During my pregnancy, as a mom I knew something was wrong — but my doctor assured me that “pregnant women are just uncomfortable.” My near-death experience made me realize that a mom’s biggest advocate needs to be herself. Here’s my story.
It’s 7:00 AM and my water has broken. The Pitocin is started, and the big day has arrived. My baby girl is on the way. It’s finally coming all together. I was a newlywed to a rising R&B star, president of my own marketing company, and now a suburban mom. I was a real housewife from New York (by way of Buffalo), living a charmed life.
What nearly caused this dream to become a nightmare? A killer of Black women that this college grad didn’t know about.
I had excelled in business, working with a Fortune 500 company, then on to sports heroes and television stars. I trusted myself and listened to my instincts. I kept on pushing until I achieved my goals. My near tragic flaw was not applying these same principles to my health.
Things started out well. I had the cravings, distaste, swelling, and discomfort that women normally experience during pregnancy. However, at the midway point of my pregnancy, things started to change — and I began to sense that something was wrong. I began to gain weight rapidly. I had passed the recommended 25 to 35 pounds easily and was well on my way to 50. This is not something this 36-26-36 — okay, 36-29-36 — was expecting, especially with so much time to go. I had hoped to keep my weight to a reasonable amount so I could get back into shape quickly.
I expressed to my doctor and nurse that I was concerned about my weight gain, as I started to gain five pounds a week on a regular basis, and the swelling I was experiencing was getting difficult. My feet and legs were getting huge. They told me that I was experiencing edema or swelling that pregnant women experience, and not to worry. They discussed my diet as a way of managing my weight gain. I certainly was eating more than I had before — but was I really eating this much?
As the days wore on, I became increasingly uncomfortable. I was constantly propping myself up with pillows because I could not breathe well when lying flat. I expressed this to my doctor — and they recommended I get a body contour pillow and simply understand that pregnant women are frequently uncomfortable.
An alarm was beginning to go off in my head. I was 30-something — not 20-something — which I knew made my pregnancy somewhat high risk. My feet were so swollen I could no longer fit into any of my shoes. My legs were beginning to feel like bricks, and I had to sleep upright. I began to Google “edema” to get tips on managing swelling during pregnancy, but nothing seemed to help. I started having a frequent pain in my left arm and difficulty even walking. I was short of breath, and my feet and legs were so swollen and tight. I kept saying to my doctor, something is wrong. He explained that pregnancy is difficult on a woman’s body.
Inside, I was beginning to break down. I did not want to appear weak. I had accomplished so much and I didn’t want anyone to feel that this former Syracuse University cheerleading captain and relentless business executive could not take the discomforts of pregnancy.
On one doctor’s visit, I learned I had gained more than 15 pounds in one week. I was mortified. My doctor and nurse continued to talk to me about my diet and watching what I eat. I insisted that my doctor send me for some tests. I knew something was wrong. He was hesitant, but agreed to send me for some blood work and a urinalysis. I began to feel like I was being labeled the “b” word. You know, a “baby”: a paranoid, anxious, and nervous new mother who constantly complained about her aches and pains.
When the test results came in, it revealed that I had protein in my urine and low blood platelets. Although I didn’t know the significance of these results, I was thinking, OK, I knew something was not quite right. I asked my doctor how many weeks I would need to get to before they could induce me and deliver my baby. He indicated that this was not an option, that he didn’t have a strong enough reason to induce me early. I would simply have to go into labor naturally.
I went home deflated. I was concerned about the welfare of my child, and I thought that this would be the evidence I needed to prove that something was wrong — and that I needed to deliver my baby a little early. A few more weeks passed, and the situation became unbearable. I was so swollen that my feet were cracking and bleeding when I walked. I thought enough’s enough. I am going to insist that my doctor induce me.
He still declined to do so, as he felt that nothing was wrong medically that would jeopardize the baby. I insisted that more tests be taken, and they came back with the same results. Only this time, my blood pressure was high. My doctor dismissed my blood pressure as nerves, and stated that I needed to hold out and wait for the baby to be born naturally.
On the night of my delivery, I went to the hospital, as I simply could not breathe well. When I got there, I had an extremely elevated blood pressure, protein in my urine, low blood platelets, and shortness of breath. The resident and nurse who were caring for me felt I should be induced. I had all of these symptoms, plus I was having contractions that were three minutes apart. I was actually going into labor! They consulted with my doctor and finally agreed to provide me with some Pitocin to get my contractions moving.
My husband was thrilled. This R&B singer would really have something to sing about — our baby girl was on the way and I would get some relief.
My next step was to get a catheter. I was concerned about this — I was like, you are going to place what, where? But more than that, they wanted to lie me flat to place it. I stated my strong disapproval of this, as I was already having such trouble breathing and I had spent the last three months completely upright. The two nurses that were administering it told me that I had to lie flat and it had to be done, so I reluctantly agreed.
This began a tragic string of events. All of the fluid that had built up to a nearly 100-pound weight gain began to back up into my lungs. I could not breathe. I was actually drowning and did not know it. I began telling the nurses I could not breathe. They told me and my husband that I was having a panic attack. I had to scream for someone to help me. I felt myself dying. I was thinking of my baby and family and knew if something did not happen, I would not be with them. Suddenly, more doctors began to flood the room and my husband was rushed out. My last memory was calling out to Jesus for help.
My doctor came to my husband to get his permission to put me under and take the baby. They told him that my baby and I were in critical condition. My husband told them to do what they had to do, that God would see me through.
I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia and peripartum cardiomyopathy. I went into a coma, was not breathing on my own, and had suffered from pulmonary edema and kidney and heart failure. Perhaps the greatest failure was my doctor not recognizing the symptoms of preeclampsia and treating me for the disorder. I also failed to steadfastly listen to myself. I knew that there was something significantly wrong, but trusted in my doctor’s care more than myself. The good news is that God did not fail to remember me on that day, and I overcame the 20 percent chance they gave me.
I have since learned that preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy and the postpartum period. It is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, and blurred vision are also other symptoms of the disease. The onset of this disease can occur after 20 weeks of gestation, or can advance rapidly at a later point during pregnancy or labor. Early onset is associated with increased morbidity. It is the leading cause of maternal and fetal death around the world. Preeclampsia, Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH), and toxemia are closely related conditions. HELLP Syndrome and eclampsia are other manifestations of the same syndrome. The only way to cure preeclampsia is with delivery of the baby. However, if the baby is too premature, it is possible to manage the disease with close monitoring, bed rest, blood pressure medication, diuretics, and magnesium sulfates, also known as Epsom salt. Preeclampsia is also one of the leading causes of premature births and the difficulties that can accompany them, including learning disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and hearing and vision problems.
Doctors do not know why some women get preeclampsia. On average, 1 in 10 women are affected with the disorder. They do know that some women are at a higher risk than others.
The risk of developing preeclampsia is increased in women who:
- Are pregnant for the first time
- Have had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Have a history of chronic hypertension
- Are 35 years or older
- Are carrying more than one fetus
- Have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease
- Are obese
- Are African-American
- Have certain immune disorders such as lupus, or blood diseases
Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics have determined that African-American women are three times more likely than white women to die of preeclampsia or eclampsia. Prenatal care has the “biggest impact” on maternal deaths. In my case, although I had prenatal care, continued education is needed among medical professionals about preeclampsia.
Women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy have twice the odds of having a heart attack or stroke later in life, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
When I regained consciousness, I learned that my beautiful Samia Angelique was born. She initially was in significant distress, as she wasn’t breathing when she was born and had other complications. However, by the grace of God, she is doing well today. The impact on my heart was significant. I now have peripartum cardiomyopathy; I am a young woman with a heart issue.
For me, the biggest matter of the heart is to assure that women and medical professionals understand the signs and symptoms of this disorder. This could be you, your aunt, cousin, or friend.
See the trailer for the new movie presented by Nia Enterprises and Live & Learn about Angela’s story called “Breathe Based on the True Story of Angela Burgin Logan” starring Samson Logan, Robin Givens, Jazsmin Lewis, Elise Neal, Miguel Nunez, Steven Williams, Clyde R. Jones, Angelea Preston and more.