For women, the facts are simply this – Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the No. 1 cause of death in women and high blood pressure is the No. 1 preventable cause of stroke. With this in mind, here is Alejandra Hancock to share her story of how high blood pressure impacted her pregnancy.
When I found out I was pregnant, I had just turned 22 years old – a good age to start my family. I had a steady job, was married and I was enjoying life with my husband. When I first found out, I called and made my first obstetric appointment. A few weeks later my appointment day had come; they had me leave a urine sample, to later found out I was indeed pregnant. They did a quick ultrasound to see how far along I was, and I happened to have a 7-week-old little bean. I remember going into my doctor’s office after a quick exam and he asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”. Being a young lady and it being my first pregnancy, I felt like I had a million questions. The one that stuck out most to me was, “My mom had preeclampsia when she was pregnant with me, so am I at a higher risk to have preeclampsia?”. He said “No”, that I should be fine since I was young and healthy. My pregnancy then continued as normal with once-a-month appointments, glucose tests, ultrasounds, etc. Everything was going great, and I found out I was having a little boy just after my first trimester ended.
During my second trimester, I started experiencing severe anxiety, which caused my blood pressure to rise. When I would go to the doctor, my blood pressure would be elevated but nothing alarmingly high. My doctor and I both agreed that it was probably anxiety related. During my second trimester, I started to develop some headaches, not daily but occasional ones. I brought it up to my doctor and he asked me how my sleep was and, honestly, my sleep was not that great. Sometimes I went to work at 4 AM, sometimes at 7 AM. My schedule was inconsistent and was very hard on my body. When you’re pregnant you need all the rest you can get, and I often pushed myself more than I should have.
At my scheduled 31-weeks appointment, everything had been going great besides fatigue and occasional headaches. The medical assistant took my vitals, but I didn’t even look at the blood pressure machine when it was done. I went back to the exam room, my OB measured my belly, asked how everything was going, all the routine things. When he was done, he sat down and told me my blood pressure was elevated and they needed to recheck it. Of course, hearing that I started to worry, and it was elevated even more the second time. My doctor came back into the exam room and told me he needed to send me to the emergency room for some more tests because of my high blood pressure. At this point, I was scared, I was alone, and I just wanted to cry. I called my husband on my way to my car to tell him what was going on. Keep in mind that when I was pregnant we were in the heat of COVID so he couldn’t go to any appointments with me. I told him, “Don’t worry. I will call you when I get into a room and we figure out what is going on.” I was hoping I would have a fetal non-stress test done and be able to go home once they knew baby and I were okay.
My doctor had called the nurses in the emergency room and told them I was on my way. When I got to the ER, my blood pressure was 152/91. They started a fetal nonstress test and found out that I was in pre-term labor. They took a urine sample and bloodwork, sent it off to the lab, and waited for the doctor to call back. After some time had passed, I was ruled as having gestational hypertension, which is different than preeclampsia. The nurse explained to me I had to take a jug home and collect my urine for 24 hours so they could do a 24-hour urine test. Hours had passed and the doctor came over from his office to see me. He told me he wanted me to stay overnight so they could monitor me and baby and that they would do the 24-hour urine collection there. The following day my blood pressure decreased, but I was still having contractions, so my doctor didn’t want to send me home just yet. After my 24-hour urine results came back, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia causes high levels of protein in your urine and can cause stress to your heart and other organs. Having preeclampsia explained why I was in preterm labor. Since I was only 31 weeks along, it was very important to stop pre-term labor any way possible. We needed my baby boy to grow more. I was given two shots of betamethasone (steroids), which helps with the development of a baby’s lungs before birth. At this point we knew I would have a premature baby – we just didn’t know when. I was kept in the hospital on strict bed rest, fetal NST’s every 8 hours, blood pressure checks every 30-60 minutes, bloodwork every couple of days, and the list goes on. The goal was to make it to 34 weeks gestation with my baby boy. At 33 weeks everything changed. I was still on strict bed rest and in the hospital, but my body was fighting back. I started contracting heavily and I ended up dilating to 4 centimeters, which was not good. My doctor started me on IV fluids and nifedipine every six hours to stop the pre-term labor. I was given multiple doses of morphine and Demerol to stop my body from laboring. There were multiple occasions when my doctor thought I was going to have to have an emergency cesarean to deliver my baby. However, we ended up scheduling my c-section when I was 34 weeks and one day as that was the safest route for myself and the baby.
Since I had my son at 34 weeks, he was premature. He ended up spending 15 days in the NICU, some of the longest 15 days of my life. He was so little and needed to grow stronger before he could come home from the hospital. He had oxygen to help him breathe, a feeding tube to help him eat and he needed help regulating his body temperature. Seeing him being hooked up to different monitors, not being able to hold him without wires everywhere, it was hard. I wanted him to be okay. I didn’t want any of this. How could I be so young and have all this happen that now my baby boy isn’t 100% healthy? Was it the fried chicken I ate the day I was put in the hospital? Was it not exercising enough? What could I have done differently? No one will ever know why I developed preeclampsia.
Had my doctor not sent me to the emergency room, we may have not known how serious my preeclampsia was. My body was giving me all the warning signs, but I was not listening to them. I thought I was healthy, and I was going to be able to deliver my baby full-term. Listen to your body and listen to your doctors. If I hadn’t listened to mine, I may not be here today. I may not have my healthy 17-month-old baby boy. Preeclampsia is nothing to take lightly, it changed my life and opened my eyes to how serious it is. I was clueless going into my pregnancy, and I had a huge wrench thrown in my plan. I hated being in the hospital for three weeks, but looking back now, I’m glad I did not go home. I am glad I listened to my doctor and stayed to be monitored. My story could be completely different if I hadn’t done so.