pregnancy

"But she’s too small": Renee's 1.4kg baby was plucked from her at 31 weeks, barely alive.

I was 31.4 weeks pregnant when I was told that I would have to deliver my baby in a matter of days. It shattered my world. My dreams of having a long and healthy pregnancy were dashed.

Much as I cried and protested, worried about my baby’s fate and mourned a pregnancy ending too soon, the reality was that my baby and I would have died if the pregnancy continued.

It started at week 29 when I noticed my ankles swelled dramatically at work. I checked in with the maternity unit and they told me to only call back if the symptoms persisted. They certainly persisted.

It was a matter of days before I was no longer able to wear my shoes. People started commenting on the appearance of my ankles and feet. My hands started swelling and my face too, all by the end of the working week.

At week 30 at my prenatal appointment, my blood pressure was so high that I was sent straight to hospital. I knew it was serious when the obstetrician said, “let’s hope you don’t have preeclampsia. If you do you’ll get nowhere near your due date.”

What is preeclampsia
"I protested before I was wheeled into theatre and my daughter was plucked from me, barely alive." Image: Supplied.

I was shaken when I left but assumed that meant I might make it to week 36, have a 2.7kg baby and go home the next day. Easy.

I was sent home with slightly elevated creatinine levels. The nurse told me, "just because you have a headache, doesn’t mean you have preeclampsia." I was back in hospital twice before my daughter was born with exceedingly high blood pressure, flashes in my vision and headaches.

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"Come back if you start to get abdominal pain," I was told. Well I never would have come back. My daughter would have died in utero from a cardiac arrest and I would have suffered a fatal seizure or experienced permanent paralysis as I waited.

On September 30, 2017, when my blood pressure was 181/119, I went to hospital. My body was fighting so hard to keep my baby alive by forcing blood through the extremely constricted walls of my placenta with ever-increasing pressure. That was the night I was finally diagnosed and was informed that my pregnancy would need to end.

My bloods and urine were monitored continuously until  October 2, when the doctor came in in the morning and told me to put down my toast. That was the day.

I started trembling, my reflexes were extreme and my vision looked like white fireworks. I stopped producing urine and my kidneys started shutting down. Despite their best efforts to lower my blood pressure with intravenous medication, it continued to rise.

"But she’s too small," I protested before I was wheeled into theatre and my daughter was plucked from me, barely alive. Her Apgar score was 1 and she weighed just 1.4kg. The days that followed were worse. Hearing babies cry all around you when yours is away is awful.

Having a midwife pump your breasts instead of having a newborn suckle gutted me. Watching my baby be transported to another hospital fighting for life and not being able to follow her was heartbreaking. She would go between NICU and special care for the next seven weeks.

It took my body six weeks to get rid of the last traces of preeclampsia. It was at this time that I had a six week follow up with the doctor involved in my care when I had my daughter. "You were going towards the light," he said, "going, going, going and you came back." We both came back.

Each year 30,000 pregnant women in Australia will develop high blood pressure during their pregnancy, with 10,000 of these leading to preeclampsia.

Launching in-line with World Preeclampsia Day (Wednesday, 22 May), #StandByHerHRI is an educational movement from the Heart Research Institute aiming to empower mums-to-be and those around her to support her in managing her heart health throughout pregnancy.

HRI encourages Australians to get involved and help drive awareness this World Preeclampsia Day by:

  • Whether you’re a mum, mum-to-be, or part of mum’s network of support, share a picture of you and the woman you’re standing by this World Preeclampsia Day and tell us how you’re keeping heart healthy with #StandbyHerHRI
  • Sharing on social media to help raise awareness of these preventable complications. 

You can find out more or download a fact sheet via the Heart Research Institute website.

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