When I found out I was pregnant in 2013, it couldn’t have been a worse time in my life to get the news. I had just lost my job, and my fiancé and I had recently broken things off. I was scared senseless. Still, I never waivered—I wanted this baby.
I thought a baby would help my ex and I mend our relationship. After all, we were together for seven years. But, I was wrong—he left me for good when I told him I was pregnant. I went into survival mode. First of all, I had to find another full-time job with medical benefits. Secondly, I lived in a tiny apartment in Harlem, and although the size was fine for myself, I needed a bigger space to raise my daughter-to-be, Journey Mei-Ling (yes, I had already picked out the name). My entire family is in Los Angeles, and I had no support in New York City. I felt so alone. My only comfort was knowing that there was a life growing inside of me.
By the time I was six months pregnant, in the fall of 2013, I had a new job, I was in contract to buy a new home, and I was anticipating going home to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving to be with my family. I couldn’t wait to be pampered by my mother and grandmother. While my immediate family knew that I was expecting, my extended family didn’t have a clue. I planned on revealing the news to them at Thanksgiving dinner.
Disregarding the Pain
Leading up to my trip to L.A., I ate some spinach that didn’t seem to agree with me. I love spinach, but that night it made me really sick. I kept going back and forth to the bathroom to spit it up, and on top of that, I had a splitting headache. That pain was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The next morning, I called my doctor, who suggested I take Tums and Tylenol if I felt sick again. The pain eventually went away, so I didn’t think anything of it.
But two days before I flew out to California, I mentioned to one of my girlfriends that my legs and feet were super-swollen and that my skin was very tight. I chalked it up to just being part of the pregnancy experience, but my friend panicked and urged me to visit my doc. My regular ob-gyn was out, so I saw the midwife who was filling in for her. She checked my blood pressure and urine and told me that everything was normal. She ultimately cleared me to travel to L.A.
A Terrible Turn
When I got to my mom’s house, she cried as she embraced me, studying every inch of my body. It was her first time seeing me pregnant. She knew the emotional struggle I was enduring, and she held me tight. The rest of my family was so excited for me. They avoided asking questions about Journey’s father, and instead, they kept the conversation light. The running joke that day was about my inflated feet and my mini sausage toes. One of my aunts even nicknamed me “Barney Rubble.” We ate a lot, laughed a ton, and everyone took turns resting their hands on my stomach to see if Journey would move, as she had frequently been doing that day. And I got my wish: I had my feet rubbed by Grandma and my back scrubbed as I soaked in the bathtub.
The next day, I visited the woman whom I considered my second mom. While I was at her house, the nausea I experienced days earlier resurfaced. Luckily, I had my Tums in my purse, so I took three and asked for some ginger ale. My second mom looked concerned as she handed me the soda, but I assured her of what my doctor told me: This sometimes happens to pregnant women.
Sadly, my doctor had seriously underestimated the situation. My sickness went from zero to 100 in a matter of minutes, and I started vomiting and urinating uncontrollably. I was hot, and I felt excruciating pain in the center of my chest. I thought I was dying. As I screamed in pain, lying on the cool linoleum floor of the bathroom, I yelled for her to call 911.
I was rushed to the hospital, where my vitals were checked and my blood pressure was something like 210/120 (which is basically off-the-charts high). I was close to having a stroke.
After the IV was placed in my arm and I got hooked up to machines, I heard my baby’s heartbeat—and it calmed me to know that she was OK. But when the doctors and nurses started yelling, rushing me onto the gurney from one room to another and down narrow hallways, I knew I was in trouble. It was like a scene out of Grey’s Anatomy. “We have to get her to delivery now!” yelled one of the doctors. My last memory before having an emergency C-section—to stop my organs from shutting down and to save Journey—is of the doctors and my second mom standing in a circle around me, praying, as the bright light in the delivery room blared down on me. I remember thinking that I was about to see my baby, still not grasping the magnitude of my condition. I was then put under anesthesia, and everything went black.
Waking Up Empty
I woke up in a dark room. My mother was on the left side of me, and my second mom was on the right. There was a faint beeping sound coming from the machine behind me, and a male nurse kept appearing and disappearing, keeping track of my vital signs. I looked for an incubator containing Journey, but I didn’t see one. At that moment, my mother realized I was awake and jumped up. My voice was raspy and it was hard for me to speak, but I pushed through the pain and asked my mom what happened.
She stood there silent for a moment before speaking. “Baby, Journey didn’t make it,” she said, as tears streamed down her cheeks. I couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened or what my mother just told me. Hours later, the crew of doctors and nurses who worked on my case entered the room. Some were crying, and others wore a look of despair. Diana Friend, M.D., who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser Permanente and who delivered my baby, told me that I almost didn’t make it. It was by the grace of God that I arrived at the hospital when I did or else I would have died, she said.
She went on to explain that what I experienced is called pre-eclampsia. Most times, it will happen after 20 weeks, and experts aren’t 100 percent sure what causes it. Friend asked me if I had the tell-tale symptoms: vomiting, severe and abnormal headaches, and swelling. I told her that I had experienced all of the above. She informed me that pre-eclampsia comes out of nowhere, and sometimes, the signs can go undetected until a mother is fighting for her life. None of my doctors back in New York detected it or even questioned anything before clearing me to fly across the country. I am now considered a high-risk pregnancy patient and will have to consult a gynecologist who specializes in cases like mine if I decide to try for another baby.
Although I’ve suffered major trauma from this experience—both physical and mental—it won’t stop me from trying again. I believe that Journey’s purpose in my life was to snatch me off of the dead-end path that I was on and put me on a new one.
My life has been a whirlwind of emotions, therapy, research, and prayer since losing Journey, and I am still coming out on the other side of my grief. It may never go away. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that not many people talk (or know) about. Women need to know about their risks—before they’re clinging to life like I was.
I still question why I wasn’t informed or why my doctors didn’t detect the symptoms earlier, because I clearly had them before I boarded that plane to LAX. When I got back to New York, I spoke to a research specialist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital who told me that there are many gynecologists who don’t know much about the condition. They often aren’t taught about it unless they opt for an extra year of schooling before they start their residency.
Here is what I do know for sure: That baby that I carried for six months saved my life. She showed me who I am—and more importantly—who I am when my back is against the wall. She taught me to feel fear and go forward anyway. Today, I am an advocate for the Preeclampsia Foundation, a home-owner, and I’m working towards a college degree. I’m happy. Journey wiped the slate clean, allowing me to start over. Journey made the decision to go so that I could live. So I refuse to dishonor my baby by doing anything less than that.