By Christine Bett
Whenever I had my blood pressure checked in my 20s and 30s — during pregnancy and outside pregnancy — the attending medic would urge me to drink more water because the readings were concerningly low.
So when I found out I was expecting my third child at 42, the last thing on my mind when it came to health complications was high blood pressure.
Indeed, throughout my pregnancy, the readings always showed that my blood pressure was within the normal range. My BMI was not bad either and I did not experience any headaches or other symptoms that would have raised any alarm.
In fact, when I was about 33 weeks into my pregnancy, I had a scary episode of heart palpitations and dizziness — but it turned out that I was simply dehydrated and that I needed to get really serious about drinking water (read about it here).
The weeks passed and I went in for my scheduled caesarian section at 38 weeks and 4 days. I had my baby boy around 9 am as planned. I went home some two days later and started my journey as a mother of three.
But Day 10, the neck pain that had started some two days before reached unbearable levels. It was clear that it was not neck strain from staring down at my baby when he was feeding — or from insufficiently propping myself up on my bed with a ‘bad’ pillow.
I had begun to realise that it really had nothing to do with my bones or my muscles. It felt like it was something more on the chemical side of things. An internal imbalance or deficiency of sorts. I could feel a vein in my neck pulsating with every heartbeat and keeping with this pace was the excruciating pain.
So I contacted my doctor and he asked me a series of questions. He asked me one that nearly everyone I had spoken to had asked me. “Are you sitting properly while breastfeeding?”
And then I mentioned the pulsating vein.
His tone seemed to change (actually, we were texting so I guess I imagined this part).
“Did you check your blood pressure?”
I hadn’t. Amid all the emotions and motions of caring for a new-born after a 9-year break, I hadn’t thought of such a thing. My blood pressure had been fine throughout my pregnancy and the three days I had been in hospital. The baby was out of my body and so I was out of danger of developing any symptoms of pre-eclampsia — or so I thought.
I was wrong.
Apparently, pre-eclampsia, which usually occurs about midway through pregnancy (after 20 weeks), can occur for up to 12 weeks after birth.
Nobody ever told me that.
When I checked my blood pressure, it was 167/97 which apparently is considered Stage 2 hypertension (high risk). I was shocked.
My doctor put me under medication right away.
Apparently, there are different types of blood pressure medicines … I won’t go into the list right now. Just know that my doctor probably chose the most accessible and most affordable option considering the circumstances (I had only gone to a chemist in the neighbourhood to get my blood pressure checked).
Now, I now remember him warning me that one of the side effects of this medicine was headaches and I should let him know if I got one. But my mind was in such a blur then that I forgot about this part.
So after taking the medicine, I went from glee that the neck pain had eased and I could finally sleep to agony after being woken up a few hours later by a brain-splitting headache.
I ended up in the neighborhood hospital at 4am. I was given injectable painkillers (medics, please forgive my layman terms) and when that didn’t work right away, I was put on a drip.
Eventually, I got medication without the undesirable side effects and after two cycles, my blood pressure stabilised.
During that time, I had to buy a blood pressure monitor so I could check it twice a day and record it.
Now, I got my machine over the internet for a little over Sh2500 (USD 25). If you add delivery fees and other expenses like airtime spent calling around to make inquiries, it would probably have cost me much less if I had purchased it months before along with the rest of my baby shopping.
And it would have been a big help if it had been gifted to me during my baby shower.