Many young girls dream about their wedding day — they think about their dress and their partner. They imagine the venue where they’ll dance and the smiling people who'll fill the space. But as a child, all I used to dream about was being a mom. When I was younger, I wanted five kids. I couldn't wait until it was my turn. I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember.
And then it happened.
When I was 29, I became pregnant for the first time. It wasn't planned, but it was more than welcome, and I was confident that life was unfolding just as I had planned. But amidst the anticipation, in the sixth month of my pregnancy, we lost our baby. We found out around the fifth month that she was very sick and was most likely not going to make it. I was 25 weeks when I lost her. I've never experienced anything like that feeling in my life, and I had a very hard time recovering from it.
In the aftermath, I felt that the only thing that would make me feel better was getting pregnant again, but we soon found out it was going to be difficult because I had a genetic issue that would likely complicate any future pregnancies or cause my babies to be sick. My doctors advised against getting pregnant naturally, and suggested I do IVF, in-vitro fertilization. That process took over a year and a half, but after tons of emotional ups and downs, I finally found out I was expecting a healthy miracle baby girl due February 21, 2017. I felt like my turn had finally come.
Other than severe morning sickness during the first trimester, it was relatively smooth sailing up until around six months of pregnancy. I remember it so vividly: I was getting a pedicure and I looked down at my feet, only to realize they were abnormally swollen. They didn't look like they belonged to me.
That's strange, I thought as I stared at them. See, based on my pre-natal reading and research, I thought swollen feet only happened in the eighth month of pregnancy, towards the very end. And the next day, when I told my doctor, she said I must’ve eaten something salty. She said that salty foods, and the current heat (it was 90 degrees that week), meant that I was experiencing some edema, which is intense swelling and inflammation.
“Nothing to worry about at all,” she replied.
But when the temperature dropped, my swelling didn’t wane.
But when the temperature dropped, my swelling didn’t wane. The next few weeks went by, and I started to slow down. Walking, even up a small set of stairs, started to become more difficult. Even walking on a flat surface was hard. I didn’t want to move, I didn't want to go anywhere at all. I kept thinking, So many of my friends who were pregnant were able to get around just fine. That's when I started to realize something might not be right.
As I got bigger, things got much worse. Towards the very end of my pregnancy, I was unable to walk at all. My feet were in so much pain. They looked like elephant feet. But at every visit, I asked my doctor, “Can you please look at my feet? They hurt. They're not okay. I'm not okay. What is going on here?” And my doctor kept saying, "Oh honey, that's just pregnancy!" So I trusted her. Even though I was worried, I knew that swollen feet and moving slower than usual were symptoms that happened at some point during pregnancy. I told myself that I was just experiencing them more intensely than most.
My doctor kept saying, "Oh honey, that's just pregnancy!" So I trusted her.
The week before my baby shower, I felt what I thought were contractions — I was in pain all over. But this time, my doctor didn’t dismiss my symptoms. She suspected I had developed late onset gestational diabetes. So she told me that after the weekend, I should come in and get my blood sugar tested. I had my baby shower that Sunday, and on Monday I had my husband take me to get the blood test. I had a meeting at the office that morning, so I figured I'd pop in to get the test and go straight there. Little did I know, we wouldn't be going anywhere that day.
When I got to the doctor’s office, the nurse took my blood pressure and a urine sample, which is protocol when you're pregnant. We didn’t even have to get the blood test done — right away, the nurse noticed my blood pressure was high and that I had protein in my urine. Those are the two main signs of the pregnancy condition preeclampsia, which is marked by high blood pressure and protein in urine. She told me I had to rush to the hospital to get monitored. She also told me there was a 75% chance that they were going to have to induce my labor that day.
I was three weeks early, so beyond the shock of having my baby early, I was logistically unprepared. I remember thinking, What? The baby's furniture hadn't even been delivered yet, and I didn't have my hospital bag packed.
I got to the hospital and was hooked up to monitors right away. The nurses there monitored me for four hours to see if I had another high blood pressure reading. If I did, then I definitely had preeclampsia, and they were going to have to take the baby out right away. It turned out that I didn't end up having another high blood pressure, but I wasn't leaving. I told my doctor I wouldn't go home. I felt sick and I couldn't imagine going one more day (let alone three weeks) living like this. Every part of my body hurt. She spoke to my high risk doctor, and they decided that it was probably best to induce me.
I got induced at 7 p.m. that Monday — the day after my beautiful baby shower and just hours after my doctor told me to come in for blood sugar testing.
I got induced at 7 p.m. that Monday — the day after my beautiful baby shower and just hours after my doctor told me to come in for blood sugar testing. The labor wasn’t easy. I hurt everywhere. It was hard for me to hold my breath during contractions when they told me to, and I just felt so sick inside. My gut, as it had been for a while, was telling me something was not right. But what did I know, really? I had never been through this. I guess that's just what labor is. It’s not supposed to be fun, I told myself. But deep inside I wasn’t entirely convinced.
After 17 hours of labor I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Kate Kasher. My husband and I were in heaven. Our little miracle that we had been waiting for was finally here. The nightmare was behind us, and we were so relieved.
A few hours after she was born, I was moved to my postpartum room. Some family and friends came by the hospital. During that time, one of the nurses came in and told me that Kate was breathing a bit too fast and would be taken up to the neonatal intensive unit. Immediately, my husband threw up. I started having a panic attack. All I could think was, how is this happening? I thought we were in the clear and the nightmare was over. I need my baby girl to be ok. I cannot go through this again.
The nurses took her to the NICU. They soon told us that Kate had extra fluid in her lungs and had to be hooked up to oxygen. The doctors told me she that this was something they'd seen before, and it's often reversed itself.
I barely slept that night. When I woke up the next day, I felt a bit lightheaded. I also forgot to take my antidepressant the day before. I usually get lightheaded and a bit nauseous if I miss a dose, so I kept telling myself that was the problem. I took my medicine and shortly after my nurse took me to go see Kate in the NICU. As he was wheeling me to the elevator, the entire room started spinning. I began seeing spots. I told him he needed to turn back around and bring me to my bed, and that I wasn't feeling okay.
My Ob/Gyn called my room and asked me about my symptoms. After I described them, she told me she thought I had a blood clot on my lungs. She ordered a CT scan for me, and they sent me downstairs to get it. The CT scan didn't show a clot, but it did reveal some excess fluid surrounding my heart. My doctor called and said they were going to give me some medicine that would help me rid my system of the fluid and that I should start to feel better.
But when I got the medicine, I started to feel worse — not better.
But when I got the medicine, I started to feel worse — not better. I had been moved back into my postpartum room and was getting ready to go to bed when I really started to have difficulty breathing. I asked the nurse on-call if I could get some oxygen, since I had tightness in my chest. They hooked me up to oxygen under my nose and told me that I was probably just having a panic attack because of everything going on with the baby. I begged the nurse to stay close to me that night. I told her I really didn't feel well and that I was scared. She sat by my side until I fell asleep.
Around 5 a.m., I was woken up by a team of doctors — including my Ob/Gyn — standing around my bed. They told me my oxygen levels had dropped severely overnight and that they had to take me to the other part of the hospital to do some testing. They wheeled me to get an echocardiogram. As I was sitting there with the same six doctors around me, breathing got harder and harder. Before I knew it, I was gasping for air. I made a motion to the nurse to give me an oxygen mask.
Within seconds, I was moved to a gurney. About 10 more people rushed in as I was hooked up to a huge mask and taken to the intensive care unit. I remember the entire thing so vividly. When I got to the ICU, I was hooked up to an even bigger mask and had about five monitors behind me. A nurse came in, put a catheter in me, and started draining fluid from my body. Within about 30 minutes, five liters of fluid had been removed from me and I started breathing normally again. To put things into perspective, they drained about 25-40 pounds of fluid from my body. I gained 80 pounds during my entire pregnancy. Almost half of it was fluid.
The entire cardiac team at the hospital showed up in my room. I knew it wasn't good.
“Was I dying? What was happening? When can I see Kate?”
All I wanted was to be healthy and be with my baby. The doctors introduced themselves and told me that I had just experienced heart failure.
Just like that.
They said my lungs had filled up with all of the fluid that my body had retained during my pregnancy, and that my heart had to pump extra hard to keep me alive. As a result, my heart became weak. They said it's a condition called peripartum cardiomyopathy, which is a rare form of heart failure that happens during pregnancy. This was not related to preeclampsia, although the symptoms are extremely similar. They told me I was very lucky: if I'd had a home birth, or if I was at a different hospital, I may not have survived. I couldn't believe my ears. I looked at my mother and my husband who were in the room with us and started crying. I just kept thinking about them, about my sister, about Kate, and what would happen to them if I had died.
All I wanted to know was that I was going to be okay.
All I wanted to know was that I was going to be okay. The doctors told me that they couldn't really give me an answer. We had to take it minute by minute and see how I was recovering. I was so scared. They kept looking at my ankles and the back of my neck to make sure the swelling had gone down. And, in the middle of all this ambiguity and fear — when my hormones were in flux and I wasn’t able to see my own daughter — they told me that I could never have a baby again.
I stayed in the ICU for two days and then was moved to the cardiac ICU floor. Everyone there was about 60-years-old or older. What the hell was I doing here?
I still had not seen Kate. Jake, my husband, used FaceTime to keep me connected to her, and traversed the hospital to visit us both. She was hooked up to all of these machines and so was I, and we could only see each other through a phone screen. All I wanted to do was hold her and tell her that we were going to be okay. But I couldn’t give either of us that reassurance.
Over the next five days, I was put on four heart medications and started to show improvement. Kate got released and sent home on February 5 — she was luckily 100% okay and recovered. The day before my birthday, February 7, my doctors all decided that I was well enough to go home too. That was the best news I had ever gotten, because for a few days I thought I was never leaving that hospital and was never going to see my daughter again.
I can't even describe the feeling I had when I walked into my front door. I was home with my husband, my baby, my family, and my dog — the people I never thought I'd be with again. It was the best day ever, but the road to recovery wasn’t complete.
I was told I could only have a liter of fluid a day (including water, coffee, soup, etc.) I had to watch my salt intake as well and have less than 1000 mg a day. For the first month home, I was pretty much scared to eat or drink anything, because I thought it would kill me. I was honestly too scared to do anything. I had major, major PTSD. I couldn't sleep.
I was a new mom and I could barely hold my daughter or even walk up the steps with her. Instead, I had to attend cardiac rehab three times a week for three months. There, I would be hooked up to a heart monitor while walking on a treadmill or doing some sort of light exercise. I wasn’t allowed to work out on my own or do any activity anywhere else.
And, as if all of this wasn't bad enough, I was left with tiny fractures all across my feet and toes from all of the swelling. I had to wear a boot on each foot for two months, and my heart took six months total to heal.
My daughter is now 2 years old, and I'm only finally starting to take care of her the way I've always wanted to. I can hold her for long periods of time, walk up the steps with her, and put her carseat in the car —all of the things that I never thought I'd be able to do again. It's still a bit challenging for me to care for her on my own, but I’m getting better at it every day. As long as I keep up the work to stay healthy, it's only going to get better and easier.
I am one of the lucky ones. I know it. I thank god every single day for that.
I am still on my heart medications, but I am one of the lucky ones. I know it. I thank God every single day for that. If there is anything I want to do in my life moving forward, it's to educate people on this condition and raise awareness because it is ridiculous how few people really know about PPCM. If women were able to read about it leading up to their pregnancy in books like What To Expect, or even in pamphlets at the doctor’s office — it could save their lives. I have seen and was given a million pamphlets at the doctor during my pregnancy. Why on Earth was this not one of them?”
I would have probably diagnosed myself with PPCM or maybe would have asked my doctor about it, had I known it existed. About 1,000 to 1,300 women develop peripartum cardiomyopathy in the U.S. each year, according to the American Heart Association. Most women who experience this never get their heart back to a normal ejection fraction. They continue to live their lives on tons of medications and need to be monitored regularly.
I want to help women who are going through it and let them know that they're going to be okay. When I was diagnosed and so scared, I kept searching for things online that would make me feel better. I wanted to read people’s stories, I wanted people to relate to because I felt like I couldn't relate to anyone at all. I wanted to read success stories and know that things were going to be fine. My biggest message for pregnant women is that you need to be your own best advocate and take that role of a doctor for yourself.
If something is not right, if you don't feel like yourself, and if your gut is telling you something is wrong...trust it.
If something isn't right, if you don't feel like yourself, and if your gut is telling you something is wrong...trust it. We all look to our doctors because they're the ones who should know these things and "they" are educated and smart. But you’re the one who knows what you’re feeling. You can speak to what you’re going through better than anyone. So, speak up. Don’t wait. Say it, because YOU know it.
And your life could literally depend on it.
I feel like I got a second chance at life. I look at my daughter every day and think about how she is nothing short of a miracle. She was by no means easy for me to have and I consider her a true gift. I've accepted the fact that I can't ever have a baby myself again. We definitely want to have more kids. When we are ready, we'll consider every option.