The Postpartum Condition No One Is Talking About

by Robin Toups
Originally Published: 
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I was wholly unprepared for the chaos of the postpartum world. Sure, throughout my pregnancy I was worried about preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and toxemia, and I’ve always struggled with anxiety and denial of depression but postpartum is supposed to be joyous. It is, dammit! Postpartum quickly became a dirty word in my world. The dirtiest word.

Why did no one ever tell me about postpartum preeclampsia?

I never stumbled over it in a blog post, none of my friends have ever shared their experience, my doctor didn’t mention it until she sent me to the emergency room five days after I came home with my bundle of joy. Easily, I could have ignored the symptoms (and probably did for a little too long) because trying to keep a human alive with my bodily fluids is freaking hard as shit. Easily, I could have died. The Internet is full of hyperbole. That is not hyperbole.

Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs only in pregnancy. So postpartum preeclampsia is a nasty little oxymoron. Who is at risk for preeclampsia? Uh, everyone.

  • First time moms
  • Anyone with high blood pressure
  • Anyone with female family members who have had preeclampsia
  • Women younger than 20 and older than 40
  • Human women

Mild preeclampsia symptoms are basically pregnancy symptoms unless you’re a superhuman. (I know, some of you are. Get over yourselves.)

  • High blood pressure
  • Water retention
  • Protein in your urine

Severe preeclampsia symptoms are wild, and (sorry mom) fucking scary as shit.

  • Severe headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea and vomitting
  • Belly pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizure
  • Stroke


So clearly, it’s something your doctor will keep a close eye on during your pregnancy and, allegedly, if you have preeclampsia during your pregnancy, it basically vanishes after you give birth. THANK GOD FOR THAT.

So what if you develop these things after your give birth? Allow me to introduce the elusive: Postpartum Preeclampsia.

Only 600 women a year develop postpartum preeclampsia (lucky me) so I get it, chances were slim. Also, postpartum preeclampsia usually occurs within the first 48-72 hours after giving birth and, lucky for me, I took the easy way out and had a C-section (note: sarcasm), landing me in the hospital relaxing for 5 whole days (also, sarcasm, but you get it now, right?).

Okay, but then what? Who’s keeping an eye on you after you leave the hospital when your first doctor visit isn’t for six weeks?

Who is taking care of the moms?

I thank my lucky stars that my OB-GYN is amazing. I’ll recommend her to everyone until the day I die and may never leave New Orleans in my childbearing years because of her. She responded to panicked texts and calls from me and my exhausted husband for hours with advice, suggestions, and a calm voice before realizing we were in trouble and sending us to the hospital. What would have happened if hadn’t switched docs early in my pregnancy because my first was a complete asshole? “Hi, answering service, I’m pretty sure I’m dying. Call me, maybe?”

I can’t imagine what would have happened if my husband’s grandfather/doctor didn’t say “your feet shouldn’t be that size.” I can’t imagine what would have happened if I didn’t trust my recently dissected gut that something was wrong. I just cannot imagine what would have happened. It chills me straight to the bone (enter stage right: postpartum depression and crippling anxiety) — we’ll get there.

You know when you go to the emergency room and have to wait for hours? That doesn’t happen with postpartum preeclampsia because you might die. I’m not trying to scare you here. No, yeah, I am. Your vitals will be taken as quickly as possible and you’ll be ushered into a room where a nurse will immediately start pumping venom (magnesium) into your veins so you don’t have a seizure and subsequent stroke because your blood pressure is beyond dangerous. Your husband who has never been alone with a newborn is tasked with keeping her alive and happy without any boobs or idea about how to make a bottle of formula (me neither, at this point, not a husband knock).

You’re now alone and someone is trying to x-ray your chest to make sure your heart doesn’t fail and even if the picture turns out OK, your heart is broken and you know it. The tears flow steadily as you pray to a god you don’t even believe in to save you from this failing body so you can kiss that sweet neck even one more time. It sounds a little dramatic, but y’all this was the scariest day of my life.

Postpartum preeclampsia landed me in the hospital for a full 48 hours, where I had the worst headache of my life, I couldn’t obsess over my tiny baby that I had been growing for 10 months, I ruined my breastfeeding flow which never recovered, my spirit broke because my body was broken, and it kicked off months of postpartum depression because if my body was broken and now my mind was broken, how in the hell am I going to raise a human?!?!

Babies are so important and it’s right that we take extra special care of them when they appear but y’all, mommas are important too. Demand the care that you deserve. Don’t swallow that gut feeling that something is wrong. Usually everything is okay, but sometimes it’s not, and someone has to take care of the mommas, even if that someone is ourselves.

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