Faith and Strength

6 min read

Only a few days ago I found out I am pregnant with my fifth - I have three live children and had one miscarriage in 2009.  My last live birth was 2006.  It was this one in which I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.  Here are the stats from my births:

March 9, 2001 - healthy, born on due date, vaginal with no tears, episiotomy, or medication at all.  I was 22

December 17, 2003 - healthy, 2 days overdue, vaginal water birth at home - no tears or episiotomy, obviously no medication.  During pregnancy I did develop palpitaions and was tired, but midewives said this was normal.  A few days after the birth I was reaching over my head to hang lights and my eyes saw double - I thought I was having a stroke.  it lasted about 5 minutes and I really thought I was dying.  At the hospital they only did a blood pressure test to see if my BP dropped when I stood and they sent me home right away with the diagnosis of dehydration.  I began have more palpitations and even got my first EKG in which the PCP told me I had an arrythmia (wrong - it was an extra beat) but offered nothing else, so I left it all alone

March 1, 2006 - healthy, born on due date, vaginal without tears or episiotomy, EF around 45%

February 2009 - miscarried around 12 weeks

So this really may have begun with the second pregnancy, but since I was only seeing a homebirth midwife, and I seemed to get along fine, excpet for the strange double vision episode and the onset of palpitations, I may have slipped through the cracks of recognition.  I was also in school for emergency medicine until the end of the 2nd pregnancy and I remember the class learning to take pulses.  Mine was 120 - when my peers were surprised I told them this was always normal for me. I remembered having a pulse of 100-120 when I was a teenager checking it at Wal-mart.  So maybe I have just lived with this?  I've never been athletic because I get tired, always had low BP and high HR. . .

So back to the official diagnosis of cardiomyopathy in 2005 - I was at work an an EMT, ironically enough driving a patient to a dialysis appointment in the ambulance, when I began having an episode of tachycardia and shortness of breath.  I told my partner we were making a stop at the nearest hospital - that I also had chest pains.  He made me pull over and drove me, much to the surprise of our own patient!  I was ordered an X-ray but never got one somehow, and sent home with a referral to a heart hospital that took uninsured residents (I had no insurance).  I got in the next week and they began a stress test, but my resting HR was so high they could only do the resting echo.  In a week or so I went back to discuss the results and I was told my heart was functioning lower then normal, but don't worry - take this pill and you'll have to take it all your life.  EF was 40%.  Nothing was explained.  The term Cardiomyopathy wasn't even on the table.  That was that.  I was so confused and scared.  I'd never had any health issues besides hypochondria, which never had materialized anything before!

The attacks of tachycardia persisted out of nowhere and I was in and out of the ER with no answers.  Finally I realized I was late for my period and went to the health clinic for a test and it was positive!  That put me at ease and I thought, "oh, that's why I have all these weird things happening - I'm just pregnant and it's the hormones!"  I went back to the heart hospital and thy kept me on toporol, but I was also told by a number of nurses (!) and doctors that the outlook was grim.  I was offered termination for the first 5 months.  I cried and prayed everyday.  My husband was not supportive, or even present. We were living with his parents 600 miles from my friends and family and I was nursing my one year old AND working in an ambulance, lifting stretchers.  I was told I needed to wean him and it was extremely emotional and difficult - he was NOT ready to wean.  I got temporary disability and tried to take care of myself the best I could without much support.  My in-laws had their own health issues, and could not see either the help I needed nor the severity of the situation.  My family and friends were never supportive of my marriage (with reason - it ended after this pregnancy), and were far, far away.  I saw a naturopathic doctor and spent all my little money on supplements.  My next echo was 54%.  I can't remember having anymore echos for the rest of my pregnancy.  At 5 months pregnant, my mom moved us down to Tennessee where she lives to help us out.  My husband never got a job and we were in a tiny house, very isolated.  He knew no one.  A very dear friend of mine was a resident at UT hospital in Knoxville, and she somehow worked me in as her patient, although it was 2 hours away and I also saw a high risk dr there.  The cardiologists there seemed ok with everything, and Molly was fantasic and putting me at ease consitantly. I developed severe gestational diabetes and was injecting three times a day on top of a very limited and stressful diet that left me hungry all the time.  I had weekly ultrasounds because of the diabetes and the CM.  They kept changing the diagnosis from PCCM to idiopathic.  I didn't much care because the outcomes seem the same and we don't know what causes it in the first place.

I was told I would need a c-section or at the very least, an early epidural.  I was told I may wind up in ICU, I may die, the baby may die, they would need to induce early. . .everything opposite of my last home-birth.  I ended up showing up the evening before his due date, at 6cm dialated.  Labor was slow mainly because I was scared something was going to happen suddenly even though I felt ok.  I gave birth naturally right before 7 am with one push!  My EF was somewhere between 45-50 I think.

My diabetes went away within a day.  I was sent home without any fuss, as if I was never high risk in the first place.  Throughout the next 2 years I went through a traumatic and violent separation and divorce, extreme poverty (running out of diapers and having the lights turned off, no heat. . .), and not surprisingly my EF dipped down to 30% at one point.  The doctors once again made no big fuss over this since I was walking around and caring for three small children alone and with little to no resources at times - for 9 months I was without a car in rural Tennessee!  But I continued what I could as far as supplements and I did have a couple of amazing friends who helped out.  After I got stable again I took acupuncture 2 hours away once a week for a few months and brought the 30% up to 54% WITHOUT meds.  The doctors were happy with the echo of 54% and said, "see, the meds work great!" (this was after I told them the toporol just made me tired and depressed and brought my BP too low).  I pretty much pissed them off by replying, "I never took the meds - I've been doing herbs and acupuncture!"  Well, I never went back on them, and I'm ashamed to say that depression eventually caught up to me and I repressed many things about the pregnancy and my failed marriage and fell into years of heavy drinking and smoking cigarettes.  I would get chest pain but I didn't care.  I still managed.  I knew I was killing myself but something down deep didn't care.  I would go through phases and quit for a few months but pick it up again.  I was raising a family completely by myself and trying to figure out how to do it.  I didn't get child support for 4 years and my ex-husband moved 600 miles away when our CM baby was 2 months.

I have been with my partner for just a year and a half now, but this motivated me enough to quit the self-abuse cycle and begin raising my kidsa again with the passion I had when I first became a mother.  I know because of years of abuse, my heart is nowhere near where it should be.  I had my first echo in years in January, and it was 45%.  The new dr said it's a low normal, and prescribed ramipril, which I never started because I though, well, I want to give my body time to recoop after quitting the bad stuff. . .and I was afraid of the depression and low BP again.  I filled the script and told myself I should probably start it but never did.  9 months later I get the test back - a real surprise and miracle, considering we are pretty darn careful, and this just made it more obvious this was meant to be.  I am hopeful and faithful that this was no mistake or I need termination.  I want to trust doctors and I know they give us the information they have based on statistics, but there is no 100% rate of death.  Someone has to be the other 50% or even 20 or 30%.  I know I will be.  This will probably be my last pregnancy though because frankly, I am scared, and it's freightening and a test of your spirit to have well educated and experienced doctors look you in the eye and tell you that you may very well die.  But like I said, my faith is great, and I do beleive I've been blessed with strength that is unique.

God bless all you Heart Sisters, and thank you for reading my story.

My Details

  • Date Diagnosed: 01/09/2014
  • Child: 3
  • Initial EF: 40%
  • Current EF: 45%

Story By Sabrina Zimmer

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