With Maya turning two next week, I realized that it was finally time for me to talk about what I learned from my preeclampsia experience because I want to help others going through it if I can. I also didn’t realize until just now that May is preeclampsia awareness month, so my timing looks intentional.

UPDATE: I’ve now also been through pre-eclampsia for the second time with my son being born at 36 weeks. Part of the reason I needed to write this post was because I was facing a second diagnosis and realized I hadn’t really dealt with the feelings from first time. And while this post is definitely not medical advice, its intended to help you with the emotions you may feel in this scary time.

Being diagnosed with preeclampsia can be scary, but I'm sharing all the things I wish I knew back then to make it a little easier.

I am guessing you’re here for one of two reasons: you’ve been diagnosed with preeclampsia or you’re a regular reader at Mabey She Made It. If you’ve just been diagnosed, take a deep breath and know you’re not alone. It took me quite a while to understand what was going on with my body and just how much care went into getting me and Maya through it safely.

My hope here is to share a lot of the things I’ve learned since my diagnosis that have helped me and will hopefully help you as well. Other than a brief definition of preeclampsia, the rest is my experience and understanding.

A lot of what you find online is either medical definitions/symptoms or actual birth stories that can scare the daylights out of you–but what I needed two years ago was someone who understood and could talk to me person to person. And while I’m not physically with you, I hope this post can provide you with some peace and some (non-medical) advice that helps you in this tough time.

What Is Preeclampsia

So let’s start by defining preeclampsia (because that was the first thing I had to look up when I was diagnosed–I didn’t really even know what it was). The Preeclampsia Foundation defines preeclampsia as:

“a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, it is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.”

So what does that mean? Basically, doctors think your body’s immune system starts fighting with your placenta which causes the symptoms above. (I know, I didn’t get that from the definition either–that was my doctor’s interpretation for me.)

While preeclampsia is not all that common, it is serious. Most cases are not severe and happen at the end of your pregnancy when your baby is already full term so early delivery is an easy solution. Really, delivery is the only solution regardless of when you are diagnosed. I happened to have a less-common severe case that developed at 32 weeks and my daughter was born one week later.

What I Wish I Knew About Preeclampsia

While every case is different and each medical plan is individualized, I wanted to share some things that I learned and researched to help you through your preeclampsia experience. And don’t worry–there are no horror stories here.

Being diagnosed with preeclampsia can be scary, but I'm sharing all the things I wish I knew back then to make it a little easier.

Don’t read too much

Preeclampsia a scary thing, and reading too many birth stories or medical websites won’t help. What will help is trusting your body, your intuition, and a good health team. Read what your doctor gives you or recommends and listen to your medical staff. I felt absolutely fine, but I really wasn’t and I know now that trusting them helped us have a happy ending. And if you get pregnant again in the future, trust your instincts–they’ll help you immensely.

Your level of stress cannot and will not give you preeclampsia

During my last pregnancy I was under a lot of stress with a major home renovation, a 2 and 3 year old at home, and posting here 4-6 times a week. After our birth and NICU experience I started to wonder if I had contributed to the situation because of these things. I’ve now asked three different OBs in person (including a high-risk doctor) and read lots of preeclampsia sites, and the firm answer is NO. Low stress is a good thing, but if you’re wondering whether you are to blame for your preeclampsia–you’re not. Tell yourself that over and over until you believe it.

There’s really nothing you can/should do to prevent preeclampsia

Obviously normal health recommendations like eating healthy and getting exercise are always beneficial, but there’s no special diet or amount of exercise that will prevent it. Even your doctor doesn’t understand why it happens exactly, so don’t wonder if a few missed prenatal vitamins, occasional fry cravings, or not getting a daily walk in could have made a difference–this is not your fault.

Doctors weigh the consequences of both mother and baby in your care

I didn’t realize at the time that my care was a balancing act, but it makes sense. They have two patients–you and baby–to consider in every decision. Since Maya was 32 weeks when I was hospitalized they immediately started me on steroids to help mature her lungs in case she had to be born early. Once she had the steroids, the focus of my care went to reducing my blood pressure and keeping her inside as long as possible. When the risk of seizure or stroke for me became more than the risk of her being born prematurely, doctors decided to deliver her. I tell you this only so you understand the basics of why your doctor might be making certain decisions in your care. They’re doing what’s best for both of you the best they can.

Let go of your birth plan

Once you develop preeclampsia, safety for you and baby are all that matter. I’m sure you’ve got a lot to process but the sooner you can let go of the perfect birth scenario you’ve created, the better. If you can be at peace with the care and delivery you end up having you’ll have one less thing to worry about. And while a c-section and NICU stay definitely weren’t things I was planning or hoping for, they allowed us to have a safe delivery and amazing care for our little one (and emotional support for us as parents too!).

Things you'll want to know about preeclampsia when you're diagnosed

Maya on her first full day in the NICU. She only had the IV for about a day and the rest are monitors and a feeding tube. We were amazed at how quickly she progressed.

You’re not alone

Regardless of your baby’s gestational age when you are diagnosed, know that there are plenty of other women who have been in your shoes and willingly offer support both online and in person. Get connected and you’ll understand the power of community and the support of those who really know what you’re going through.

Even though pre-eclampsia was a difficult thing to go through, we were blessed with a caring medical staff, amazing support from family and friends, and with a happy ending. If you’re going through this now, please know I’d be happy to talk to you and help any way I can–send me an email or comment below. You can do this!

21 Comments on Preeclampsia: What I Wish I Knew (and You’ll Want to Know, Too)

  1. Preeclampsia is a dangerous and scary condition. I watched my daughter go through 3 pregnancies with it each time. All are healthy and thriving now but as a mother and a nurse it was a time I wish on no one.
    I am happy you and your baby survived the pregnancy. Some don’t. Enjoy your life now.

    • Three times? What a scary thing. And I can’t imagine watching someone go through it as a nurse. So glad your daughter and grandkids are fine!

  2. I ended up with post partumn pre-eclampsia. Scary. But I am every so grateful for modern medicine and doctors that took fantastic care of me.

    • How scary! Was it after you left the hospital or before? I didn’t have a lot of the common symptoms so I know that regular checkups and modern medicine are what saved us.

  3. Hi Lisa

    I read your blog on a regular basis. I just wanted to tell you how impressed I was about your post on preeclampsia. Your information was written from personal experience and I’m sure the ladies reading this post will feel very supported by what you’ve written. Although my childbearing years are passed (I’m 55 and mental-pause is in full swing lol)from what I’ve read, it is fairly common. I think the relationship between Mom and doctor is so important and the communication is tantamount to a healthy pregnancy for Mom & baby!

    God Bless you!

    • Thank you so much Regina for your kind words and for reading my blog. It was a scary thing, and I didn’t find any encouraging posts through all of it and wanted to change that. You’re so right about the mother/doctor relationship–I was blessed to have a great doctor.

  4. If only there was some sort of actual information here about preclamsia vs personal experience. Every time I read one of these “things I wish I knew..” I’m not amused. I get that you’re getting paid for the clicks but make it worth while.

    • Y.K., thank you for your thoughts. If you have preeclampsia and want medical information, the link to the preeclampsia foundation above is a great source (and I’m not getting paid for that link). I realize not every one experiences things the same way.

      When I was diagnosed I could find a wealth of medical information (as much as they know), but couldn’t find anything to help me with the emotions I was going through realizing that I would have a baby in the NICU and not understanding how close to death I would find myself. The things I wrote here are not a click gimmick–they’re actual things I struggled to understand after my traumatic experience.

      I hope your experience is vastly different from mine in a good way and I truly hope my words help someone also struggling to understand why it happened to them.

  5. As you point out, lots of cases of pre-eclampsia occur at the end of pregnancy when baby is at or close to term. It would be extra scary to have onset at only 32 weeks.
    I’ve never had pre-eclampsia, thankfully, but I’ve had other experiences that make me realize that every single baby is a miracle.
    Thanks for sharing your story

    • It really was scary, and its still scary knowing I could face that again this time. And you’re so right–they’re all miracles, and I’m so grateful for the way God plays a role in our lives.

  6. When you are pregnant, really it is hard for you to accept the fact that you have fear, especially if you know in the first place about the bad condition of your pregnancy. It is so scary also to have the preeclampsia during your pregnancy. Mommies have different birthing experience and only they can detail it well. In my case, I was in labor for almost 1 week and my baby boy comes out in just 33 weeks, a premature baby. Really, I cannot express my feelings and mostly the happiness when I saw him at the first time. Now, he is already 1 year old and began to walk. I’m still happy despite the pain that I have overcome in my pregnancy. I know also that many mommies endured and overcome those pains too.

  7. I’m going through this right now…I’m 33 weeks and 1 day and they are hoping to get me to 34 weeks…I’m in the hospital on bed rest and have been here for about 5 days now…this is all very scary…especially this being my first baby…not having had a shower yet and not being prepared for baby at home! The feelings and emotions you go through you can’t really describe…all I can think about is how long will our nicu stay be…how small will he be…will everything be ok…while I know there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it my fear of the unknown and the future is what I’m dealing with now…lying in bed playing a waiting game…you only have time to think! I’m glad I found this article and appreciate your honesty and glad to hear of the positive outcome for you and your baby!

    • Oh Ashley, I wish I had seen this earlier. How did everything turn out? I’ve actually had a second experience with preeclampsia since I wrote this (again, everything is fine) and I hope you were able to find some peace and comfort while you waited. Hugs to you mama!

  8. Hi! You have several redonkulously long comments on here regarding POKER and gaming! What the what?! Maybe you are no longer actively blogging?
    I had preeclampsia and had to be flown out of state for a C-section at 33 weeks, then our other 2 babies came at 37 weeks and preeclampsia was present for those, too. My sister had it with one of her 3 kids. My 2 daughters have both had it. One delivered at 28 weeks and then had a stroke 4 days later. They both did very well, but it was terrifying.
    You are very kind to address the emotions of going through this. It is scary and so easy to wonder if you did something yourself to cause it. The information available to me in 1984 said it was a disease of malnutrition – so NOT true.
    You also hit a good point in sharing that the doctors have to decide what is best for both patients. My daughter expressed concern over delivering her baby, and the doctor told her, “your baby will be OK and is in better shape than you right now.” This gave her peace and helped her get mentally ready for what she was facing.
    I came here to see sewing information but found this post too. All are helpful!

    • Hi Jeannette, thanks for your comment. (And for letting me know about the spam.) Preeclampsia is scary for sure. And now that I’ve been through it twice I realize just how naive I was the first time (which may have been a good thing). So glad you, your sister, and your daughters are all okay.

  9. Thank you so much for this!! I am currently 32 weeks with our first baby which we have been praying for a very long time to be blessed with. We had to go to a fertility specialist at OHSU to get here. 💜 I’ve been struggling with rising blood pressure since about 21 weeks and this weekend it jumped drastically and the swelling started happening plus mild headaches. Waiting for my 24hr urinalysis to be diagnosed but my doctor is almost certain I am getting preeclampsia. My mother had me at 30 weeks because of preeclampsia and luckily I was very healthy. I’m hoping and praying our baby girl can stick it out A few more weeks to ensure she is healthy and ready for the world. It’s so scary especially with your first baby.

  10. I had preeclampsia for my son. I delivered him at 34+5 weeks and he was in the hospital for 3 weeks. How did you get through it afterwards? I know it was out of my hands but I still feel a lot of guilt and have a hard time getting rid of it. Aswell as the preeclampsia I have been diagnosed with PPD. If you have any tips I would love to hear.

    • Oh, Kassandra. I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time. Preeclampsia is such a weird, crazy condition. I’m guessing you’re already working with your doctor for the PPD, and I’m hoping whatever treatment you’re on or finding helps immensely. I found that a lot of my healing came after I was faced with it for the second time and had to do a lot of research to understand the biology/what small medical knowledge they have and then use that to logically tell myself again and again that it wasn’t anything I did or could control. That and a lot of prayers (I don’t know if you’re religious at all) for reassurance, peace, and guidance as I faced it again. I don’t know if anything I’ve said will help you but I’m hoping you find the relief and peace you need. Hugs!

  11. My baby will be a month old tomorrow. I was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 39 weeks (so not bad) but after I gave birth was when it got really serious… I had a stroke, couple seizures and a pulmonary embolism… my baby was in the nicu for a couple days and once he was ok, I couldn’t even hold him, feed him, nothing… I missed all the firsts bc of how sick I was… it’s been the hardest thing I have ever had to go through… I’m currently on medication and I should be ok in a couple months but definitely scared out of my mind…

    • Hi Kary, congratulations on your sweet baby! What a roller coaster ride you’ve been on. I can only imagine how terrifying your experience has been–I never experienced the seizures or stroke thankfully, but I know how sick I felt on mag and while trying to heal from a c-section and waking up to realize I had bumper pads on my bed in case I did seize. You are going through something horrid, and my heart feels heavy for you.

      I first went to see my baby about 6 hours after she was delivered. I was wheeled into the NICU but the mag was making me so sick I couldn’t focus or hardly see at all. I remember looking over and knowing there was a baby in the incubator and thinking “I’m going to have to trust that that’s my baby because I can’t see a thing and I just feel awful.” It was a hard thing (as you know), but rest assured that you will have many beautiful firsts with your babe and that you’ll cherish them more because you didn’t have the same start that others do.

      Take care of your health–you’ll need it as you experience your own firsts. I hope you are able to find peace and relief from such a horrific experience. Sending hugs and a prayer for peace!

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