Three and a half years ago I rushed to the hospital with my husband at 11:30pm on a Monday night with the most severe pain I’d ever felt, sitting right under my sternum. It had started earlier in the day while I was at work and I thought it was just gas. The progressively got worse throughout the day and in the evening I told my husband I was going to lay up in bed and rest. I was almost 23 weeks pregnant with our first son. Our honeymoon baby.
The pain continued to get worse and I eventually called my doctor around 9:30pm. I was told it was likely reflux and to take some Tums, relax, and call back in an hour. at 10:30pm my doctor called me instead. I told her that I don’t tend to get reflux, but I’ll continue to take the Tums, and no, it didn’t feel any better. By 11pm the pain had worsened and I went downstairs to try to rest on the couch. Alarm bells had started to go off in my head but I tried to calm myself. By this point I could no longer sit or lay down and be comfortable. at 11:30, I went upstairs, woke my husband, and told him we needed to go to the hospital. I knew the doctor said it was only reflux, but my body told me it was something different, and if I was going to survive, I had to take care of myself.
“One of the biggest worldwide public health triumphs in recent years has been maternal mortality. Global death rates fell by more than a third from 2000 to 2015. The United States, however, is one of the few countries in the world that have gone against the grain, new data show. Its maternal mortality rate has risen despite improvements in health care and an overwhelming global trend in the other direction.”
Women dying as a result of childbirth is a topic that is so important to me because I was diagnosed with a life-threatening pregnancy related disorder called HELLP Syndrome (this graphic was so comprehensively created to inform people about HELLP Syndrome that I just couldn’t try to make a new one- click on the graphic to check out the site). I, luckily, had doctors who were on top of my health and did not miss any warning signs so that I was diagnosed very quickly. As a result, I survived, but my baby died.
Why, in a nation as advanced as the US, are women dying more frequently as a result of childbirth? Researchers point toward the US just being ahead of the curve in the fallout from the obesity epidemic and the fact that women are having babies later in life, but I just have such a hard time believing that is the reason. Although my case was not related to either of these (although they are both listed as possible causes- the ultimate cause is unknown) I do understand that both can be precursors to a difficult and unhealthy pregnancy. I expect more from the US though.
There is a HUGE emphasis placed on the baby during childbirth. But what happens when the mother is left behind? What happens when warning signs are missed and the mother’s health starts to plummet? Being a part of close knit and supportive community of HELLP Syndrome survivors, I hear the story way too often. Womens’ symptoms are being missed way too often. Or they’re being mistaken for something else. For me it was reflux. I DON’T GET REFLUX. I know that. I had to trust my gut when it told me that this wasn’t reflux. And my doctors listened.
The end of 2013 was the worst time of my life. My tiny son, Vincent, was born at 11.2oz, 10.5″ long, at almost 23 weeks gestation. He had cord pulses for 4 minutes shy of 4 hours and my husband and I got to hold him and love on him for his entire life. My family met him while I lay in labor and delivery with my epirdural still in, waiting for my platelets to rise back up over 90,000 (when I started my pregnancy they were around 320,000) so that I didn’t bleed when they removed it. I was on magnesium sulfate for 4 days to ensure that I didn’t have any seizures due to my high blood pressure. I was lucky. I survived even though my baby didn’t. I was not one of the numbers from above. I’m thankful for that fact every day, every time I hear a story about another mother dying because of HELLP syndrome or pregnancy.
After going home, I was in the house, in the snow and ice, with my two dogs, not able to drive for a few weeks, dealing with my blood pressure going up and down because doctors were trying to control it with the right dosage of medication, waiting for my son’s ashes to be ready to be picked up, processing what life would now be like without the son we expected. Taking care of myself was the last thing on my mind.
It took me another three years, two high risk pregnancies, and a son in the terrible twos with a daughter who didn’t sleep well, and a fall and winter that was riddled with my entire family being sick (including me in the hospital with pneumonia) to realize that I really need to start caring for myself better than I am. I started exercising, actually looking at what I ate, and I started the simple act of doing something I loved…pampering. Because I deserved it.
Everyone does. It’s not something that you have to earn. I don’t “deserve” to take care of myself because of my history or what I went through. I deserve it because I’m worthy. Everyone deserves it. This is my story, but I’m no different than anyone else.
So everyone, please spread some awareness. Be cognizant of the issues that everyone has. Stand up for yourself, but stop comparing. Don’t think that you have to be worthy of taking time for yourself. Show yourself some love and enjoy it. Even if it is just an amazing hand crème or lip balm. Even if it’s just a 15 minute face mask, or some crazy luxurious body crème. It is so worth it.