How pre-eclampsia threatened my wife’s life
My wife and I are very lucky, together we have a beautiful baby boy – if that is how you can reasonably describe a soon-to-be two-year-old who walks, talks and is already able to argue with us in two languages: English with me and French with my wife.
But, for a long time, things felt like they might be different, beginning around week 21 of the pregnancy and a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia.
In fact, for a time the condition threatened to define pretty much everything about the pregnancy, baby and labour – so much so that by the time our child was born we realised that we hadn’t even sat down to discuss potential names.
I have to admit that pre-eclampsia – a condition characterised by a combination of raised blood pressure and raised protein levels in the urine that can prove fatal – even got in the way of me immediately feeling love for our baby. Somehow, I felt suspicious of the fetus – that it should threaten the very life of my wife even before it was born and that it should itself also be at risk of death.
It came as such a shock. Because things had been going relatively smoothly, we thought we were just naturally intrepid newcomers to the whole parenting thing. Little did we know that all it would take was a routine blood pressure test to turn us to anxiety and despair.
Things became so bad, and my wife’s and the baby’s health so perilous, that by week 27 she was admitted into hospital and told that she would not be leaving until the baby had been born. All the while leaving me to carry on at home and at work as if nothing had happened. I felt so worried and so guilty about the fact that I was at no physical risk that I became unable to enjoy myself, particularly as studies indicate that the father’s genes may be a factor in the development of pre-eclampsia. In fact, I even made it my mission to make sure I didn’t enjoy myself. As such, I stopped seeing my mates, stopped gaming, stopped reading and even stopped watching the football – and this was in the same year that my beloved Leicester City improbably waltzed their way to a first top flight title in their history.
To make things worse, the consultant explained that the diagnosis meant that our child was at increased risk of developmental and physical problems, including those affecting his hearing, heart and pretty much all of his other major organs. Apparently it was worse because he was a boy. Somehow – perhaps because I come from a family of over-competitive men – this only made me resent him more while also ramping up my own feelings of guilt.
Things got really bad when around week 31 my wife was diagnosed with Hellp syndrome – a potentially fatal liver and blood clotting disorder related to pre-eclampsia. The only remedy now was to end the pregnancy so it was little surprise that soon afterwards doctors ordered an emergency C-section.
When he was born our boy weighed just over 2lbs. We barely had time to look at him. Within minutes he was ushered into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); a place from which he would not emerge for a full month and a half.
All of this meant that we went straight from an overly but necessarily medicalised pregnancy into an overly but necessarily medicalised postpartum period. Our child, who was hardly ever able to be held by us, was like a strange alien creature – I kept on thinking of E.T. at those moments in the film when he is unwell – hooked up to intravenous lines, oxygen and feeding tubes, blood and heart monitors… It was terrifying and otherworldly, possibly my fault, and I felt completely helpless.
Both my wife and I felt detached and fearful – like we were on a crazy rollercoaster all going in different directions.
People told us it would be fine, without any basis for their claims whatsoever.
It was left to my mother to begin the process of bonding with the baby. She even named him Louis – spelt the French way, pronounced like the English seaside town and therefore suitably dual French/English – as we were too detached and traumatised to think about it ourselves. It was a very difficult time.
The love for Louis did come, but not until my wife’s blood pressure had gone down and her general health and nerves began to settle. Louis, mercifully, bears no serious lasting consequences although his stubbornness and independence may be a consequence of that early battle for life he found himself locked into. My wife and I are stronger, too. But there will be no more babies. Not for us, not at the moment. Fear and painful memories are making it too difficult to contemplate.