One writer shares how a rare complication from a difficult pregnancy had her fighting for her life.
Picture your postpartum experience. You are probably imagining of taking care of a newborn, bonding, feeding, resting, and adjusting to your new life with your gorgeous new baby. You don’t expect to be told at three days postpartum that you are fighting for your life.
But I was.
Caught off guard
Neither of my two pregnancies were easy. My body doesn’t seem to take to pregnancy very well but my second was far worse than my first in different ways. Aside from morning sickness, a subchorionic hematoma (bleeding), and being very large, my second pregnancy was looking like it was going to be smooth sailing.
At 37 weeks that all changed. My doctor was getting concerned about how big I was getting. I was very uncomfortable and couldn’t lay down, walk properly, or even sleep anymore.
I was exhausted with a toddler running around. The extra-large belly I was dragging around had me in constant pain.
I was sent for an ultrasound where I was told I had polyhydramnios (too much amniotic fluid) and they needed to induce me a few days later. My chubby cheeked Benjamin was born weighing 8 lbs 12 oz.
Ignoring the signs
In the hours and day after the birth, I noticed how tired and swollen I was. I did not swell in my last pregnancy or postpartum. I asked several nurses if the extreme swelling in my feet and legs was okay.
“Normal”, they said.
Of course, swelling peripartum can be a completely normal occurrence.
What they didn’t know, what I had been trying to ignore for a couple weeks, was that I was having trouble breathing.
It had only affected me while laying down over the last weeks of my pregnancy and although it was getting worse and noticeable while standing, it had become ordinary.
After we were discharged we spent a lovely day at home together as a new family of four.
As luck would have it
The next day my Grandmother helped me take my new baby back to the hospital to be weighed and so I could attend the breastfeeding clinic. On the way there she was trying to convince me to go to a walk-in clinic to make sure I was okay.
I hadn’t told her about my trouble breathing; it was noticeable. I couldn’t even get in enough of a breath to yawn, cough, or finish a sentence. She recognized the symptoms as my grandfather has been in heart failure for years.
As luck would have it, while I was in labour I lost my wallet. Since we were already there we went up to labour and delivery to see if they had come across it. We ran into my obstetrician and while they didn’t have my wallet, I was sent directly to the emergency room.
They say that if you have to wait in the ER it is a good thing. This was the fastest trip in the ER of my life. After some tests, I was brought into a curtained-off section where the resident and doctor did a bedside chest ultrasound.
I remember him telling her this would be a good learning opportunity, but I had a lot of difficulty breathing while laying down which made it hard to hear.
When they finished they told me I was in heart failure and I was being admitted, and an internal medicine doctor and a cardiologist would be coming by to see me. After a lot of poking by a few doctors and being told how impressive my edema (swelling) was they started me on my first dose of diuretics.
I spent three days in the hospital with my newborn and grandmother with my older son and husband at home. In those three days, I lost over 20 lbs of fluid that had been building up.
I felt so betrayed by my own heart, so guilty that these were my son’s first moments on this planet and so very scared.
After a lot of tests, and some more diuretics to remove fluid on and off I am happy to report that my heart is in good condition and that we caught this very fast. If we hadn’t I don’t know where I would be right now.
A year later, I am overall doing very well. I still see my cardiologist. I still have to be cautious. Another pregnancy would have to be monitored by doctors.
Postpartum/ Peripartum Cardiomyopathy is a rare form of heart failure. Although my official diagnosis is not PPCM because my actual heart was not damaged, our tests have shown the condition is a serious one.
It is one that takes women completely by surprise. I almost ignored my symptoms because they are similar to normal late pregnancy and postpartum symptoms. I never would have guessed that I would be told at 25 years old and three days postpartum with my second child that I was in heart failure.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the cause of PPCM is unknown. There is much they do not know about it yet.
Knowing the symptoms can save your life, raising awareness can save someone else’s. Although I don’t have an answer for what happened to me, by connecting with PPCM survivors I have found support and encouragement.
I have talked to women that have all been impacted by heart failure peripartum differently; some we honour because they are no longer with us, some just starting their fight, and others that have fought against their own hearts and are fully recovered.
For more information about PPCM, check out the Heart and Stroke Foundation website.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.