‘My doctor wrote off my symptoms as ‘being pregnant.’ I felt them cut me open.’: New mom urges awareness of PPCM

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“My husband and I had been trying for a baby for two years. I had just about given up hope until I was 11 days late and took a pregnancy test, expecting it to be negative and once again feel the utter sadness I may never be a mother. But, on this particular occasion, it was positive! I took 10 tests just to be sure, and took another two at lunch. I couldn’t believe it—we were finally pregnant. I was finally going to be a mom! My pregnancy was by-the-book, with morning sickness the first trimester and odd cravings. I was gaining weight, slowly and perfectly. Our baby girl was growing perfectly! I am a very petite woman, so by the time I hit my third trimester I was getting pretty big!

Courtesy of Andria Webster

Around 30 weeks, my carpal tunnel was getting to be too much to handle, so I talked to my OB about it and was referred to a surgeon to see if I could get surgery to fix it before our baby was born. Around this same time, the U.S. announced shut downs due to the coronavirus, and I was unable to get in to see the surgeon. I just dealt with the pain and swelling. During the next few weeks, I started swelling in other places—especially my legs and feet. I could no longer fit into any of my shoes or pants, and wrote it off as just being pregnant and carrying around so much more weight! But the swelling persisted and got worse—I had gained at least 15 pounds in three or four weeks. I was also extremely short of breath—I could barely walk five feet without having to rest. And sleeping was impossible, because when I was lying flat I couldn’t breath. I had two humidifiers going on every night, thinking maybe my allergies were just bad and that’s why I couldn’t breathe.

Courtesy of Andria Webster

The swelling was getting worse and so was my breathingmy doctor wrote it off as just ‘being pregnant.’ When I went in for my 37-week appointment, they checked my blood pressure and realized it was high. It had been perfect through my whole pregnancy, so this was alarming for sure! My doctor told me it was pre-eclampsia, sent me for some blood work, and told me they would most likely need to induce me the next day. I was so scared and worried, but was also so ready to meet out baby girl! At this point, I called my boss and told her what was going on and that I would need to start my maternity leave the next day. The doctor called the next day and said they definitely needed to induce me, and then we were off to the hospital to meet our baby girl.

When we arrived at the hospital, it was May 7th, 2020, and in the middle of a pandemicso masks were required! I got a COVID test, which came back negative, so I could take my mask off. They hooked me up to an IV, started fluids, and started inducing me, while also keeping an eye on my rising blood pressure. At this point, I was still in awe life had brought us to this pointto the point where I would finally become a mother, the thing I dreamed of since I was a little girl! My contractions got really intense through the night, and my hopes of wanting to have a natural, un-medicated birth went out the door. I broke down and got an epidural. The nurses were noticing my blood pressure was getting dangerously high, and said if it got any higher I would need medication to bring it down or risk having a seizure. At this point, I was fading in an out of consciousness and had no concept of time.

24 hours in labor and I was only dilated 4cm, and with my blood pressure rising, my doctor told me we may have to do a C-section. My husband and I agreed a C-section would be best for me and the baby, especially with my blood pressure rising. I signed the consent form and very quickly it turned into an emergency C-section. The next few minutes were a blur, but I do remember vividly the epidural was not working like it should’ve, and I felt everythingbut at the same time, I couldn’t move. I felt them cut me open, pull and tug, and I remember I was trying so hard to stay awake. Finally they were doneI scarcely remember seeing my baby girl. When we got back to the room, I remember trying so hard to wake up so I could hold our baby. I remember seeing my husband holding her and she was crying, and I kept asking the nurses to sit me up but I was fading in and out of consciousness. I told them I wanted to hold her, and then I faded out and died.

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die, however, my experience was different. You would think one would be scared, but for me I had an indescribable amount of peace. I wasn’t scared. I had known my Lord and Savior from a young age, and always knew there was a God. But dying and being brought back to life has reassured me there is definitely a God! And He has bigger plans for me, and my time on earth was not done yetI needed to be around to raise my baby girl and to be a wife to my husband! 12 hours later, I wake up in the ICU hooked up to an insane amount of cords. I was also hooked up to a breathing machine called a BiPAP, which is just the worst thing in the world. It forces air into your lungs and makes it feel like you can’t breathe. Come to find out I had something called a flash pulmonary edema, which is where your lungs fill with fluid very rapidly and you drown in your own fluid.

So, after my C-section, the fluid I had been retaining for so long rushed into my lungs because my heart couldn’t keep up and pump it all out! I was on a drug called Lasix, which gets rid of excess fluid in your body, and they had already gotten rid of bags and bags of fluid my body had retained via a catheter. I woke up to them about to run more tests to try and figure out what had caused my edema. I had an ECG done, and that was when I was diagnosed with Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, or PPCM, which is and often undiagnosed, unrecognized type of heart failure which happens in the last month of pregnancy to 5 months after. I had pregnancy-induced heart failure. I couldn’t believe it. I had such a healthy pregnancy and was a very healthy person, how could this be happening to me? I was told my heart was only working at 30%. All these symptoms I had, the extreme swelling, the shortness of breath, the heart-racing, were all due to undiagnosed heart failure. I was devastated and scared of what my future would look like. Would I be around to raise my daughter? To see her go to elementary school? To see her graduate? To see her get married?

By this time, I had awoken and started comprehending what was going on, and realized I had not seen my baby! I had not done skin to skin, I had not been able to breastfeed her. I needed to see her! But I was too weak still, and couldn’t be moved from the ICU. My husband had spent the night in the mother’s ward with our new baby, all alone without meher mommy! He had a sleepless night worrying if he would ever see me again, if I would be able hold our baby, if I would even leave the hospital. I convinced the nurses I needed to see my baby. Thankfully, at that time, I was the only person in the ICU, so they made arrangements to bring my baby girl over to see me. As soon as I saw her and held her precious little body against mine, I knew. I knew why God had spared me. I knew why God had let me live. I knew why I was kept on this earthit was for her; it was for my 5 pound, 14 ounce beautiful, healthy, perfect baby girl.

And suddenly, my diagnosis didn’t sound like a death sentence. Suddenly, I had a reason to live, to fight, to press on! I held her and stared into her beautiful blue eyes and knew this was what I had been waiting for my whole lifethis moment, this baby. Within two hours of holding my little miracle baby girl, I was released from the ICU and was able to go into the mother’s ward and start my recovery from the c-section, and also start to learn about my new normal with my heart condition. We spent six long days in recovery as I learned how to take care of my new baby and myself. My husband was there through everything. He was my rock, my support, asking questions to better understand my condition. I knew he loved me, but I saw the love he had for me shine through like never before.

Courtesy of Andria Webster

We went home from the hospital on Mother’s Daymy first Mother’s Day. It was bittersweet! I was so ready to get home, get into a routine with our new baby, and get out of that hospital bed! I was still very, very weak and unable to do a lot on my own. Our first night was tough. I was afraid to sleep, not knowing if I would wake up. One night, at 3 a.m., I woke up and my lungs started filling with fluid and I started drowning again. We left our new baby with my mother-in-law who, thankfully, only lives 10 minutes away. My husband rushed me back to the hospital, where I was once again put on Lasix to drain the fluid from my body. They wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I refused. I would not leave my baby girl again. Thankfully, I was able to leave the ER and return home to my baby. I was on tons of meds to help control the excess fluid in my body and to help my heart work. The next few months were beyond difficult: trying to regain my strength, learning how to breastfeed, being a new mom, and tons of appointments. But we made it.

Courtesy of Andria Webster

Six months later, and we are going strong. My heart is now working at 50% and I’m off all my meds. I am getting stronger by the dayI may never be able to work a job again, due to having to keep my stress level very low, but I am alive I have a beautiful baby girl! Who, even though she was born early, doesn’t show it, because she is a chunky, happy baby! I have realized there is so much more to life. I don’t sweat the small things. My house does not need to be perfect, my makeup doesn’t need to be done every day, and that’s okay! I have fallen in love all over again with my amazing husband and partner in life. When we said our vows ‘in sickness and health,’ I didn’t realize the extent that would mean! I have an amazing support system around memy family is amazing. My mom and my mother-in-law have helped me behind words. I want to spread awareness of PPCM so there can be early diagnoses and treatment, and so other women don’t have to go through what I did. God is amazing!”

Courtesy of Andria Webster

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Andria Webster. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about PPCM warriors:

‘The doctor said, ‘She’s bleeding out!’ I couldn’t breathe. I was told it’s ‘anxiety.’: Woman diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy during twin rainbow pregnancy, ‘I’m one of the lucky ones’

‘He was going to lose his high school sweetheart the day his daughter was born. I crashed after my C-section.’: Woman survives ‘silent killer’ Peripartum Cardiomyopathy after childbirth

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