Lua Lepianka – How To Support A New Mom After PreeclampsiaLua is a mom who had preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. She is a volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation.
I am glad to have the opportunity to share with members of the Support Network my experience with preeclampsia and to help you better understand the support needed by women and families who experience this hypertensive disorder of pregnancy that threatens the lives of moms and babies, and that contributes to a woman’s two-fold increased risk for heart disease.
Each year, nearly 76,000 moms and 500,000 babies worldwide die from complications attributed to preeclampsia. And while my son and I survived, the postpartum effects can be devastating. Support is critical to the emotional and physical recovery of women and their families after such a traumatic experience. Following is my story and my tips for how you can provide support for a woman and her family who have experienced preeclampsia and its ongoing effects.
I had a very healthy pregnancy until 31.5 weeks. During a normal check-up, my blood pressure was elevated and my face was swollen. I was admitted for “pregnancy-induced hypertension” and released on bedrest. During my appointment the following week, I was admitted with severe preeclampsia and my son was born by emergency C-section at 32 weeks and at just 3 lbs, 3 oz. and 16 inches long. He was immediately taken to the NICU without me ever being able to hold him. I was released a week later on the highest dose of blood pressure medication allowed - it was a last hope that my body would respond as it had resisted medication for the week I was in the hospital. Unfortunately, two days after my release I was readmitted with postpartum preeclampsia for another round of treatment. My son spent 15 days in the NICU and was ready to be released before I was cleared to care for him. After 8 months of gradual decreases in medication, I was finally able to end my blood pressure medication.
It's now been two and a half years since my experience with preeclampsia. My health has continued to improve and I am so grateful to be continuing in the right direction. My doctors continue to monitor me closely, and I've accepted that as my new reality. Things that once would have meant little, now take on a new importance because my risk of stroke and heart attack is elevated and will be for the rest of my life.
My tips for supporting a survivor:
Ask mom what she needs or wants. It could be meals, a ride to the doctor, help with laundry or the other children, or even watching the baby so she can shower. These were blessings that I will always remember with appreciation. Those were my needs. Each survivor and her family will be different and the only way to know what she needs is to ask.
Let her talk. After my experience, I needed to process all that had happened. I needed to talk about my experiences, my fears, my hopes, my confusion, my new reality. I needed a friend to sit and listen. Someone who could reflect back how I was feeling and to validate my emotions. It took well over a year before I sought counseling to help me cope with my life. I felt like my body had failed both me and my son, I felt like I couldn't trust my body with future children or even my own well being. While I had a few wonderful friends who really helped me through those hardest days, I wish I hadn't waited as long to seek help. I wish someone had pushed me to get help. Truthfully, I'm not sure I was ready for help earlier, but a gentle urging may have brought it to the forefront of my mind earlier.
Encourage her to find doctors she trusts, who instill confidence, and who provide her accurate medical information. Take the time to find doctors who are thorough, patient, compassionate, but also plain spoken and easy to communicate with. Importantly, they should be aware of the medical association between preeclampsia and cardiovascular disease. I can't say enough about the value of having such doctors in my life.
Be a friend and give hugs. My son's birth and my postpartum period were nothing like I'd imagined or dreamed. The early delivery, NICU stays, health complications of both mother and child that frequently accompany preeclampsia, eclampsia, HELLP, and other hypertensive disorders, can wreak emotional and physical havoc on the birth plans and recoveries of mothers. There was a lot of frustration, self-blame, insecurity, and fear. The value of a friend and a hug during those days was life-changing.
Support through the process of taking each day in turn. For most survivors, there was no prior history of hypertension or heart problems. The recovery is all new territory with an unknown end. Some have permanent heart or vascular problems, some have to relearn life post-stroke and with a newborn, some have permanent diet and lifestyle changes. Not knowing that the medications, endless tests, sacrifices of dreams, hard work and prayer, will actually result in a return to normalcy is overwhelming. The only way to get through it is by breaking reality into manageable chunks. Getting through the first hours, getting through days, weeks, making it to the next doctor's appointment, focusing on those smaller goals and timelines made it easier to stop wallowing in the what if's and if only's.
Give the survivor as much control over her life and decision-making as reasonably possible. When major health crises occur unexpectedly, life-saving decisions are made on the spur of the moment and often without time for adequate answers, thought, or reflection. This leaves a survivor feeling like she doesn't have a say in her life anymore. Medications, dietary restrictions, required testing are all vital, but can exacerbate feeling of no control over her life. Give her that control back in the small, daily decisions whenever you can to help her regain that sense of control.
Tell us: What did your family and friends do to support you after preeclampsia?