One month ago, my very dear friend Lara Hogan was interviewed by NPR for a piece on the connection between high risk pregnancies and heart disease. This interview explored the fact that “women with high risk pregnancies are up to eight times more likely to have heart disease later in life”. This is something we all need to be more aware of. Lara’s heroic story of her dramatic and intense delivery and subsequent posteclampsia is a story we should all read and become familiar with. And as Lara stresses, it’s so unbelievably important that we care for not only our babies after childbirth, but ourselves. Bottom line mamas: pay attention to your heart’s health.
SSP: I understand you had been treated for hypertension prior to your pregnancy. How did that affect your pregnancy, and were you monitoring your blood pressure throughout? I went to a high risk doctor early on in my pregnancy because of my age and because of my genetic hypertension, and as we were watching my blood pressure we decided I’d take blood pressure medication to keep my numbers in check. We were monitoring it closely at both the OB and high risk office. They explained to me their concerns and what I needed to look for in terms of preeclampsia warning signs. Two times during the pregnancy I had to check for protein in my urine, which is the key sign for preeclampsia. Those came back OK and it wasn’t until 36 weeks that everything changed.
SSP: Where there any complications or side effects that you experienced during your pregnancy? I had the craziest, biggest swollen feet you’ve ever seen, which is something that many women get. I don’t know if it was necessarily because of high blood pressure, but I tend to swell and think it’s linked my blood pressure. They were crazy huge and very uncomfortable. I had to buy a size 11 pair of vans to fit my feet. Other than that I didn’t notice anything else.
SSP: When did you notice a drastic change, and how did that affect your delivery?
So it really was the first day of turning 36 wks. That evening we hosted a birthday party at my house and everybody fell asleep watching a movie afterwards. I felt a little uneasy…I got up and started cleaning the kitchen, and while cleaning, I could literally feel my blood pressure rising…which is not something most people can physically feel. It’s hard to explain what it feels like. My heart was fluttering, my body was a little flushed and tingly. I decided to check my blood pressure. It was 190 over 120, an extremely high number. Normal is somewhere around 120 over 80. I woke my husband up and told him we needed to go to the hospital. I knew something was wrong. My OB had told me at my 1st appointment we have to get you to 36 weeks at the earliest. It’s very strange that it was to the day my 36th week. We drove to the hospital, we live far from it – about a 45 minute drive. We went to the ER and they immediately sent us up to the maternity ward. They checked vitals and the doctor who saw me left the room after the 1st check and came back 10 min later saying “we spoke to your doctor…looks like we’re having a baby tonight”. Within 10 minutes Chad, my husband, was in scrubs. We had to wait a few hours until 5 in the morning…so we snuggled and slept until then. I called my mom, and she flew in right away.
We went into the operating room, they administered anesthesia, then Chad came in and they started cutting me open for the c-section…when I said “OW”. They cut through the uterus wall and I could feel it. They shouted “everybody stop”!!! That’s the last thing I remember. They brought me emergency anesthesia and I was totally knocked out. I woke up in the recovery room, in the dark. I had a full blown panic attack – where is my baby, where is my husband…I’m totally alone. Chad was in the NICU, with our baby boy. Boys have a much higher rate at 36 weeks to go into NICU, where he ended up spending a week. I got sent up to the high risk maternal unit. The hope with preeclampsia is that it goes away with delivery, that’s the way to get rid of it. My blood pressure however would not go down, and it was really, really high. I had to be monitored, on the cuff and on all of the special monitoring units. A few hours later it shot up even higher. They had to give me an IV of magnesium, which is supposedly the only way to get it down if it doesn’t go down on it’s own. It’s to prevent seizures, the biggest fear with preeclampsia. I couldn’t leave my bed, this is the worst part of it. I still had not seen my son. I saw pictures of him on the phone from Chad. I was so emotional – I can’t see or touch my own child at this point. He’s in the NICU, I’m worried about him. I can’t see him until my numbers regulate. Forty-eight hours later, I had my “Meryl Streep” moment as my husband calls it. I yelled “If you want my blood pressure to go down, I need to see my baby”! I called my doctor, got into a wheelchair hooked up to IV, and got to the NICU. Meanwhile l’m learning how to pump, trying to get any colostrum to him and waiting for my milk to come in. Finally I saw my son Zion and it was obviously the best moment of my life, it seemed to make everything better. I was sent home a few days later when my numbers were close to normal. Having to leave him in NICU was hard but he was in great hands.
Unfortunately, that same night I felt that same feeling as the night I went into the ER. I called my sister, a doctor in NYC, and she freaked out (she does not get worked up over anything). She called my mom and she immediately took me to the ER. This was actually more scary for me than the first time. At this point I have a baby – this time i have a baby who needs me – I can’t die. I’m on the stretcher, and my numbers are so high that they had to call the resident down from the high risk unit to watch me and not leave my side for fear of seizure. This is now called posteclampsia, There is very little research on preeclampsia, so you can imagine how little research there is on posteclampsia. It’s so rare and unheard of. A lot of people don’t know what to do about it. I was hoping to avoid the magnesium again, which by the way I forgot to tell you is like getting the worst flu of your life. Imagine a c-section, not seeing your baby and having the worst flu in your life. You can’t keep your eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time, and that was when I was pumping.
Anyway, I couldn’t avoid the magnesium. I started tasting metal in my mouth. A nurse was standing over me with a paddle, five doctors around me . A crew followed me because of the fear of seizures. I had no appetite, I was just so sick. I got through that, my numbers got better, and Zion and I got to go home a week later. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the nightmare.
I was really sick for more than 6 weeks. We were trying to regulate my medication. My doctor had connected me with a group of doctors at Cedars-Sinai called the Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center, where they have a research group focused on women’s high risk maternal health issues. I joined the registry and became supervised by these amazing doctors who were getting as much out of me as a patient that I was out of the doctors. They are trying to raise awareness about the high risk of heart disease in women who have high risk pregnancies. That is why I ultimately did the NPR interview. So, throughout those weeks, I worked closely with my doctors to find the right medicine and dosage. That meant being very sick and not being able to even change a diaper until 6 weeks in. That was so incredibly difficult. My mom and my husband are my heros, they never left my side. They fed me, set my pump up and took care of Zion during the day. I had a postpartum doula at night as I couldn’t really get out of bed. From 9pm to 6am the doula would get up with him, change him, bring him to me and put him back down. I needed that extra help for 6 plus weeks. Needless to say, this was not how I had dreamt of my birth experience.
SSP: How do you personally care for your heart’s health since the birth of your son, Zion?
I am on routine medication, I go for checkups with my women’s care doctors. I try to keep on top of monitoring my blood pressure but again I can usually feel when it’s not right. I live a healthy lifestyle as much as i can. Eating right and exercising.
SSP: Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with expecting moms who have had complications in pregnancy and are concerned about their blood pressure?
I definitely can’t stress enough that every mom who has a high risk pregnancy should go to a cardiologist after having the baby. We’re so focused on the new baby, it’s hard to focus on ourselves but we need to. This is for long term care of you and your heart. Preeclampsia, diabetes, any issue. Also, if you know you are at risk for any of these issues, find the right high risk doctor as soon as you can. Mine was my guide through all of this. Make sure you have a supportive team getting you through whatever you need to get through.
For a link to Lara’s recent NPR interview, go to:
by Jen Valu
Coming clean here: I often dread dinner time. After a full day, who on earth wants to make two separate dinners – one for the kids and one for the adults?! Not me. Although sometimes I do succumb to this I try my hardest not to make those frozen chicken nuggets the norm. After all, I want my children’s taste buds to be as all-inclusive as possible (ha ha, much easier said than done)! My kids eat super early so it’s often the night before’s dinner leftovers for them, and a new dinner for my husband and me.
Here are 10 healthy, easy and generally crowd-pleaser dinner ideas that your entire family will (hopefully) enjoy. They are tasty, fun, colorful and balanced.
* Make Your Own Taco – Let your child help make his/her taco. This is FUN!!! Lettuce, avocado…greek yogurt to dip. Substitute beef with bison for a healthier option. These shrimp tacos are a favorite in my house!
* Crispy Chicken and Homemade Fries – SO much healthier than the frozen chicken nuggets and store bought fries (packed with added sugar, fats, sodium). To make the adults version a little more “mature”, how about a chipotle dip?
* Mac n’ Cheese – Adults love a good mac n’ cheese just as much as the littles do. Want to kick the healthy factor up a notch? Substitute regular pasta with a whole wheat, brown rice or bean based pasta.
* Moroccan Chicken – Fast and tasty, this recipe includes peaches and orange juice to add flavor and please those sugar-craving taste buds.
* Orecchiette with Broccoli and Walnuts – Fresh pasta with protein and fiber filled walnuts and vitamin-rich broccoli. Simple, colorful and yummy.
* Almond Fish Sticks – OK, yum…cod covered in crunchy almonds and flakes. Want to add a little “adult” into this recipe? Make a side dipping sriracha or tartar sauce.
* Black Bean Quesadillas – This is my go-to when I need something super-quick, that I enjoy as well. SUPER simple and healthy. Add a fried egg if you want! On the “adult” quesadilla, consider adding onions, spices and jalapeños!
* Swordfish Piccata – My daughter, like many other 4 year olds I know, will not eat fish (other than shrimp)…HOWEVER, there is something about swordfish that excludes it from the “I hate fish” rule. Maybe it’s the more dense consistency, almost like chicken – not sure. Personally, I don’t include capers on hers, and I’m generally not a fan of thyme either.
* Hamburger Buddy Pasta – This recipe helps you hide a few vegetables, like mushrooms and carrots. Try substituting with bison for a healthier version. Add spices to the adult portion as many will find it on the blander side without.
* Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce – Kids cannot get enough pasta. Let’s at least try to make it a little healthier for them by making a homemade tomato sauce! Here is basic recipe, for you to tweak as you wish!
One piece of advice to new mommies – don’t succumb to “kids food” 24/7. They will be dictating their menu to you, and will refuse to open up to new (healthier) ideas. Listen, getting a toddler to eat a new food or fish for example (god forbid), can feel excruciatingly impossible. We’re not going to win every food war. My thought is this: have them at least TRY something, even just a few bites. They might actually like something they thought they detested. There’s an old Sesame Street episode about this, where Elmo has to try a kiwi, which he didn’t think he liked…and he enjoys it! Try watching this with them. Note: it can take ten tries before your taste buds decide if they like a food or not. And…often if my child is not crazy about the dinner option for the evening, I explain there are no other options, so she needs to eat whatever it is if she doesn’t want to go to bed starving. And of course definitely no after dinner sweet if she doesn’t eat it. Having the energy to take this on every night is difficult, but we can try to introduce new healthy foods once or twice a week and see what sticks! Don’t give up!
Posted by Jen Valu
I’m talking to all parents here, but moms specifically. We are always too busy (a word I use way too often to describe how I’m doing), taking care of everyone – our kids, our home, even our spouse…that we often neglect a very important person – YOURSELF. Easier said than done, I am guilty as charged. I sometimes wait 6 months to get a haircut. I rarely get much needed “girl time” with my friends. I can’t remember the last time I was able to pick up a book and get lost in it. I feel good thinking about all of the things I get done every day – taking care of two children, working PT, paying bills, food shopping, taking care of the house and somehow mustering up the energy after both kids are asleep to make my husband and I dinner when he gets home from work. After all, look at what we accomplish every single day. We should feel proud!!! BUT…do you ever feel like you’re losing yourself in the day to day grind, not having a moment to think about you?
Here are a few ideas for ways we can take care of ourselves without breaking the bank and taking too much time away from those snuggles and laughs with our babies.
Try setting your alarm clock 20-30 min early if you can’t find time in the day to do these things. Start the day with YOU-time. And watch the beautiful sun rise while you do it.
Listen, there is never enough time in the day or the funds to do what we really want to do for ourselves. Sure I’d love a day at the spa once a month and a yearly trip with close girlfriends somewhere on a secluded beach in the Caribbean. I’d love to go into Manhattan, all alone and just wander around for an entire day. Meet up with friends for lunch, go shop. Just a me-day. One day we’ll all get there (here’s to hoping), but these things can feel a little out of reach with the little people in our lives. Maybe we can take some of these small steps towards that much needed “me time”.
Remember, if you feel like you’re taking care of “everything”, that includes you. If you truly take care of yourself, you are happier…you are a better parent, a more patient parent. You’re also letting your children know that YOU matter, and that you truly value yourself.
Posted by Jen Valu