Mugethi Gitau, 36, tells Florence Bett about her struggle with preeclampsia, and how she recovered from her resulting miscarriage.
“I lost my baby due to preeclampsia on July 13, 2008. I was 37 weeks pregnant. At the time, I was living in Mombasa with my (now ex) husband and was a high school teacher at a private academy. I was 26.
“I had wanted a baby and was really excited when my pregnancy test returned positive. I had normal morning sickness with the usual symptoms – vomiting, lethargy, fatigue, loss of appetite. I saw my doctor twice during that first trimester and he said everything was OK.
During a regular check-up in my second trimester, the nurse at triage noticed how high my pressure was – at 130/100, it was abnormal and alarming.
My obstetrician seemed worried about it. He asked me about my family history, whether I was stressed... Then he told me about preeclampsia – he said it comes when you’re pregnant and goes away immediately you give birth; there are no known causes for it. The baby's development during the pregnancy is also stunted. In the worst-case scenario, preeclampsia can kill both the mother and the unborn baby.
“My obstetrician told me to see him every two weeks so he could monitor the baby and me. He put me on medication for high blood pressure – Inderal and Hydralazine – then gave me bed rest for two weeks.
“Aside from the high pressure, I also had other symptoms that confirmed his diagnosis for preeclampsia. I got migraines three days a week, each lasting for about 36 hours; I had severe oedema in my feet, hands and face; I got back pain and had to take sedatives so I could sleep at night; kidney and liver function tests showed I had blood in my urine and electrolytes in my blood.
“The medical cover at my workplace didn’t cover prenatal and maternity, so I went to a clinic where the costs were heavily subsidised; that’s how I was able to afford the visits to the clinic, and the drugs, tests and foetal ultrasounds I needed. Each visit usually came to about Sh6,000. I also had to take dietary supplements because I wasn’t eating well.
“The good news was that we managed the pressure to safe levels and the baby developed relatively well.
“At 30 weeks pregnant, my pressure spiked and just to be safe, my obstetrician said he’d do a C-section at 32 weeks. I didn’t want a C-section so soon because I felt she was still too small. Buy my pressure returned to safe levels at 32 and 34 weeks, so we continued monitoring.
I missed my 36-week appointment for some reason so I went a day into 37 weeks, on a Monday. My obstetrician listened for my baby’s movements using a stethoscope instead of doing an ultrasound; he said everything was OK and sent me back home. My baby was unusually active and I was experiencing what I believed were Braxton Hicks contractions –but I’d later learn that it was my uterus contracting.
“Later that week, at around 9pm, my water broke. It was spotted red. We rushed to the hospital. The doctor on call took me in for an ultrasound but he couldn’t find a heartbeat – my sweet baby was gone. He told me she had actually died three days earlier; he was even surprised that I was still alive and well.
“I was distraught. I imagined what it had been like for her breathing her last in my womb. I was angry with my doctor for mishandling me and angry with myself for not knowing my baby had died inside of me. A counsellor was sent in to speak to me.
“At 11pm, I was induced into labour and delivered naturally at around 5am. The delivery room was quiet. The doctors showed me my daughter before taking her away. She was beautiful. She weighed 2.8 kilos. Looking back now, I wish I had held her in my arms for a few minutes.
I also wish they had let me bury her in the local cemetery instead of having the hospital dispose of her. I kept a picture of her; it’s an ultrasound printout of when she was 30 weeks old.
“I returned home five days later but I couldn’t sleep or be alone. I cried frequently. I realised that people don’t know what to say to a mum who has lost her baby; my colleagues visited me and made such insensitive, foolish and careless comments like, ‘It’s a good thing your baby died because she’d have been born with deformities.’ Even my boss called me back to work two weeks later saying, ‘You don’t need maternity leave because you don’t have a baby.’
That hurt me a lot.
There’re no provisions in the employment act for mums that have had miscarriages or stillbirths, so employers take advantage.
“I was in a lot of emotional pain but my faith in God gave me comfort and sanity. I rested and recovered then eventually left my job and moved back to Nairobi that December. I desperately wanted to get pregnant again but my new obstetrician told me to wait at least two years before trying.
I ignored him and got pregnant in January 2009.
“I was paranoid throughout the pregnancy but the insights from the loss and the medical resources here in Nairobi calmed my fears. I was healthier though, and had regular check ups with my obstetrician, urologist and later a doula.
“My obstetrician said he wouldn’t let me carry the baby to term because it was too risky. He scheduled a C-section for 38 weeks but thankfully, I went into labour a day before and gave birth naturally on October 1, 2009.
Hearing my baby crying from the next room was the best sound I ever heard. My son wiped away my tears and healed my broken heart.”