Is preventing preeclampsia on your mind? Well. it's a topic worthy of exploration even before pregnancy because there is feminine wisdom that can support you in preventing preeclampsia.
This post was inspired by a message I received from a happily pregnant Gila. Here is what she had to say.
“I would love to believe that my body and (baby) will make it. That I, a 45 year old woman, will not get sick with hypertension or preeclampsia......"
I recorded the audio below as my initial response Gila. But in this text I will take another perspective to include the additional feminine wisdom I see showing up in the story of preclampsia - so that you and your baby can thrive now!
Why bother preventing preeclampsia? According to the Mayo Clinic, preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys".
It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had previously been normal. Even a modest rise in blood pressure could indicate preeclampsia which, left untreated, can cause serious — even fatal — complications for both mother and baby.
The reason I share this definition, is not to scare you, but rather to inspire an intention to care for yourself adequately so that preventing preclampsia is something you achieve Gila!
Below, I share the main risk factors for preeclampsia because, for me, there is feminine wisdom humming through them. Apart from the expected personal or family history of preeclampsia, hypertension and other health conditions, there are other risk factors with a feminine tale to tell.
And understanding these will help in preventing preclampsia. These other increased risk factors are as follows:
So how can this help in preventing preeclampsia?To understand that, we need to engage our feminine wisdom when studying these risk factors. In this case, we are being called to imagine what it feels like to be the woman involved.
Let's start with the first pregnancy experience. Even if you are absolutely aching for a baby and have tried everything to get pregnant, the actual reality of being pregnant and becoming a mother can be very daunting. It doesn't matter that billions of women have done it before, it's a ginormous leap into the unknown for a woman - one for which we have little or no training.
So even if very welcome, it is stressful too - which adds to the risk of hypertension. Because, according to Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, stress "causes your adrenal glands to pump out blood pressure-increasing hormones... plus, your body's natural fight-or-flight response causes your blood vessels to contract".
And why might having a multiple pregnancy put one at risk for high blood pressure and preeclampsia? On top of the extra demand on a woman's system at a physical level, having two babies to manage is no small task and even the thoughts of this can trigger alarm (for some women).
I was one of those women! In my early thirties, I found the notion of having twins hugely intimidating as it immediately evoked images of me feeling overwhelmed. And it wasn't until I had been trying to have a baby for some time and experienced three miscarriages that this evolved for me. What happened? Over time my desire to get pregnant and have children became greater than my fear. I had begun to trust...
So, when I actually discovered that we were having twins, I burst out laughing with very real joy. But a younger me might have cried. My point here is that having a multiple pregnancy has much greater implications for a woman. As I said, apart from the additional strain on the body, contemplating a future with two small babies instead of one can be very stressful for a woman and, therefore, increase the likelihood of preeclampsia.
Even if you appreciate the science behind it and have the resources to avail of IVF, it is hardly a walk in the park. Notwithstanding IVF conducted in an empowering environment and manner, a woman is still very often left feeling inadequate, vulnerable and totally exposed.
And this adds considerably to fertility stress - which doesn't go away just because you are pregnant. Because in many instances there is also miscarriage grief or other baby loss memories bubbling under the surface. In other words, a woman going through IVF is under considerable extra stress and this will have an impact.
However, it is the remaining three risk factors that really interest me. Because, in my opinion, they are hollering some powerful feminine wisdom and provide, perhaps, the most persuasive evidence when it comes to preventing preeclampsia.
The risk of preeclampsia is higher for very young pregnant women (under 20) as well as pregnant women older than 40. We can understand this better by imaging what it is actually like to one of these women.
Being pregnant as a teenager means that you miss out on a lot of the 'normal' teenager experiences - because somebody has to get up for night feeds. Even with a lot of support, responsibilities and pressure will increase especially if you want to pursue education for example. On top of that, it can be a very lonely experience without peers going through the same. So it is easy to imagine why pregnancy at this age could be very stressful.
The same applies to pregnancy after 40 because most of your friends will probably already have had children. Then there is the added worry of miscarriage after 40, preventing chromosomal abnormalities, for example, or being afraid baby will have autism and other issues. In addition, it is not uncommon that both of these groups of pregnant women have to over-come judgment about getting pregnant outside of the normal, appropriate age limits assigned by patriarchy.
Having babies less than two years apart or more than 10 years apart is associated with higher risk. Why might that be the case? Well, life changes enormously after having a baby because suddenly there is another human being who requires a lot of care. And it takes time to get to know each other and discover a rhythm that works for your unique relationship and family.
But many of us, afraid that we are running out of time to have a baby, have a second child quickly - under duress when we are not quite ready physically or emotionally. And this creates stress that will be expressed in some way.... (including possibly hypertension).
The 10 year interval generates a different kind of stress because, even if it is planned, there is a sense of having to start all over again. And a realisation perhaps that, unless things change, the other dreams you had for yourself as a woman will take a back seat yet again. This can lead to a deep existential stress as a woman contemplates the true meaning in her life or whose life she is actually living.
Finally, having a pregnancy with a new partner adds to the risk also. Why so? Even if you are madly in love and this pregnancy is what you both want, having a baby with a new partner will add to the stressors in your life. Because now there are more variables to juggle and people to please.
Even if you don't want an only child there will probably be concerns about how your other child or children will feel with a new addition to the brood. Not to mention the management of relationships between new partner and your other children and/or your ex.
On top of this, we live in a world in which, unlike men, women are judged for having multiple partners. Having a child with a new man means that a woman has a lot extra to deal with - and it will take a toll in some way.
So what is really going on here in the story of preeclampsia and preventing preeclampsia? These seemingly arbitrary numbers - a woman's age and the time between births - along with the finding that a new partner increases the risk, clearly point to the fact that preeclampsia is as much about the social and emotional context in which a woman finds herself as it is her physiology.
But this is not common knowledge because, as I explored in a previous article, we have been taught that infertility is medical issue. Feelings don't matter. And giving power to patriarchy and the patriarchal version of events is just something we have been conditioned into doing. Like Pavlov's dogs. So we don't question it.
By looking closer at these risk factors - as we have done - we can see that preeclampsia is an indication that a woman has too much to deal with (in our patriarchal world that makes so many demands on women and mothers). Too much to deal with and provide an environment in which both mama and baby can thrive. Way, way too much....
And while juggling way to much has become the norm for a woman in our patriarchal world, it is not natural. Patriarchy doesn't see that though or want to because then the status quo would have to change. It's easier to just keep on insisting that pregnant women continue life as normal - being all things to all people.
However, this is not sustainable - and the consequences are far reaching. Rather that being a complication of pregnancy, in ways it is more true to say that preeclampsia is a complication of patriarchy. Because the source of so much of the pressure that results in pregnancy hypertension stems from the patriarchal expectations of women and mothers.
But the risks of going to this extreme are serious for mother and baby so it is important to be preventing preeclampsia rather than dealing with the consequences. You can start that process by engaging your feminine wisdom at a much deeper level. That can happen in ways such as making sure you get enough sleep (I have explored the feminine link between sleep and fertility and also in this article about menopause and sleep).
With my pregnancy with Eadaoin and Caoimhe, for example, I had to nap twice a day. In my previous pregnancies I would have ignored that guidance because I had patriarchal duties (work, chores etc.) that were more important - or so I thought. Napping for a few hours twice a day would have felt super selfish. This time I knew to listen because my female body simply needed additional rest.
Be wise and work with your medical team as they can and will help. In addition, I invite you to answer the following questions: What is your body really asking for around sleep and rest? What are you finding most stressful Gila? And how can you delegate that out or receive more support so that you are not carrying the burden alone?
By taking the time to listen to your feminine wisdom now, you can avoid the more full-blown side-effects of prolonged stress. If I had my time back again I would hire a doula or coach because I really needed a feminine presence around me (I had moved to Spain and didn't have this). And I am sensing that you would benefit from this also Gila - or something similar.
So what would it take for you to hire a doula now and/or a coach who can help you hear your feminine wisdom and reduce stress from your life so that preventing preeclampsia becomes your story. And what other changes do you know intuitively you need to make in order to set yourself up for success now? A coach will help you figure out the hows.
It starts by allowing yourself to have what you and your baby really need now Gila. So you can show up as the woman and mother you were born to be - one step at at time.
I hope there was value in this for you and would love to hear your experience around preventing preeclampsia and ways you have found to reduce stress in your life. Please share below because your feminine contribution here really, really matters!
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