Always Be Your Own Advocate (a.k.a. Blood for my Birthday)
A week and a half ago, I found myself in the Emergency Room with shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain. At 25 weeks pregnant, it was pretty scary. Something definitely didn’t feel right. But after an EKG, ultrasound, and fetal heart rate monitoring (all normal, thank goodness!), they gave me some Maalox and sent me home with a diagnosis of either “anxiety” or “acid reflux.”
While I’m sure that in many cases that’s an accurate and reasonable explanation, I was pretty sure there was something else was going on — especially as the symptoms persisted through the weekend.
It dawned on me that my mom had very similar symptoms when she’d had severe anemia requiring a blood transfusion a few years before. This got my wheels turning since I had been mildly anemic for years prior to pregnancy, with very low iron stores, and pregnancy itself often causes anemia. While it’s recommended that pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin with iron and/or an additional iron supplement, I wasn’t able to do so because of the gastroparesis and colonic inertia and my OB knew that. (I have been drinking lots of spinach smoothies and kale juice, though!).
As I thought more about it, I realized that I hadn’t had blood work since I was 8 weeks pregnant, and I was already more anemic than usual at that point. So the following Monday when I saw my OB/GYN, I asked about the possibility of my symptoms being related to anemia. She said that anemia was common in pregnancy and they’d check it in two weeks as part of routine screening. Basically she dismissed my concerns without really considering them.
That wasn’t good enough for me, so I followed up with my primary care doctor. She said it was the OB’s job to monitor anemia during pregnancy. In the meantime, I was feeling worse, now unable to walk even at 2.5 mph on my treadmill due to the dizziness and shortness of breath. Something definitely wasn’t right and I really believed it had to do with the anemia. So I kept going. I made an appointment with the nurse practitioner at my former PCP’s office. Finally — three doctors later — someone listened to me. She ordered the blood work.
Turns out that I was indeed very anemic and it was almost certainly causing the symptoms. When the blood tests came back, the doctor said, “good thing we checked this! This is serious.” My thought was, “good thing I didn’t stop at the first 3 doctors who brushed me off when I asked about it.” I was put on bed rest for the weekend and saw a hematologist yesterday (my birthday!). He immediately recommended a blood transfusion.
I got two bags of blood for my birthday and thank goodness! I’m already feeling better (and looking for some new doctors). While the last week or so has been scary and frustrating, baby and I are going to be just fine. But please take this as reminder that you must speak up if something doesn’t seem right, even if it’s hard or uncomfortable. Even if you have to get multiple opinions. You must always be your own advocate.
UPDATE 6/13: I’ve switched my prenatal care to a new practice that came highly recommended by our doula — the midwife spent 30 minutes on the phone with me yesterday talking about my needs, their practice, and whether we’d be a good fit. Feel much more comfortable with them going forward!
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