Lent, Mommy Blogs

Day 3: From delivery to postpartum preeclampsia: Sometimes a headache is more than just a headache.

I started writing this post when I was in the hospital and hopped up on magnesium. It’s taken much longer than expected to finish editing and publishing this post because of how raw and vulnerable this experience has left me. But here it goes. 

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At the beginning of November, we welcomed my son into the world. Thankfully, his delivery was less traumatizing than his sister’s; however, I’m truly glad we’re done having kids. I don’t handle delivery very well, and c-sections are a major surgery I never want to go through again. 

Leading up to my due date, I had made it clear to anyone who would listen that the epidural I received for Adelyn’s delivery did not work. This had nothing to do with the anesthesiologist and everything to do with my lower back scoliosis and the absorption issue of having Celiac disease. Another problem with the epidural was that it was intended for a vaginal delivery, not a c-section. From what I was told and experienced, drugs given for a c-section are a whole other beast. 

So when speaking to the anesthesiologist for Bennett’s delivery, I made it abundantly clear how complicated of a medical patient I am. Aside from epidural issues, anesthesia and I don’t get along. There tends to be a lot of vomiting after I wake up or finish whatever procedure the anesthesia involves. The anesthesiologist was friendly and usually responded with a bit of dry humor I appreciated. After listening to my worries, he said, “Well, good thing this is my first time.” I laughed and responded, “Well, sir, I will put you through the wringer today.”  The nurse who worked with him promised me he was the spinal whisperer. He smiled and nodded, assuring me the spinal blockers work way better than the epidural I received five years ago. And since this is the scheduled C-section, we’d have everything squared away, and I wouldn’t feel a thing. 

Usually, one would think you would want to hear that you’d feel nothing when you’re about to have six layers of skin cut open. I certainly thought it was what I wanted to hear after Adelyn’s delivery, where I told the surgeons everything they were cutting. 

When the time came to make my way to the operating room, the nurses gave me the option to walk into the O.R. or be wheeled in. I chose to walk, knowing it would be a while before I would walk without pain. Upon entering the room, a nurse turned to me and said, “don’t touch anything blue.” Suddenly, I wanted to touch everything blue. 

As they lowered the table for me, one nurse commented on how tiny I am; I swear if this were a movie, it would be taken as foreshadowing. Every time someone brings up my littleness, something goes wrong, nothing haywire, just slightly skewed enough to cause me discomfort. 

While the anesthesiologist worked, he explained every step he was about to complete. He was keeping the promise he made while we were in my room. His reasoning behind the over-explanation was to avoid surprises, me jumping, or becoming overly anxious. 

But let me tell you. It doesn’t matter what the verbal cues and warnings you revive, because when somebody sticks a needle into your spine, it fucking hurts. There was a weird pulling sensation as the medication was injected. When he removed the needle, it hurt less, maybe because the foreign body was no longer present because it wasn’t from the drug. Getting the medication to spread throughout my lower half was certainly not what I expected. 

With a nurse at my side, he helped me rotate from sitting to lying on the table. Another nurse joked, “get ready for the ride.” and started tilting the table left and right, trying to get the medication to move throughout my body. 

Seriously, this was the worst Disney ride ever. 

With the table tilted, the medication flowed along my legs down to my toes. But the process seemed to take forever. The anesthesiologist was performing a poke test. He started with my side stating, “this is normal,” and then he would move to my legs and ask, “can you feel this?” If I answered, “yes, I still feel it,” I believe the table would move. I’m not entirely sure what happened anymore because those memories have blurred. I remember a lot of mechanical whirling sounds. 

While waiting for the lower half of my body to become numb, a different set of nurses and doctors ask me to move my legs into a specific position. This is where things get weird. After they asked me to bend my legs, I could no longer feel them. I could hear that they strapped my legs, and I felt these odd tingles, like when your legs fall asleep after sitting on them for too long, and in my numbed-up state, this was not okay. They strapped my legs down, probably to prevent me from moving them. No one needs to be kicked in the face while cutting out a baby. I kept trying to bring my hands down and move the curtain so I could see, but I kept repeating to myself, don’t touch anything blue, and wouldn’t you know it, the curtain was blue. 

Once my legs were numb, they brought in my husband. Waiting for him felt like an eternity. I understand why it took so long. They had to ensure that the spinal blocker worked. If it didn’t, I’m not sure what they would have done, but whatever the option, I don’t believe he would have been allowed to be present.  

The nurses had my husband stand on the left side of my head. They kept reminding me he was on my left and that I should go to my right if I had to throw up. Thankfully, I didn’t vomit. 

I thought I would relax when he entered the room, but I began vocalizing my feelings. He was there for moral and hand-crushing support. Although he said I didn’t crush his hand as badly when I delivered Adelyn, I still unknowingly tried to break his fingers. But that didn’t stop him from doing his job. Throughout the procedure, he kept laughing at my ramblings. Not allowing me to dive into my anxiety. Because this go around, instead of telling him where they were cutting, I spent most of it complaining that I couldn’t feel my legs and was NOT okay with it. Whenever I would revert to my legs, he would ask, “would you rather feel everything like the last time?” 

I couldn’t give him a straight answer. I didn’t like how my legs had disappeared and that I couldn’t move them. However, was feeling everything and being able to describe what was going on during the first c-section a pleasant experience… no. But apparently, I’m that much of a control freak. 

When I wasn’t rambling, I would watch my husband look through the window in the curtain. At one point, his eyes got huge. Looking back at me, he said, “Well, that was unexpected.” “What did you see?” I asked. “I’ll tell you later.” He said, shaking his head and muttering, “I never expected that.” 

Whatever that was only left me more curious because my husband has been to war twice. During his deployments, he’s seen dead bodies and people blown up and cleaned up said bodies and blown up pieces, but what was going on the other side of my curtain was what he thought was strange and unsettling. 

Not long after, a tiny, wiggling, screaming baby boy was moving past my husband. The nurse asked my husband if he wanted to cut the umbilical, and although he said no, I’m pretty sure it had more to do with the death grip on his hand than anything else. I know they laid the baby beside me, but I can’t remember much. I’m not entirely sure when they left the room, but I know it happened before they sewed me up. 

Being semi-conscious while surgeons sew you up is the strangest experience. 

I could listen and process the conversation, but my brain was too foggy to participate. Not like anyone was trying to talk to me, but they were talking about recusing Belgian Malinois and the difference between them and German Shepherds. It slightly irritated me that I couldn’t take part. I wanted to talk about the fur missiles. By the time I could figure out how to use my words again, they removed the curtain, and they moved me from the operating table to the bed they would use to wheel me into my room. It was insane that I did not feel a single tug when they sewed me up.  For that, I was truly grateful.

Looking back at those three days in the hospital is kind of a blur. I wish I could remember more because this time, my husband and I chose to splurge and get the Lilly Pulitzer hospital room. When I walked in, the bright colors of the room welcomed me. The total opposite feeling I’ve ever gotten when walking into any hospital room. As we settled, all I could think was, this is how every maternity ward should look like. Birth is a traumatic experience, even if everything goes right. Women should feel comfortable and relaxed. Even though we’re in the hospital, it doesn’t mean we should have to feel like we’re in the hospital. Believe me, the machines we are hooked up to do that enough. 

As we settled into the room, my husband saw a menu on the coffee table. Expecting to find maybe a list of meal times and telephone numbers, we were stunned at what was inside. It was a full custom-order menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I knew the room had a food upgrade, but I didn’t expect it to be lamb, lobster, or steak. 

After changing into a hospital gown, I sat on the bed and waited. From my bed, I could see the Intracoastal. It was lovely. We paid extra for the view, and it was worth every cent. I think seeing the water every morning kept me sane. However, there were times when the sunrise made my head throb. Or at least that’s what I blamed for my migraines. 

Before I went in for the delivery, we had picked out what we wanted for breakfast and lunch. I was pleasantly surprised to find out they had gluten-free bread. I think that’s what I lived on for those three days, because I had little an appetite. When I returned with my baby, I slept, missing breakfast, but I had lunch. A yummy turkey club sandwich and a baked potato. That I ate, but dinner was a different story. I was craving lamb. However, I was exhausted when the food got to our room. I remember eating veggies and passing out with the baby cooing beside me. The best part was eating what I was craving and not feeling overstuffed, like I wanted to explode.

Eventually, the nurses came in and took the baby. This is something I learned after having my daughter. Let the nurses take the baby so that you can sleep. 

The staff at my hospital was amazing. A nurse stayed in my room for the first hour, checking my vitals and ensuring I was stable.  They had a set nurse for my room throughout their shift, unlike when I had my daughter and never saw the same nurse twice. Because of this, the nurses noticed my blood pressure was getting a little high, nothing to worry about, but it wasn’t where it should have been. I chalked it up to the fact that I had just had major surgery and was in pain. Another thing that the nurses noticed was my left foot was still swelling. That happened randomly throughout the pregnancy, but my doctors would check me out, and everything was normal. 

By Sunday morning, it was time to go home. I packed all my belongings and was ready to take my littlest nugget home to his brother and sister. 

Being home again with a newborn was like riding a bike that kept crashing. Even though I had gone through this five years before, everything was similar, but so different. I knew what to do. I knew to change him before feeding and to go to the bathroom myself as well because you never know how long a feeding could last or if he would fall asleep during it, which he did. He was the sleepiest baby. He slept through changes and feedings and cooed at everything. 

While everything was amazing with the baby, things were not with me. My incision hurt and my head throbbed. I figured it was from getting up way more and not sleeping. Also, chalking it up to my amazing little five-year-old chatterbox wouldn’t let me rest as much as I did in the hospital. 

Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from my doctor’s office. They wanted to check on me and how I was doing. I told them everything was fine except I had a migraine for the last 24 hours. The nurse then asked if I could take my blood pressure, and I did. She stayed on the phone while I wrapped the cuff on my left bicep and waited for the machine to do its job. When it finally released the pressure, the numbers on the screen read something over 100. Until then, I’ve never paid attention to my blood pressure. I’ve always had low blood pressure, so I wasn’t sure what the numbers meant. However, the nurse was extremely concerned. 

“We can see you in the gardens office around,” she paused. “You know, just come in as soon as possible.”

I laughed and said, “I’ll be in as soon as possible.”

What made me laugh about that situation had nothing to do with my health and everything to do with the fact that I could not get to the doctor right away. My husband had just left to pick up our son from school, my dad was also picking up my daughter from school, and I wasn’t supposed to drive. So, as my daughter walked in, my dad looked at me and said, “What’s wrong?”

I told him I needed another favor. Not only to take me to the doctor’s, but to watch my daughter until my husband could meet me at the office. 

After we installed the car seat base in his car, we drove to the doctor’s office. I thought nothing was wrong. I knew my blood pressure was kind of high, but not really a big deal. I was in pain from a migraine that I was prone to get, and I had just had major surgery. I kept telling my dad they were overreacting. When I walked into the office, they immediately pulled me back and checked my blood pressure. It was still a big number, over 100. 

The doctor looked at me and gave me the worst news yet. “You need to go back to the hospital. They have to run more tests.”

“Why?” I asked. I was not arguing about going but wanted to know what was happening.

“I don’t want to speculate, and I hope I’m going overly cautious,” she said. “But I believe you may have postpartum preeclampsia.”

I just stared at her. “Excuse me, what?”

“The headaches, the high blood pressure, and you had a swollen foot during your pregnancy and recovery. These are all signs of preeclampsia.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I knew nothing about preeclampsia except what I saw on an episode of Downton Abbey. You know, the episode that Sybil dies in. 

“Okay, if I do have it, what should I expect? Like what could go wrong?” I asked.

She started listing a few things, but the two that stuck out to me were seizures and death.

By the time my husband arrived, we had planned to drop off my stepson at my mom’s while we took the baby to the hospital. I wasn’t thrilled. All I kept thinking was I have a headache. It’s not that big of a deal. When we arrived, I headed back up to the maternity ward, but this time I wasn’t in the fancy room like I had been when I delivered the baby. There weren’t any bright colors to evoke happiness. Everything was tan, with gray machines everywhere. 

The nurses took me back to the pre-op area, where they retook my blood pressure. It was still high. Another nurse came in with a few vials and took my blood. She also asked my husband if he could step out because she had to insert a catheter. They needed to check the levels in my urine, but I couldn’t pee in a cup because it would contain postpartum blood, which would contaminate the sample. 

When he came back in, he looked concerned. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked, knowing that none of my results were in yet. 

He looked at me and then at the baby. “The nurse said if you’re admitted to the hospital, the baby can’t stay with you. They said it would be too dangerous.” 

I wanted to cry. I’m unsure if it was out of frustration, fear, or pain, but I wanted to cry. He explained that even if we hadn’t left, they probably would have sent the baby home with him because the treatment I’d need to go through wouldn’t allow me to pick up and hold the baby safely. 

A nurse came in after we spoke and confirmed everything he said. I remember laying back in bed, just being done with the entire ordeal. She gave me blood pressure medication and a painkiller and explained what we were waiting on. None of it registered with me. All I could think about was I had no breast milk pumped and frozen for the baby. My husband would be home with a newborn and two other elementary-age kids that go to two different schools fifteen minutes apart. 

As the machines kept beeping, I stared at the numbers. They weren’t going down, and all I could do was repeat the word fuck repeatedly in my head. 

The nurse came in with my blood results. My liver and kidney levels were elevated enough to cause concern for my doctor, and the nurse told me I would be checking back in. This was not what I wanted to hear. I was not prepared in any way, shape, or form to be separated from my baby for a few hours, let alone for at least three days. I looked at the small bag that I had brought with me. I thought I was being overly prepared with my breast pump, cozy socks, and laptop, expecting to only be there for a few hours. Suddenly, I wished I had packed more. 

After they moved me to my new room, I kissed my husband and baby goodbye. I changed into the gown they gave me and sat on the bed, waiting for the nurses to hook me back up to the machines. I hate machines. I hate hospitals. And I was left alone with my thoughts. This whole pregnancy, I had an irrational fear that I would lose the baby or he would die after being delivered. Never once did I think my life was at risk.

The nurse who was in charge of me was really nice. She explained I couldn’t get out of bed once the magnesium drip started. She wrapped my legs into the pressure cuffs and gave me an extra blanket. The pressure behind my eyes had increased, and my brain felt like it was throbbing. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the bed. Now that I had a moment to breathe and listen to my body, it was obvious something was wrong. 

The magnesium drip flowed through me, and I felt drunk. When the nurse would ask me questions, my words were slurred. They were right when they told me I couldn’t get out of bed. The room was spinning, causing my head to hurt more. Finally, I fell asleep. Sleep postpartum is dangerous, especially when you don’t have a baby nearby to wake you. The nurse woke me at three in the morning to take my blood pressure medication. But as she administered the medication, she noticed how engorged my chest had become. I was so exhausted that I forgot to pump. 

I didn’t think the night could get worse, but it had. Not only did I feel drunk, without the fun part beforehand, but now my breast felt like they wanted to pop. 

The nurse asked if I had a breast pump, and I said yes, of course, but I had nothing to store the milk in. She laughed and said, “Don’t worry, we have plenty of things for that.”

I hooked myself up to another machine and waited for relief, but there was none. My ducts were clogged. I wanted to cry because everything hurt so much. I didn’t know what to do. Before when this happened with my daughter, I could take a hot shower and massage out the milk. But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t even leave my bed.  Finally, I pressed the call button on the remote. I needed help and was in the right place to get it. 

The nurse who woke me up returned. She was fairly chipper for 4 in the morning. I was never that happy when I worked the overnight hours. Nearly in tears, I told her I needed help. I couldn’t express the milk. She told me not to worry and left the room. She returned with a different breast pump in what felt like a blink. She told me it was the hulk of breast pumps. After showing me how to use it, I thought she would leave. However, she stayed by my side. Not only did she make sure that everything was working correctly, she helped me massage out the milk. I didn’t have the brainpower to fully process what was happening. 

The following two days were a blur. I lay in bed with machines beeping next to my head. My husband would bring the kids by after school. He brought me food and would bring home the milk I had pumped. My daughter was filled with an insane energy. I think her emotions were manifesting as a tiny ball of chaos. She did not like seeing me in the hospital, which I understand completely. It was hard enough on my husband, who understood why I was there. I can not imagine what a five-year-old was experiencing. 

My doctors and nurses would check on me throughout the day to see how I was progressing. My blood pressure was getting lower, and my kidney and liver levels were stabilizing. At three in the morning on the second night, the nurse told me I could go home if my blood pressure stayed in the 80s. I texted my husband and told him to get ready to pick me up because even though I had no control over my blood pressure; I was leaving this place. 

The phlebotomist came in and drew my blood. I asked her how long it would take to get the results because I wanted to leave. She looked at me like I grew two heads. She said no one would release me at four in the morning.

I went back to sleep only to be woken up two hours later as the morning nurse came in and started unhooking me. “Am I going home?” I asked.

“If your 8 am read comes back, yes, you are!” She beamed. 

My doctor came in at 7. She had a c-section scheduled at eight and wanted to check on me before I left. She explained how I needed to take blood pressure medication for the next month and to call if I got any more headaches. I told her I would contact her immediately if I felt the slightest bit off. She hugged me and left as the morning nurse came in to discharge me. I told her how much I appreciated the care I had received at the hospital, but I hoped never to see them again, and she said she hoped the same. 

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