I Had a Stroke at 20 Weeks Pregnant

I spent 48 hours in the Neurological ICU. Every patient in this unit was not well, and it's a reminder that I am lucky that my condition was not more severe.

My stay started with a trip to the emergency room. I felt paralyzed through my right side and my speech became mumbled and undecipherable. Symptoms resolved pretty quickly, and within 10 minutes or so I could walk and move my right arm again. My speech remained very deliberate and difficult to understand, but improved in the hours that followed. Doctors ordered a CT scan which revealed there was a small spot of bleeding inside my brain. They followed up with an MRI hoping to identify and diagnose the cause of the bleeding.

The MRI Machine:

This was an extremely difficult experience. The technician told me that the test would take approximately 30 minutes. The test involves lying flat on your back, a tight-fitting helmet is placed over the head, then your body is place inside a narrow tube. They slid me inside and began adjusting some things, and I began to panic. I didn’t think that claustrophobia was a problem for me, but that is because I never had to do an MRI. I started hyperventilating and they had to take me out and wheeled me out of the room. They had not even started the test.

I begged for other options. The nurse and tech explained that I didn’t have many. I could, “take something to take the edge off” which was not an option in my mind. I have taken mind altering drug/medications in the past. Feeling whacked was not going to make this any easier, plus it's probably not good for the baby. The other option was to get a dye injection before imaging. This wasn't ordered because the dye was not recommended during pregnancy. Somehow I agreed to try a second time. The tech got started right away as to not provide me enough time to panic. She described the test in two to six minute chunks as we went through and this helped me mentally manage my expectations. I focused on my two kids at home and the medical procedures they have each had to endure, and the baby (or two) that I was trying to protect by not going through with a test that could potentially cause more harm. Somehow I survived, it wasn't the noise as much as the desire to escape that made the MRI so difficult. I never want to do this again (although I will probably have to.)

I had no symptoms and no one can explain why this happened.

The good news is that I was functioning normally after 24 hours, and there doesn't seem to be any long term damage. The hemorrhage in my brain was about the size of a dime, and there is no evidence of damage to the surrounding veins, and no arteries are damaged, weak, or in danger of bursting. The bad news is that none of the doctors can explain why this bleed started in the first place. There are many things that have been ruled out, but no definitive answers. 

Concerns about the baby

Is my baby going to be okay? At 20 weeks a baby is not old enough to survive if delivery became imminent. So the focus was on doing less damage and making sure I was healthy. My brother-in-law, Brooks, who drove us to the hospital, asked all the right questions when doctors were describing what tests needed to be done and whether or not there was a risk to the baby. It still doesn't feel good to sign a waiver saying you acknowledge that you are potentially harming your unborn child with radiation, even when the doctor is assuring you the risk is really low. 

Concerns about my family

Are my kids okay at home? Are they worried about me? Are they well cared for, and well fed, and getting enough sleep? Luckily, we have so much family support. Dane's mom cancelled all her work for the following day so that she could care for the kids. My mom was able to drive two hours to check on me, and take care of my kids for another day. Then she took our younger son back to her house for two more days to make the transition back home a bit easier and less stressful.

Dane continues to be supportive and encouraging. He has rearranged schedules to try and make work less stressful. He has worked to reduce my responsibilities at the gym and at home. But I worry that he will be taking on too much stress on my behalf.

Thank you to everyone who has helped our family. Your kind words, healthy snacks, and donations to the non-profit  are so meaningful, and we feel very loved.

Concerns about me

Could I die from this? This crossed my mind a few times, but the thought passed quickly as my condition improved rapidly. Why is this happening? This was the question that puzzled many doctors. The biggest worries remain: Could it happen again? Could there be complications during labor and delivery? 

The Big Surprise and A Change of Plans

When the OB doctors came to check on the baby and the placenta via an ultrasound they discovered there are two babies. Dane and I are expecting twins in early December!

The home birth I had been considering for delivery is no longer an option. The midwifery practice will only deliver multiples in a hospital setting. A follow-up with the neurologist came with the recommendation that I reduce exercise intensity significantly. Among other precautions that I will go into more in a later post.

Its Not Over

I feel pretty much back to normal, but so much has changed. The healthy, uncomplicated birth I was hoping for is now going to be in the operating room. Even though I feel better, I can't take away the fact that I had a stroke. And multiple neurologist appointments have filled my calendar as a constant reminder. The lack of an explanation gets me conflicting recommendations from doctors:

  • Don't live your life like you are broken
  • But don't do anything too strenuous
  • Schedule a c-section delivery
  • But a vaginal delivery could be a safe option 
  • Exercise remains very important for your health, and the health of the babies
  • But no weight training, or anything strenuous

I have been forced to focus only on what is within my control. My diet, my exercise, and my workload. With multiple babies there is a higher chance of preterm labor. I am focused on providing an environment to, "keep them in" as long as possible. Exercise is one way that I deal with stress. So when exercise causes stress I am entirely conflicted. I enjoy yoga, and I have included more  practice into my exercise routine. I still lift weights, but the focus is on movement and enjoyment. My diet hasn't changed significantly, but the NO BS meals at Garage Strength have helped me get quality calories without the time for meal prep. Mom win!

Thanks you for following my pregnancy journey @traditionalfoodsmodernlife and for your continued support and prayers!

Caitlin

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