Postpartum Preeclampsia: Why Didn't the Doctors Listen to Me?

My question concerns postpartum eclampsia. After a perfect pregnancy with my son my water broke on its own and 12 hours later I had a son. Two days later I noticed severe swelling and alerted the nurse. Even my face was bloated. She said it was normal and I went home. My doctor was out of town so two days later we called the "on-call" and told her I had a fever and a headache. She said it was normal. We called back about the continuing headache until eight days postpartum I paged my husband who rushed home and took my blood pressure (he was in nursing school) it was 210/120. (I weigh 100 lbs) at the hospital my face was blotchy red and they put me in ICU for a few days then on the regular floor and after tests said it was eclampsia. Why didn't the medical dept listen to me?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

At the annual meeting of the American College of Nurse-Midwives two years ago, buttons with the inscription, "LISTEN TO WOMEN" were sold. These three words have profound and varied meanings.

I have seen women immediately postpartum complaining of severe pain who are told this is normal. Later they are found to have enlarging hematomas with significant blood loss and morbidity. Women on birth control pills who complain of severe headaches who later go on to have strokes. Women who are depressed and complain of "losing it" after their baby is born who later commit suicide.

It is a natural inclination to believe health care providers; we do, after all, want to be well and declared "normal".

When a postpartum mother develops swelling, this should be considered preeclampsia until proven otherwise. A careful recording of frequent blood pressures should be carried out. Her urine should be screened for protein and a careful history of complaints of headache, visual disturbances and/or upper abdominal pain should be collected. The doctor or midwife should be informed. The patient should be kept until everyone is confident that she is not developing toxemia, (preeclampsia, PIH, HELLP syndrome). The very worst case of this condition that I ever saw was in a postpartum client.

Although this situation is rare, it is a well-known entity and a professional nursing staff should have been alert for this.

I'm sorry that this happened to you. It was a significant health concern, not to mention the disruption in your life as a new mother. I'm glad you wrote to us about this. This is a good way to alert other mothers.

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