I have heard some people say that stillbirth isn’t preventable. And that’s a hard subject for me, because while some deaths “just happen,” Adrian’s didn’t have to. There were warning signs, and while they were minor, they shouldn’t have been dismissed.
Warning signs of problems with my pregnancy:
- Extreme swelling – Swelling can be normal in pregnancy, but my swelling was extreme. My ankles swelled early on, around 6 months, and never went down again. I wore tennis shoes, loosely fastened, a full size and a half larger than normal for me. Later on, the swelling spread to my hands and face. And despite reporting this to my providers, I was told it was normal. It wasn’t normal. They should have been concerned.
- Slowly but steadily rising blood pressure – this is another symptom that can be normal, but should still be monitored. My blood pressure has been super low my entire life, so when I pointed out readings that were excessively high for me, my providers should have paid attention, especially in combination with other symptoms.
- Headache – I have a history of migraines, so I can understand how this one wasn’t taken as seriously, but a severe headache or one that lasts multiple weeks can be a sign of preeclampsia. It’s something that should at least be monitored, especially in conjunction with other symptoms.
- Nausea – Nausea is often associated with pregnancy in general, and so it isn’t taken as seriously by itself. But sudden onset nausea in the third trimester can be indicative of preeclampsia, especially when combined with other symptoms. I had a low level of nausea throughout my last 2 months of pregnancy.
- Sharp, tearing pain underneath my right side ribs – this is a huge indicator of either preeclampsia and/or placental abruption. When I reported it to them, I described as “lightning.” My providers brushed it off, though. I still don’t understand why.
- Decreased fetal movement – this was the biggest sign. Providers may talk about kick counts, but it seems many don’t emphasize or maybe even understand the importance. Studies have shown that changes in patterns of fetal movement are one of the biggest indicators that something could be wrong. But I reported decreased movement, and my providers told me my son was “running out of room”. This is not only untrue; it is dangerous. Babies will never run out of room in the womb. Their movements may change in type, but should not change in frequency.
There was one additional sign I experienced, that may be a little more iffy, but I still wish I had known it could be a concern. Studies have shown that intense fits of fetal activity may be indicative of a potential cord accident. The weekend before he died, my son had a period of about 4 hours where he moved like crazy. It was non-stop, constant and intense movement, like nothing else I had experienced in pregnancy. I was overdue at that point, and being a first-time mom, I just assumed it was a sign we were approaching the start of labor. I will always wish I had gone in to be checked out that day. He died only a few days later, and if he was in distress at that point, a check-up would have identified it. We didn’t have a cord accident, but I will always remember that day anyway.
Stillbirth is a hard subject, and part of it is that it’s one we just don’t like to think about. We also hear so many stories about people who ignored all the “rules” and their children were fine. Plenty of women have had similar symptoms as mine, and their children as alive and healthy today. I don’t discount this. I just want to make sure my story is heard too. Because not all stories have a happy ending. And had I known the risks, mine could have ended differently.
If you are ever concerned about the health of your pregnancy or your child, call your health care provider right away. It may save both of your lives.