By Lynzy Pyle
A flicker makes it real.
My partner squeezes my hand tight and smiles fondly at me as I am draped in a white sheet. The flicker is now more rapid on the small black and white screen. Prior to this moment, I had spent most days vomiting and being so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open.
This flicker was a beautiful and small heartbeat that would change my life forever. We drove the hour to my in-laws to show them the photo of the small flicker. I sat in the back seat and looked out of the window, thinking back to a gynecologist appointment I had at 15-years-old. “It will never happen for you,” the doctor told me. “Or, maybe with In Vitro.” The flicker said otherwise.
Memories of my grandmother talking about Toxemia and the hours and hours she spent in labor flooded my brain. How things weren’t the same for her as they were for other women. My mother had Toxemia (now known as preeclampsia) too. When giving birth to my brother at 18, she lay in her hospital bed for hours in the darkness. She couldn’t see her baby because that would make her blood pressure too high and bring on another seizure.
Preeclampsia is defined as: “A pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys.” Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. Symptoms include proteinuria (more than normal protein in urine), rapid weight gain, kidney problems, severe headaches, temporary loss of vision, upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased levels of platelets in your blood, and shortness of breath.
Within a month of finding out I was pregnant, I was in the Emergency Room and placed on bedrest. Most days passed like a blur, but as the weeks passed and my stomach grew, I had less control over my body. I was taking several medications a day and peeing in a bright orange jug to count the protein in my urine. My partner worked two jobs to compensate for me not being able to work, I dropped my classes as I was unable to wobble into class twice a week anymore. Days were spent with my swollen body tucked under pillows and blankets, wanting to die. I stare at my phone for hours looking at photos of glowing mothers, mothers exercising and eating acai bowls.
I sit at my doctor’s appointments with the cuff tightening on my arm, a white wall in front of me with a portrait of a glowing mother staring back at me with her supple breast, feeding her child. The loud pull of Velcro snaps me back and the nurse sighs “Well it’s still high today.” My partner looks at me with a sad look and all I can think of is how I wish he could have a real woman carrying his child.
I go home and I stare at my naked swollen body in my floor length mirror, I cry at how disgusting I am, my face is dry, my hair is tangled, and I am covered in stretch marks. I compare myself to the pregnant woman standing in line at the grocery store and her cute stomach as my partner pushes me by in a wheelchair.
I often chase away thoughts of suicide and self-harm with long naps and daydreaming. My attempts to try on red, lace undergarments that hugged my hips so perfectly prior to my pregnancy split and are tight. If I could just fit this on, I can be my old self again.
I wake up three weeks before my due date, today is different than those before. My back is spasming and my blood feels like it is made of fire. My partner walks out of his shift at his day job when I call him and tell him I am dying. I am admitted to the hospital and begin to be induced. My blood pressure is so high, everything seems like a dream and once I am pumped with blood pressure medicine intravenously it all becomes a blur.
Hours turn into a flash, I am laying on my side looking at my partner, all is calm for once. I feel a tingling in my neck and my head. Another flash and I wake to a nurse screaming in the doorway, “I need a doctor now.” Another flash and I am having my clothes cut off me. I am now receiving a catheter and wearing an oxygen mask. I can’t move, my blood is on fire again.
Eclampsia had me.
Eclampsia is defined as “A condition in which one or more convulsions occur in a pregnant woman suffering from high blood pressure, often followed by coma and posing a threat to the health of mother and baby.” Eclampsia affects 1 in every 200 women with preeclampsia. Eclampsia symptoms include seizures, loss of consciousness and agitation. The condition is very rare, and it had me.
My daughter was born in the early morning, strong and beautiful. Her head was full of dark hair and my partner cried when he saw her for the first time.
We were separated shortly after she was born, she was rushed to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and me to the PICU (Perinatal Intensive Care Unit). Her blood sugar was low, and she had excess fluid in her body. I was at a risk of having more seizures or going into a coma, so I lay without her for a day in a daze. My phone flooded with phone calls and text messages from loved ones, but I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to see her.
I became stable and was discharged to a New Mothers suite. A spacious 700-square-foot room with a beautiful view of town. A small human bundled in a warm blanket lay sleeping across the room as my blood pressure was taken again. “Oh no, it is getting high again”, “if it continues to stay high, we will have to talk about going back to PICU” said my nurse.
“I’m a piece of shit, I don’t deserve her,” I screamed from my hospital bed. I wanted to die, my face became instantly wet and I turned my body to the side and curled up as tight as I could. I couldn’t control my breath. My mother rushed to my side and brushed my hair away from my face as the nurse looked at the small human and walked out of the room. This small human was all bundled up ready for me, but I wasn’t ready for her.
She was out of the woods and waiting for her mother to hold her and love her. Except she didn’t have one, she had a shell of a human being, a human whose body had failed her, a body that had bled, and had been sliced open. This body had been half conscious for the past 36 hours and was stuck in a dream state. “I’m a terrible mother.” “I want to fucking die.” I couldn’t stop crying as I stared at her, she was so much more than I had ever imagined, she deserves more.
Eclampsia is the most common cause of maternal and perinatal morbidity in low and middle income countries, accounting for the death of 14% or 50,000 – 75,000 pregnant women worldwide.
Even more shocking, 1 in every 4 pregnant women will struggle with depression. Feelings of persistent sadness, thoughts of death and suicide and feelings of guilt and worthlessness are common symptoms. Between 25% and 34% of women say that they suffered trauma while giving birth. These women experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is long lasting.
These are women we see every day, glowing and seemingly happy. Although birth is beautiful – it is bloody, it is raw, and it is human emotion at its most primal. Our emotions overtake us and our will to give birth outweighs our fear. Because birth is a powerful experience, when it is traumatic, its impact can be enormous.
As for my daughter Scout and I, we went home a few days later healthy and happy. We survived Eclampsia and the growing morbidity rate among pregnant women in the United States and in the world. She is our miracle and we know she is destined to do amazing things in her life. The trauma felt with her birth will never leave me, it shapes me, and for her I would do it all again.
Help a pregnant woman by asking her what you can help her with. Rather than asking her the gender of her child ask her how her day has been or how she is feeling. Rather than sharing your personal birth story, ask her if she would like to hear it first, or if she would like advice.
Now go call your pregnant friend and ask her how her day is going.
Dedicated to Scout