“I’ve always been a planner. So it’s no surprise that as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I made a spreadsheet of the baby supplies I’d need, booked the antenatal classes, drafted a list of baby names and devoured every pregnancy book I could get my hands on.
Some days after my daughter was born, I thought back to those books whilst I lay in a bed in the intensive care unit. I recalled having come across a section in one of the books titled “PRE-ECLAMPSIA,” skipping over it, confidently thinking “This won’t be me,” and going on to read about water births. I had a very healthy pregnancy — up until the night I went into labour. I started vomiting violently and a few hours later was hit with contractions every 60 seconds. I remember first calling the hospital, then calling my parents to let them know it was time. I remember the trip to the hospital with my anxious husband carrying my over-packed bags, the ride in the lift to the maternity ward and that’s where my memory cuts out.
Three days later I awoke to a doctor shining a light in my eyes, informing me that I had been transferred to the Neurological Intensive Care unit at another hospital. She told me that my baby was safe, that my husband was with her in the Neonatal Intensive care ward. She asked me to try to move my hands or feet, and a wave of nausea swept me when I realised that I couldn’t. My hands were swollen, my skin yellow, bruises covered my arms and legs. I was intubated and couldn’t speak, and I was having severe visual and auditory hallucinations.
I don’t have the words to describe the panic I felt, believing I was trapped in my body. Gravity stopped making sense, the room kept rotating and morphing into different surroundings. Fear and paranoia gripped me. I believed the doctors were lying to me about my daughter being alive. The only moments of respite were when I felt my husband or my parents holding my hand. Over a painful two weeks that felt like an eternity, I gradually recovered and began to understand what had happened.
Despite an apparently healthy pregnancy, I had sudden, severe pre-eclampsia when I went into labour. During those ten hours, the pre-eclampsia progressed to HELLP syndrome — a life-threatening liver and blood-clotting disorder — my blood pressure spiked, and I suffered two eclamptic seizures. After an emergency c-section, my daughter was transferred to another hospital to receive therapeutic cooling to prevent brain damage from the loss of oxygen during my seizures. While I was sedated, MRI scans showed that I had also suffered from a rare condition called PRES syndrome in which parts of the brain swell, and a subarachnoid haemorrhage, an uncommon type of stroke caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain. I had to wait nearly seven days before I got to meet my daughter.
My husband and I had wanted to wait until she was born to name her, so the midwives and nurses knew her as Peanut until she was well enough to be taken to my ward. I was worried she wouldn’t know who I was, but as soon as our eyes met this tiny, fierce little girl gave me a look as if to say “What took you so long?” Then she curled herself into me and fell into a contented sleep. Peanut eventually became Cerys, and I finally became a mum.
A week later both our MRI scans came back normal, and the three of us went home together as a family. No amount of planning could have prepared us for that experience. My recovery was painful, and two and a half years on I still struggle to process what happened. It breaks my heart that I wasn’t fully present for the first few months of my daughter’s life, but I know I’m lucky to be there for her now.
Not all families affected by pre-eclampsia get a happy ending. I wish I had known more about this condition during my pregnancy. Though I never had high blood pressure, never had protein in my urine and all my tests for pre-eclampsia came back negative, there were some warning signs that were explained away during my third trimester: the pain under my ribs was my baby’s feet poking me; the swelling in my hands, face, and feet was deemed typical of late pregnancy; the floating spots in my vision and blurry eyesight was put down to exhaustion.
Perhaps if I’d known more, I might not have brushed the symptoms off. This is why I am grateful that I have the chance to share my story. I hope my experience can help save lives by raising awareness about pre-eclampsia and support other families affected by this condition”