“Preeclampsia can suck it.” I remember saying this online at a Preeclampsia Support group and could almost hear the nods of other mothers in the form of “likes.”
We supported each other through the first scary diagnosis, or while we’re being triaged and about to have a premature baby. There are tears shed, prayers offered, and baby pictures shared of miracle babies. I don’t know where I would be without these group of strangers, brought together by this diagnosis.
There are moments where I go online and offer comfort and humor. I sometimes alternate my hashtags to either “Preeclampsia sucks,” or “Preeclampsia can SUCK it.”
But then there are days where I am angry at myself for receiving this awful diagnosis and there are days where I, somehow, believe I deserved it. Those days, I avoid social media interactions because my pride tells me that pity is not something I want to experience.
The truth cuts me in bursts throughout my daily routine and it took a long time to realize that my usually upbeat self was beating myself up.
In 2012, I was diagnosed with Preeclampsia, a condition that only affects mothers, when I was 26 weeks pregnant. I researched the mess out of preeclampsia and concluded that I needed to lay off salt, stay hydrated, and “take it as easy as possible.”
I had my daughter, Ellie, at 31 weeks on March 3rd, 2012. She weighed 3 pounds 4 ounces and would spend 6 weeks at a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The days during the NICU stay was a blur and I remember being on autopilot most of the time. There was the rigorous schedule of pumping breast milk, 15 to 20 minutes, and every 3 hours; the constant questions from well-meaning friends and relatives asking, “when is she coming home?” And the constant worry about what life would be like with a premature baby.
That worry would dissipate over time but remnants of grief and guilt stayed behind. I was haunted by the ‘what-ifs’ and what different things I could have done. I found myself crying a little more as these two assaulted me when I wasn’t paying attention.
In 2015, I found out I was pregnant, and already I was prepared for the impending diagnosis. Per the doctor’s advice, I began a daily aspirin regimen. I walked as often as I could and learned that salt didn’t automatically mean preeclampsia. Preeclampsia was once called “a disease of theories” (1). I’m not in the medical field, so I’ll leave that to the doctors. I will say, that because of my experience with preeclampsia, I felt confident in talking to my doctor and being an advocate for myself and my baby. When you’re a first time mom, you’re not really sure about what to expect and you rely on the doctors and the knowledge of the people in your medical team. And when something like excessive swelling, or throbbing headaches occur, you think it’s just part of the pregnancy, and may feel like the doctor won’t take you seriously.
Listen to your bodies. I’d rather be called paranoid and wrong, then be proven right. Preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year (2).
Back to my story. So, at around my 20thweek, I packed my bags. But this time, I left a box behind. I left a box of goodbye letters for my daughter to have just in case I didn’t make it.
My mind clung onto the guilt and grief and the “what ifs” and deduced that I wasn’t supposed to “make it” the first time around.
Somewhere in my anxious self, this small voice started to whisper that I got lucky the first time. I was caught up in making sure I had everything “in order” that the idea of a goodbye letter didn’t raise a red flag in my system.
I worked my 40 hours at work. I came home to my family. I hugged my little girl goodnight. And I would find myself awake at 2 or 3 in the morning from these nightmares.
Maybe it was the stress at work. Maybe it was this diagnosis that was ticking louder and louder as each week passed by. I kept throwing excuses around until I found the one that seemed to fit me best. I was afraid of preeclampsia. This diagnosis became almost demon-like in my thoughts and I was possessed with fear.
I had my son at 34 weeks, 5 days on April 28th, 2016. He was a whopping 5 pounds and 5 ounces! The day before that, I went to work with a throbbing headache and knew that my drive to the hospital was inevitable and I would meet my little one soon.
Just like with my daughter, I poured my heart out to my support group. The women whose names I won’t remember but whose words I treasured and needed to hear.
I assumed that I would be “fine” by the time he came home. I was for a time. I hugged and cuddled next to my newborn and felt peace. But I felt “off.” Something wasn’t clicking.
I remember thinking that when I was at the hospital and latched him on for the first time. With my daughter and her frailty, I was so afraid of “breaking her” but when she latched on, I was in awe at that beautiful breastfeeding moment.
When my son latched, I felt nothing. At first, I thought, it was just exhaustion and then I thought, the mood or the setting was never right. Even when we were home, in the quiet nursing chair, I started to expect that feeling of bonding. I taught breastfeeding as a Women, Infant, Child (WIC) Nutritionist and I told moms about this feeling.
Not feeling anything with him drove me further away from him. I started to think that maybe I wasn’t even here anymore and I had died at the operating room. I can’t feel him and he can’t feel me.
These thoughts would come at me in waves and sometimes, I felt the power of the clash. I went to work when he was only eleven weeks old and I wanted to drive as far away from my life as possible. For the next few weeks, I would make the commute, pull over and sob over these numbing, yet crushing emotions, take a breath and show up at work or at home like nothing happened.
I didn’t think anyone would notice. On social media, I try to put some honest sides of me but admitting this helplessness meant it was real.
I carried on pretending that none of it was real. I hashtag breastfeeding photos on Instagram. I posted only smiling pictures of me holding my baby boy. I didn’t want to post that I barely heard him crying in the crib next to me, or that I was starting to believe that I wasn’t meant to exist anymore. After all, I already wrote out my goodbyes.
It was my boss – now my ex-boss – who told me that I needed to go home. She said I needed to take care of myself and to find help. I remember sitting at her office asking about schedules and travel time, when she asked me, “are you happy?”
Do you know it took a few minutes to say, “That’s a loaded question.” It was that moment that I acknowledge for the first time that I was not happy, and that I needed help.
I left my position in September 2016. Shortly thereafter, I sought help and researched the mess out of postpartum depression. I found a few more support groups where no one says, “Postpartum depression can suck it.”
I’ve started to write out my truths and I’ve been touched and humbled by the support that I have gotten.
The truth is that I have good days and bad days. I have moments that feel like I’m drowning in rage and sorrow, and I’m not sure if I want to come up for air. This tug and pull stays with me but I want to keep fighting for my son and my daughter. They don’t need my goodbyes. They need my hellos and my hugs and kisses.
SO while Preeclampsia can SUCK it, the truth is that postpartum depression was the one that sucker punched me. And one day, I’ll be ready to knock out my postpartum depression.
*This will appear in the memoir I am working on. It first appeared on my blog: Life after Preeclampsia. If you have any thoughts, or opinions about the piece, I welcome them!!
As always, pray!
1, 2 www.preeclampsia.org