Tori's Blog

When Things Don’t Go As Planned: Preeclampsia

Monday, October 5th, 2009

As I continue the discussion on home-birth I’d like to share with you my experience with Alexander’s birth. It is an excellent example of how unexpectedly things can change.Home_pic

I was really healthy during my pregnancy. A week before my December 24th due date, my water bag broke in the Christmas card aisle of our local drugstore (that’s another story) and within a few hours I was in booming labor. However, when I arrived at the hospital, my blood pressure was extremely high, 180/120. My normal blood pressure is about 90/60. I had noticed my feet were pretty puffy but did not realize that I had gained 9 pounds (in fluid) since the previous day. Shockingly and randomly, I had preeclampsia and was developing something called HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzyme levels, and a low platelet count) syndrome, the most severe complication of preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a potentially life threatening condition that develops in approximately 5-7% of pregnancies. I was not at all in the risk category for it. HELLP involves blood cells, the liver, and the kidneys and is extremely unusual; only 0.5 percent of pregnant women develop it. That it had come on so suddenly meant it was especially serious. Within a couple of hours of arriving at the hospital, I was given medication to lower my blood pressure and to prevent seizures. I remember very little of the rest of the day, as I rapidly became sicker. Treatment for this disease is birth, but I was too ill to continue with labor. Alexander was born by cesarean section at 9:40 p.m.

I don’t remember Alexander’s birth or actually anything before noon the next day. When I look at photographs of myself holding and breastfeeding Alexander, I can barely recognize my swollen face. He and I went home from the hospital five days later. I lost 30 pounds in fluid over the next week. I had thought that I’d mapped out all the possible ways my labor could go, and this one had never even occurred to me. It was that unexpected.  And that happens. Not often, but sometimes.

Because I was so ill, I didn’t hold Alexander right after he was born; I didn’t breastfeed him until 6 hours later; and I ended up staying in the hospital for five days. None of this is what I had wished for. But that is what happens sometimes and the truth is that had I not been in a hospital or had it been 50 years ago, neither of us might have been okay. Today, I have a healthy, thriving son who has a healthy mom. I breastfed Alexander for a year, and we did not miss out on anything due to the seriousness of our first day together.  I am so grateful to have been in an environment that could safely care for us both. Honestly, I would go through it all again to have a child like him.

Giving birth is an amazing experience, whether it happens at home with a midwife, in a hospital with an epidural, or by cesarean section. Childbirth is not an end unto itself, but rather the beginning of an incredible life. For preeclampsia support, please visit the Preeclampsia Preeclampsia FoundationFoundation and become part of their community.

Your Comments

  1. How sad that you say birth isn’t about an experience “at all”. Of course it is! To pretend it isn’t tells women that they don’t have the right be be sad about missing out on the experience they wanted. Is a healthy baby and mother the most important thing? Of course! Is it all that matters? Absolutely not. Shame on you for pretending that the experience of birth is of no accord :( I hope women who have been through birth trauma and birth rape won’t see your thoughts on birth.
    Sure, there are exceptions to every rule. I have a friend who would have a live baby if she hadn’t chosen to give birth in the hospital who gave her pitocin at such high doses her uterus split open and the baby died. You can’t use anecdotal evidence to “prove” that your side is right. Only evidence-based studies can do that. And the fact remains that the largest studies and reviews continue to prove that homebirth is a safe option for low-risk mothers.
    But we must also remember that there are exceptions to every rule and that doesn’t just mean exceptions to “you’re safe at home with a midiwfe” but also exceptions to “you’re safer in the hospital with medical professionals”.

  2. Hello Tori,

    Thank you for discussing the issues surrounding home birth. My name is Catherine, I am the mom that gave the interview to the Today Show about my Noa’s home birth. I understand the bashing that you might have received after posting anything that might question the safety of having a home birth. I remember falling in love with the “idea” of natural birth, I then figured out that the best chance for that was a home birth. My hubby and I researched everything we could find on home births and we never found anything contradicting our assumptions about the safety and joy of having a home birth. I am left betrayed and confused after what I have had to live. There is no doubt that Noa would be 6 months old if my choice of birth would have been different. This is the truth I have to live every day. Birth, as you said is very unpredictable and as first time parents we were not prepared to fight our own care-providers over the decisions that were being made. We trusted, thinking there was simply no way someone of Cara’s experience and character would ever jeopardize our lives. Now you might understand the betrayal that we are experiencing, when we realize nobody was looking at our Noa’s death, no one was considering all the variables, nobody was asking the key questions, there was no investigation, and when I asked her while holding my dead baby, what happened? She said, I don’t know… I don’t understand… This makes me question everything I believe in. I thought to myself, believe in? No, wrong words, it has everything to do with knowledge not belief. Do I believe that home birth killed my baby, No… A midwife did, and a system that is not prepared for home births. The system is behind, in the Netherlands a home birth takes place and several agencies are informed, it doesn’t happen so simply, there is a system that holds the midwives accountable. Here, there is NOTHING!!! In New York the most a midwife has had her license suspended is 6 months. Over a death. 6 months! We SHOULD give women choices, but there needs to be a system in place that supports the parents as well as the midwives, if there is no system, should home births be taking place? I don’t know. The studies that are always used to debate the safety of home births should take all the variables into consideration, education, system, hospital care, insurance etc. Statistics mean nothing to us, we are that exception they talk about, the difference is that our baby should be living and is not, she should not have died. I must say that it would be easier to have a dead baby that was given every chance to live not one that was given every chance to die. Do I believe that home births are safe? They can be, but when they are not, living with this guilt makes me never want any woman to chose a home birth ever again. I will never support home birth again, I will forever regret my choice.

    Sorry if I rambled, I don’t answer blogs of those that are defending their way, I like to know my baby’s life was respected enough on its own, that it does not become just one of thousands that went right, but one baby’s life is enough.

    Sorry again… I totally invaded your space.
    Thanks,

    Catherine

  3. Catherine, It is exactly noon here in California and I sit at my desk completely in tears. I don’t have words to share with you that could adequately touch you. I am so very, very sorry of your losing your little Noa.

    I do not wish to bring you any more pain than you have every minute of every day. But I do wish to fight this fight… for you. Because you are real and you trusted. You trusted people who did not give you full information. You trusted people who did not have the ability to keep you and Noa safe. You trusted people who have used their celebrity status to foster misinformation. You did your work and you trusted. You did everything right. But as you know, in the most heart-wrenching of ways, birth isn’t just about an “experience”. Actually it isn’t about an “experience” at all. It is very simply about life. About a baby. A beautiful, healthy baby.

    As you can see by my own birth story, I am not being histrionic or dramatic. As a birth professional, I have seen it in the many thousands of births I have attended. As a woman, I have lived the story of how unpredictable birth can be. Catherine, let me
    fight this fight for you. I have the passion to do it. Please email me at tori@thejoyofpregnancy.com. I would love to speak privately with you.

    Very warmly, Tori

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