed. You can say it might mean more to us than our wedding anniversary. Unfortunately I was pretty miserable this year- – swollen legs/hands/feet, unable to take full breaths because the baby was pressed up against my lungs, and running on little to no sleep because his “awake times” were between 9:00pm-2:00am each night. As they strapped me to the blood pressure monitor, I was just praying I could make it to Thursday…
It was wishful thinking. Blood pressure was too high to be released and they were admitting me for the third time. At least this time we’d be leaving with a baby! Who we had yet to choose a name for. The pressure was on now! The induction process would take awhile before I was in active labor, so I called Michael to let him know and figured he had at least an hour to get there. But as I was settling into my L&D room my nurses suddenly became more chipper and the on-call doctor came in to tell me that they were concerned about my lab results. The took a blood sample while I was in antenatal and the results came back way out of whack. We immediately needed to switch gears from induced labor to an unplanned c-section. You’d think my initial reaction was panic, but at this point I was SO over the process I just nodded and said “Okay, I was aware this was a possibility. Let’s do it.” Since Michael was already on his way, I just sent him a text that said, “Definite cesarean, they’re gonna prep me.” Looking back, the conversation was comically casual. Not much surprised us at this point.
As soon as Michael walked in they suited him up and started to wheel me to the operating room, which is by far the scariest place I’ve ever been. Stark white, bright, with a lot of people buzzing around getting everything prepped. They strapped me onto the surprisingly small operating table and administered the anesthesia. I’ll save the gory details, but everything happened very quickly. Before I knew it, I saw our baby placed on the infant table underneath the heat lamps and heard his little cry. RELIEF. He was okay. The rest of the night is very foggy. The next and only thing I remember is being in the post-op room, shivering, and having someone place our little guy on my chest. I remember feeling his warm little body on mine, his head just under my chin. I could feel his headful of hair on my lips. Complete happiness and peace in those precious moments.
Because I was on magnesium sulfate again, I wasn’t able to try breastfeeding immediately and spent that first night away from him. Nauseous and getting sick in my room, while he slept in the nursery on a different floor. I try not to dwell on it too much, but I am disappointed we weren’t able to have those first few hours to bond together as a family. But we have a healthy, happy baby boy and there’s nothing else I could ask for. It makes every difficult second of those past few weeks completely worth it.
It took a couple of days, but we finally decided on a name. Meet Theo. Born on Valentine’s Day and making it exponentially more meaningful than it already was.
Theo’s now almost 4 months old and we’re all doing very well. I’ve also since seen an internal medicine doctor who’s helped get my blood pressure under control. More to come on the joys (and struggles) of early parenthood!