Kerry Thomson, 36, is mum to Angus, 1, and a new bundle of joy. She was 27 weeks pregnant with her second child when she spoke to us about her pre-eclampsia symptoms (opens in new tab) and experience.
It was my first pregnancy and I'd been absolutely fine apart from a bit of early morning sickness. Then I got to about 35 weeks and I just started to feel really crap. Still working, I just felt rotten really and I was really tired, felt nauseous and then I started randomly vomiting every couple of days and had a bad chest pain.
Telling my midwife about these symptoms at my 36 week appointment she said: "Oh, it's totally normal. Often when you come to the end of your pregnancy you have a rush of hormones and you can feel very much like you did in the first trimester". I hadn't been pregnant before so I didn't question it. Why would I?
It was a real struggle at 37 weeks but I continued working til then. I remember leaving work one day and trying to get onto the motorway in rush hour. Then suddenly my mouth started to pour with blood. I remember scrabbling around in my bag trying to get something to stem the flow, while trying to get through the traffic and wondering what on earth I was supposed to do. On my own at 6.30 at night, miles from home and I didn't know whether I should pull over or what. In the end I managed to stop it with a parking ticket. (I know now that my platelet count was so low that my blood wasn't clotting properly.)
When I finally got home and my husband saw me with blood all down my top he said he thought I should tell the midwife about it. But the next day I mentioned it in the office and one of the guys whose wife had just had a baby said: "But don't women have 50% more blood in their bodies when they're pregnant? Maybe you just had a cut on your gums or something and you bled more." And I thought: "Oh yes that makes sense."
I actually said to my GP. 'I'm worried I've got pre-eclampsia.'
When I went on my maternity leave I was still vomiting randomly and not feeling great. At 38 weeks I spent a weekend feeling a bit headachy. On the Monday I woke up with a cracking headache right across the front of my head. I took some paracetamol and it just wouldn't shift. The next day it was no better. My midwife had a clinic at the GPs on Tuesdays so I rang and asked her to call back.
I took the dog for a walk and while we were out my vision went all weird. It felt like the ground was coming up to meet me and I just knew it wasn't right. I did know about pre-eclampsia because my grandmother had had it when my father was born.
By about 2pm my midwife still hadn't phoned so I rang again only to be told "Oh I'm really sorry we forget she's on holiday." I then tried ringing my other community midwife but she was out on call. By this point my husband was getting really worried and he insisted that I go to the doctors to get my blood pressure and urine tested.
By then it was about 4.30 in the afternoon. While I was sat in the surgery waiting room the community midwife called me back. When I explained my symptoms she said, "See what the GP says but if you had just told me those symptoms over the phone I would be telling you to get yourself straight to hospital. But as you are seeing him, he'll be able to advise you."
'He told me it was a migraine and that I should just go home and rest.'
So I told my GP my symptoms and explained that I had a family history of pre-eclampsia and that I was worried I had it. He tested my urine which was clear and took my blood pressure. It was 127/77 which he said was not remarkable but my booking in blood pressure was 100/60. So I said to him that for me that was up but he just said, "No, that's totally fine. You've just got a migraine. It's really common in late pregnancy. Go home, your time will come."
So I went home. Fortunately my husband isn't as blasé about things. He said, 'No Kerry, I'm really worried about you. I think we should phone the hospital.' Now we live in a rural area and our hospital is about an hour away. I really didn't want to be bothered going all that way just to be told again that I had a migraine and get sent home. Thankfully my husband got quite cross so I phoned the hospital and they said to come in, so I very grumpily and grudgingly agreed. I honestly thought we'd be coming home again. I wasn't even going to take my bag. We even took the dog with us.
'I just wasn't prepared when they said they wanted to induce me straightaway.'
Once we arrived at the hospital they put me on a trace and took my blood pressure, urine and a blood sample. Over the next couple of hours we kept seeing more and more doctors. They took more blood and the doctor level started getting more and more senior as they came in.
At the time I felt as though they were asking me a lot of random questions, mostly about what my bladder was doing. How often was I peeing? What colour was it? I remember saying I need to pee all the time but nothing was really coming out and that it was a kind of luminous yellow. I thought this was because of my pre-natal vitamins and the pressures on my bladder from the growing baby. Then they brought out a patella hammer and started knocking all my knees and elbows and wrists.
The obstetrician then asked me whether I'd been having a tingling sensation in my mouth at all. For about two weeks I had been having this buzzing in my mouth. Almost like pins and needles. I'd thought I was allergic to something. When I told the doctor I caught him glance across at his colleague. It was then that the penny began to really drop that something was very wrong. Apparently when your kidney function starts to go the electrolyte balance in your body starts to change and this causes the buzzing in your mouth.
The doctors left the room and when they returned they told me that I was suffering from pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome because I had low platelets and my kidney and liver functions were completely off. I remember them telling me that they needed to induce me straight away. I was so shocked. I asked whether we could take the dog home and come back in the morning. I was totally unprepared and not in the right frame of mind at all.
'I remember just crying and saying to the midwives, 'I'm so frightened. I'm so frightened'
Being induced was not a nice experience. I found it really scary, painful and invasive. I'd wanted a natural drug free birth. What I got was nothing like it. I was flat on my back with a catheter, a blood pressure monitor and a drip. Because it was quite late at night they said it would take at least 24 hours so they sent my husband home. But once they'd got my labour going things progressed really fast. Not having someone you love to support you was really really scary. I remember just crying and saying to the midwives, 'I'm so frightened. I'm so frightened'. Thankfully he did make it back in time to see Angus born, but it was touch and go whether he'd make it.
'It felt like someone had set me on fire from the insides.'
After Angus was born I had this big euphoric high. I wasn't even worried when the doctor came in and said, 'Kerry we're really worried that you might have a seizure'. He explained that they needed to give me a drug called magnesium sulphate through a continuous infusion for 24 hours and that they needed to put a loading dose in first which could make me feel quite sick. This was the understatement of the century. As the doctor went to do it my phone rang and it was my brother.
I don't even think I said goodbye to him. I just threw the phone down and vomited. It felt like someone had set me on fire from the insides. Magnesium sulphate makes your blood vessels dilate and the initial heat it generates in your body is horrendous. Thankfully this only lasted for the first half an hour when the loading dose took effect. Because it's such a powerful drug they have to examine you every hour over 24 hours. They would check my temperature breathing, reflexes, and blood pressure. I was still in the delivery room and they left the lights on through the night. I'd just nod off and they'd wake me up again. It was like Chinese water torture. It was pretty grim.
For a whole week, I stayed in hospital. Every day I would ask if I could go home but my blood tests were still off. I also swelled up a couple of days after the birth and was quite jaundiced. Eventually I was allowed to go home but I had to go to my GP surgery three times a week to have my blood pressure taken and my blood tested. I also had to inject myself in my tummy every day for 6 weeks with a blood thinner. I was so bruised by the end of it.
'I felt very angry for a long time afterwards'
I felt very angry for a long time afterward, particularly towards my GP and struggled with that for a while, but I don't feel that any more. I'm OK, Angus is OK and everything turned out fine. I have been able to let it go, but for a long time I'd relive it over and over again in my head and I felt a real need to talk about it'
Bizarrely the decision to have another baby wasn't difficult. I'm 36 and we always knew we wanted three children if possible so we just sort of thought. Well let's crack on. It never put me off. It really didn't. What you get out of it is just so amazing.
This time around I'm not relying on anyone else. I know what my symptoms are and if I get any of them again I'm straight to the hospital. I'm not waiting for a midwife appointment and I'm not waiting for someone to phone me back.
If you or someone you know is suffering from pre-eclampsia, or you are worried about pre-eclampsia Action on Pre-eclampsia (opens in new tab) can provide information and support. If you are pregnant and worried or feel unwell always contact your GP or midwife immediately.
Related video: How to bring on labour
Jessica Dady is Senior Content Editor at Goodto.com and has over 10 years of experience as a digital journalist, specialising in all things food, recipes, and SEO. From the best food hampers to cookbooks, from the best cake stands to baking sets, Jessica has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to must-have food products. A passionate baker, she spends much of her time creating celebration cakes for friends and family - particularly for her two lucky children.
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