I went to the doctor the other day.
Everything is fine, I’m healthy. But ever since having Max, I get nervous about having my blood pressure checked.
Yeah, I know, okay? I fully understand being nervous about having my blood pressure checked doesn’t help my blood pressure. So I try to manage this by getting myself mentally prepared. I close my eyes. I take deep breaths. I force my mind to relax. I think about good numbers. Every. Single. Time.
Having flashbacks of everything I went through to cause me to feel this way, I open my eyes, and ask, “what was it?”
The nurse has no idea what just happened in my tempestuous mind or what those numbers mean to me. (And why would she? She’s just doing her job. Excellently, I might add.) Those numbers will always and forever remind me of a time. The happiest and most terrifying moments of my life. The frustration, the denial. The fact that I am still in awe at how my body works and continue to be humbled by the one time my body failed me.
My blood pressure has always been around 120/70, without fail. So I was shocked when I found out at the end of my pregnancy that I had preeclampsia. Simplified, preeclampsia is high blood pressure during pregnancy. It’s extremely dangerous, and it puts both the mother and child at risk.
It’s very possible my preeclampsia began to develop long before I was diagnosed because all the signs and symptoms were present. I felt awful. I was swollen, not just in my face and feet, but everywhere. I had headaches. But I had a nursery to put together, work was insanely busy. I didn’t think, I just kept pushing.
Finally, one Saturday morning, when I was about 38 weeks pregnant, I went down the street to Rite Aid and took my blood pressure. 140/90. I was in shock. I cried. What is happening?
My husband Nick and I went to the hospital, they admitted me, and into labor I went.
Although my blood pressure continued to stay in the 150’s and Max’s heartrate was dropping, I was pretty much in denial that anything was wrong. I was okay with all the precautions the medical staff were taking, but I felt like they were exactly that — standard safety precautions for liability purposes.
After 31 hours of labor, Max arrived. And one short hour after I delivered, my blood pressure was 120/70. There we go. Relief. See? It was just a fluke. I almost wondered if it was just a misunderstanding or if the blood pressure machines weren’t working properly.
The day we went home, one of the nurses came to check on me. She still seemed pretty worried and made me promise that I would get my blood pressure checked at Max’s 2-day check-up.
I went home, and for two days, I was in misery. Every time I would fall asleep, after about 15-20 minutes, I would wake up gasping for air. My anxiety was through the roof and I felt terrible. We finally made it to Max’s 2-day check-up and I had the nurse check my blood pressure. 160/90.
I went to the emergency room with my husband and my days-old baby.
When we got there, the intake nurse took my blood pressure again, and the picture of that screen will forever be burned in my brain — 170/103. This image haunts me, not because I was necessarily overly concerned for my health at the time, but because I realize NOW how bad my situation was, and how in the moment, I still couldn’t accept that anything was wrong.
I was angry. I cried a lot. I felt like everyone around me was overreacting. I had just had a baby and I was upset and stressed! I reasoned that I just needed to relax and calm down and everything would be fine.
The emergency room doctor admitted me and allowed me go back to “labor & delivery” so Max could stay with me. I was in there for two more days while they put me on magnesium sulfate treatment. The side effects were tremendous, and nothing could prepare me for the hours to come.
I had a massive migraine. My vision was blurred. I couldn’t move without being in extreme pain. I was out of it; erratic. I couldn’t nurse; I wasn’t producing anything. My baby was screaming because he was starving. Max wasn’t technically a patient, so no one was checking on him. We finally asked for some formula and it saved us. (Side note to all the formula haters: So thankful for formula! And just so you know, we went back to nursing just fine after that.)
I look back on those days and they are so painful. Mostly because I realize now how badly I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression. I was terrified. I can’t think of a time when I was more vulnerable.
I absolutely think we should use our own minds when it comes to medical care and our health — we should research and get second opinions when we feel uncertain. But in that moment, for the first time in my life, I was completely at the mercy of healthcare providers. And I am so grateful. Because for the first time in my life, my body failed me.
After a month of medication, my blood pressure finally went back to normal. As I sit in the exam room, seeing my 115/75, I am so thankful and truly fortunate for how it all turned out. Relieved it’s over, I remain humbled by what did and could have happened.