‘I can tell you right now you probably aren’t going home tonight.’ Mom’s pregnancy battle amidst preeclampsia and PTSD

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“My name is Chelsie Hoff, I am 30-years-old. My husband and I have been married for 3 years but have been together for 15 years. We have 2 amazing boys, Rylan (11) and Easton (5). . I was 19 when I gave birth to our first son. At 38 weeks pregnant with him I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. Then with my second pregnancy 6 years later I had gestational hypertension. Then, 5 years later, we were absolutely shocked to learn we were expecting again. At 20 weeks, we found out it was a girl. Nothing could prepare me for the roller coaster we were about to endure. Every time I look at this I am reminded of what we went through together. I’m still processing everything. I was 29 weeks pregnant and everything was going great! It had been an uneventful pregnancy thus far and I was optimistic it would continue to be.

Courtesy Chelsie Hoff

I went in for my regular OB appointment. All seemed well. Except for my blood pressure. The Doctor said, ‘it’s higher than last time, but we’ll keep an eye on it’. He had me do a 24-hour urine specimen to measure the protein in my urine. I knew the routine, as I had done one in my last pregnancy. My blood pressure had been slowly creeping up the last few appointments. But nothing crazy like it was in my previous pregnancy so I really wasn’t worried. A couple days later I started swelling. I noticed it in my hands, feet, legs, and felt it in my face. Even my lips. I just assumed it was because I had just entered my 3rd trimester. I also noticed a weird pressure behind my eyes that I’d never experienced before. I even was seeing black spots now and then. Later I learned that was due to my brain swelling and putting pressure on the optic nerves. I got a call a few days after that with news I’d heard before. ‘You do have preeclampsia.’ My heart sank. I had it with my first pregnancy and was instructed to go to the hospital right away for induction. But I was already 38 weeks, so it wasn’t a big deal. With this one, however, I was diagnosed at 30 weeks. A scary time for a baby to be born. My mind was racing. I couldn’t help but think the worst. ‘What would happen to her?’ ‘Why is this happening again?’

The phone nurse that called to inform me of the diagnosis asked if I was having any symptoms. I informed her of the swelling, eye pressure, and spots. She then said that I needed to go to Labor and Delivery immediately to be checked out. I got my boys ready and headed to the hospital thinking all they’d do was monitor me for a bit then send me home. I’d done this routine quite a bit with my last pregnancy. When I arrived at L&D triage it took a good 15 minutes for a nurse to come in and get everything started. She hooked me up to the monitors and got my vitals. When she informed me my blood pressure was 186/120 I was in shock.

I immediately panicked. ‘What will happen now?’ I asked.  ‘Well, I can tell you right now you probably aren’t going home tonight.’ Great, I thought.  Now I need to arrange for someone to come get the kids. I called my mom and she said she’d get there as soon as she could. I was fearing the worst at this point. My husband was stuck in Cincinnati 3 hours away finishing up his deliveries. He was hurrying as fast as he could. The nurse said they will probably give me steroid shots to mature baby’s lungs and possibly magnesium to keep me from having a seizure. I was secretly panicking. I thought for sure a delivery would be happening at this point. I was admitted and got to a room. They came in to try to get an IV. That was interesting to say the least. I got stuck so many times I lost count. If they did find a vein, it blew. It was so painful. After blowing 3 veins they finally got one. Lots of blood work was drawn to see how my kidneys and liver were handling everything. Preeclampsia can make your kidneys and liver shut down fast. That ended up coming back fine. I was given a dose of Procardia, a blood pressure medication. That helped lower my blood pressure enough to not need magnesium. I was able to go home the next day after some ups and downs. The Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist came in the night before and did an ultrasound to check on the baby. Eventually preeclampsia will lead to Intrauterine Growth Restriction which is where the placenta stops providing nutrients to the baby and the baby stops growing. The baby eventually dies if there’s no intervention. Fortunately, all looked well, and baby was fine. I was sent home on 2 different medications to manage my blood pressure. Norvasc and Labetolol. While in the hospital I asked the specialist when he thought I might deliver. It was April 6th. He said his guess was by the end of the month. He wasn’t far off.

A week went by and it was now Friday, April 13th. My due date wasn’t until June 13th. I had my regular OB visit that day and he wanted to do a biophysical ultrasound on the baby to check everything out. It’s more in depth than the one I had in the hospital. I had my 5-year-old with me. I had the ultrasound and went upstairs for my appointment.

Courtesy Chelsie Hoff

My blood pressure was 165/108. That was after being on 2 meds for a week. There was also more protein in my urine that day showing that my kidneys were being damaged from the high pressures. My doctor told me to head to the hospital and he’d be informing them of my arrival. He was also going to call the MFM and consult with him. At this point I was 31 weeks. I made it outside the doors and burst into tears. I called my mom immediately and informed her of what was going on. I then arranged for my son to go to my brother and sister in laws until I knew what was going on. I got to the hospital still unsure of what would happen and immediately was brought into a room to be prepped for a C-section. I asked what was going on and they said my doctor had called them and said he consulted with the specialist and he recommended immediate delivery before anything more serious happened. So, my doc was on his way. I got into my gown and got into the bed. They came in to do my IV and the same thing happened again. No luck. They called in the anesthesiologist to assist. She was about to put it in my neck when another nurse stepped in and said, ‘let me try’. It was successful.

Relief immediately washed over me. I was definitely not prepared for an IV in the neck. Next thing I know, panic sets in and I started hyperventilating and crying. I couldn’t breathe. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. My husband yelled for a nurse. They called in the anesthesiologist to talk to me and possibly give me something for my nerves, but she informed me that she did not want me to be out of it for the delivery. I agreed. My doctor arrived, and it was go time. I walked to the operating room. It was the longest walk of my life. I wanted to run away and never look back. I knew I didn’t have a choice. Our lives were obviously in danger or this wouldn’t be happening as early as it was.

The hardest part was the spinal block. It took forever. She had to keep poking me to get it right to make sure I was numbed properly. It was horrible. Then the operation started. I was terrified. I could smell the burning and hear it cutting into me. It was so unsettling. I suddenly felt like I was going to be sick and informed the anesthesiologist. She said it was from the spinal and immediately put a medication into my IV. I learned it was because of my blood pressure dropping to 113/33. I then felt a ton of pressure and informed her I was going to get sick again. Another round of meds and it went away.

Then I hear a tiny whine. I look up and my doctor was holding our daughter over the curtain. She was so tiny. She gave out a little cry after the NICU nurses stimulated her. She was wrapped in a clear plastic to keep her warm. They wrapped her in a blanket, put her hat on and brought her over to show me. Then she was gone. I was not prepared for how tiny she was. 3lbs 12oz. 15 3/4in. I was wheeled into recovery where I began to process the intensity of what just happened.

I was immediately put on a magnesium drip, so I wouldn’t have a seizure. Because of the C-section and the magnesium/risk of seizure, I was not allowed to see the baby for 24 hours. The next day I was on the magnesium drip still and feeling the awful side effects from it. They have to bring in a small fan to keep on your face because it makes it incredibly hot and red. I was out of it. My blood pressure still wasn’t under control and they weren’t sure if I’d be able to see my baby at that point. My doctor decided to call in the hospitalist to evaluate me and see if he couldn’t come up with a better plan. When he was informed that it had been 24 hours and I hadn’t seen my baby yet, he got upset and told my nurse to take me up to see her right away. I was finally off the magnesium and ready to get out of the bed for the first time since the C-section.

I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion and had another panic attack and hyperventilated. It was awful. Same thing again. Hysterical crying and unable to breathe. Why did this keep happening? I was so embarrassed. My nurse then brought in some other nurses to get me out of bed. It was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done. I sat on the edge of the bed and started bawling. Not because it hurt but just because of how hard and overwhelming it was. I finally made it up to the NICU to see my baby. Even though I’d seen pictures of what she looked like, nothing could prepare me for the wave of emotions that hit me when I saw her.

Courtesy Chelsie Hoff

She was so tiny. Her IV was in her head. There were tubes and wires and beeping everywhere. It was sensory overload. The nurse got her out and I was able to hold her. I was crying and holding her all while trying to hold my pee tank in my lap since I still had my catheter. It was interesting to say the least. Unbeknownst to me, this was all caught on video. I was only allowed about 5–10 min with her. She was put back into her Isolette and I was wheeled back down to my room.

Courtesy Chelsie Hoff

No one can prepare you for the emotions you feel at that time. Your happy she’s ok and that you got to see her. But also, sad that she’s in that situation and so tiny and fragile. I blamed myself. Why did my body betray me like this? Why did it do this to me? I was sad and angry. A few days later I was discharged. Leaving the hospital without my baby was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was the most bizarre feeling. Almost like I gave birth, but the baby died. That’s how it felt. I bawled the whole way home. My husband was so sweet and supportive. He felt awful. I was recovering from my C-section while going to the hospital every day to visit her. It was tough. I overdid it a few times.

Despite that, I physically felt pretty good. I was on two blood pressure meds still. NICU life was strange. It was all new to me and it took some getting used to. Eventually we got into a routine. I would visit her every day from 11–2. Each time I left it was like my heart ripping out of my chest, but each time got a little easier.

Courtesy Chelsie Hoff

Baby Lillyan did wonderful. She was so strong and needed limited intervention besides what was normal. She progressed so well. Eventually, 5 1/2 weeks later, she came home. That was the best day of my life. I was elated. Also, pretty terrified. We’ve been home for 6 days now. I had my postpartum appointment a couple days ago and found out that I’m struggling with some PTSD. I’ve had nightmares about horrible things happening to my kids and me being unable to protect them. Certain things trigger me, and I will burst into tears. It’s so strange.

I thought PTSD was for people who went through horrible things like rape, molestation, beatings, veterans that saw war, etc. I felt like what I was feeling and going through wasn’t valid. Like this was so minuscule compared to what others went through. Then my Nurse Practitioner informed me that what I went through WAS traumatic. And that everyone experiences things differently. What might be traumatic for one person, may not me traumatic for another. It made perfect sense and felt so good to acknowledge my feelings and have them validated. Everyone tells me how strong I was, but I didn’t feel strong in the midst of it. Do I feel strong now? Absolutely. My daughter is even stronger. She’s my hero. I will tell her our story someday. I hope she knows how much I wanted to stay pregnant. I hope she knows how hard I fought. Most of all, I hope she knows how much I love her and how incredibly special she is.”

Courtesy Chelsie Hoff
Courtesy Chelsie Hoff

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chelsie Hoff, 30, of Indiana. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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