“Something didn’t feel right.” That’s what Christie Steele-Garcia kept saying to herself after being discharged from the hospital following the birth of her daughter, Lucy.
Huddle Up Moms was honored to sit down with Christie to hear her and share her story.
Christie’s pregnancy was largely uneventful—she was diligent with her prenatal care and proactive about her health. However, there was one anomaly in her pregnancy journey: her blood pressure fluctuated quite a bit. Despite having borderline high blood pressures, Christie was never formally diagnosed with preeclampsia during her pregnancy.
At 38 weeks, Christie went to her OBGYN provider for a routine visit and learned that she would need to be induced because of her sporadic high blood pressures. A week later, Christie gave birth to both her new baby girl, Lucy, and her own identity as a mother.
Two days after her delivery, Christie was discharged from the hospital and headed home with Lucy in her arms. At that moment, Christie remembers experiencing a lot of anxiety, “I just felt this impending sense of doom.” In some ways, what Christie was experiencing was prophetic—her experiences over the next twenty-four hours would be a testament to her intuition.
After two days in the hospital, Christie was elated to be able to shower in the solitude of her bathroom. However, she was struck by how out of breath she felt in the shower. This was very unusual but then again, she had just given birth two days ago. Was it really that strange for her body to still feel tired? When she shared her concerns with her friends, they reassured her that what she was experiencing was completely normal.
The next day, when Christie got up from her couch after enjoying some time with Lucy, she felt the blood rush from her head to her toes in one swift swoop. Alarmed and overwhelmed, Christie asked her partner to immediately call 911. By the time emergency medical services arrived and evaluated Christie, she was feeling marginally better. They reassured her that what she was experiencing was normal postpartum and that there was no urgent need to go to the hospital.
That night, Christie awoke to an entirely foreign sensation— “It felt like every time I took a breath, there was popcorn popping in my chest.” She felt a tightness gripping her chest and that, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get a full breath of air in. Because of how rapidly Christie’s symptoms had worsened, she and her partner collectively agreed to return to the hospital. Christie was roomed almost immediately after arriving at the emergency department. Her blood pressure was astronomically high, and her oxygen saturation was abysmally low.
“You’re not going home,” this is what a nurse shared candidly with Christie. The emergent team was not sure why Christie was so critically ill. So, they moved her to the intensive care unit (ICU) for a thorough evaluation and as a precaution in case Christie’s breathing declined to a point at which she would need to be intubated. At this point, “I’m frightened, scared to death, how do I care for Lucy from the ICU?” shared Christie. Christie’s pressing concern over being able to breastfeed Lucy is a poignant testament to the selflessness of mothers. When faced with her own mortality, Christie prioritized her newborn’s health and wellbeing. Naturally, saying goodbye to her newborn and her partner in the face of so much uncertainty was one of the most incredibly heartbreaking and difficult emotional exchanges Christie has had to engage in.
Whether or not you are someone who has had first-hand experience with postpartum preeclampsia, you are someone’s partner, mother, friend, or colleague. You can make a difference in someone else’s life.
Christie would spend the next 36 hours in intensive care. As the mom of a newborn and thus, so intimately adjacent to new life, it was eerie for Christie to be alone and around individuals who were so close to death. When the OBGYN team came to Christie’s bedside, she broke down and asked them “what’s happening to me?” They explained to her that she was experiencing a rare and feared complication of delivery—postpartum preeclampsia.
For Christie, the most challenging aspect of this experience has been the mental battle. She says, “I was alone with Lucy at home and terrified—what if this happens to me again?” Looking back, Christie shared that one of the most profound statements she heard during her hospital days came from a nurse who said, ““You’re going to have to take some time to process what’s happened to you.” It would be a few months before Christie could tangibly appreciate the full depth and meaning underlying this statement.
A few months later, the COVID-19 virus arrived in the United States. Christie’s life changed dramatically as she abruptly shifted to working remotely with Lucy and started to navigate a new normal. At the time, one of the tell-tale signs of a COVID-19 infection was shortness of breath—a symptom with which Christie was intimately familiar with.
For anyone who has not experienced this, being short of breath is like being trapped at the bottom of a pool. You know you must get to the surface, but you can’t seem to get up. Instead, you lie there, stuck, and unable to breathe.
Her anxiety over being short of breath was compounded by fears of her blood pressure suddenly skyrocketing or heart suddenly stopping. “The pandemic [became] another character in my recovery,” shared Christie. The culmination of these feelings and emotions pushed Christie to seek out the help of a mental health professional. “You have been through a trauma.” This is what Christie’s therapist told her at one of their sessions. She remembers this being a breakthrough moment—suddenly, the whirlwind of adverse experiences Christie lived through felt affirmed.
Christie’s bravery, selflessness, and resilience are core components of her story. It’s been three years, and Christie remains changed by the events that unfolded in her life after her first delivery. However, there are some aspects of this experience that were deeply moving for her. For example, she is grateful for the healthcare workers who affirmed her experiences during her harrowing hospitalization experience.
Her testimony is a powerful reminder for all of us to create spaces for those around us to feel exactly what they need in their most vulnerable moments. Christie was also struck by those who showed her kindness in the most unexpected of ways. When a nurse saw Christie struggling to pump while in the intensive care unit, she shared some of her own breast milk with Christie to give to Lucy.
Christie hopes that her story helps someone. Whether or not you are someone who has had first-hand experience with postpartum preeclampsia, you are someone’s partner, mother, friend, or colleague. You can make a difference in someone else’s life.
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Written by Atreyi Saha
Atreyi Saha is a second-year medical student from Fremont, California. Her interests include community outreach, teaching and narrative medicine. In her spare time, Atreyi enjoys listening to show tunes, cycling, and reading.