Some time ago I received a phone call from a friend. She was late in the third trimester of her second pregnancy. She had been experiencing swelling and high blood pressure, and at her last appointment was told that she was spilling protein. Her doctor casually mentioned “preeclampsia.” So she called me.
I asked my friend for her lab numbers. And honestly, I was worried. Something was definitely going on. I know my story is the very rare worst case scenario, so I always consciously try to walk the fine line between trying to educate people about this little-known condition and, well, stepping out of place.
But my friend called for advice, so I tried to give it in a calm, non-alarmist manner.
I casually suggested that my friend buy a blood pressure cuff and that she push her doctor to do a 24 hour urine test. But it was the strangest thing. . . after calling me for advice – she kind of brushed me off! Denial, no doubt. But the most troubling part was that it seemed as if her doctor was being rather lackadaisical about the situation, too. But whatever. “Well, trust your doctor, I suppose. I’m sure he knows what’s best. . .”
After that, I called my friend several times to check up on her.
“So, how was your blood pressure today?,” I asked.
“Oh, a little high, but they did another ultrasound and the baby looks great!”
“Yes, but what about protein? Are you still spilling protein?”
“Yeah, I think that’s gone up a little, too. But the baby still has plenty of amniotic fluid, so that’s good!”
“Yes, but. . .
“And he’s still measuring right on track!”
“Yes, but. . .”
She kept insisting. . .
And I just wanted to scream: IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!
Let me tell you about our babies. They were beautiful. And perfect. Measured right on track. Perfect levels of amniotic fluid. Ten fingers and ten toes.
But it wasn’t enough.
People always worry and talk about the baby’s health. But what about the mother?
See, that’s the thing about preeclampsia/ HELLP Syndrome. (And, I suspect, the thing about preterm labor and placental abruptions and incompetent cervixes, and a whole host of other conditions about which I do not know enough to address.) It’s not a condition of the baby. Preeclampsia certainly affects the baby; it can cause IUGR or low amniotic fluid or, obviously, prematurity and death. But it’s not a condition of the baby.
It’s a condition of the mother.
Here in the south we have a saying: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. (I suspect that there is a comparable northern saying that simply involves better grammar.) But what about – if mama ain’t healthy, ain’t nobody healthy?
And I’m not talking “not healthy” as in the mother drinks a gallon of Jack and smokes a carton of cigarettes a day. In the case of preeclampsia, I’m talking “not healthy” as in the mother’s body rejects – violently and unequivocally rejects - the foreign matter inside it. The foreign matter that, for years, was dreamt about, and hoped for, and prayed for, and cried for (and, quite frankly, paid for).
Women like my friend like to talk about A Mother’s Love; about how they've never known a love so great and how they’d do anything for their children. Well, I’m here to tell you this – I would have done anything for those babies. I would have given my life.
Take me, not them I wanted to beg the doctors - even as they were explaining to me that that simply wasn't possible. Even if I had given my life – even if I had died right then– they still would have died, too. Not because anything was wrong with them. They were just too small to make it. They died all because I wasn’t healthy.
So, did I say all this to my friend? No, of course not. I just kept trying to steer her with the “Yes, but’s. . .,” while silently begging her to keep an eye on her own health for the sake of them both. And I kept listening to her carry on – insisting – about how perfect her baby was.
And then I got off the phone, and whispered to myself. . . Mine were, too.
MINE WERE, TOO.
(Of course, all babies are perfect and the above is not to say or suggest anything about those who have died because of his or her own health condition. I'm just sharing the other side of the story which is apparently little known to those outside our community).