Survivor Speech – Suzanna Parpos
The Boston Promise Walk for Preeclampsia
Saturday, June 21, 2014
It feels as if it were yesterday; yet, the vision before me of a young, active, independent preschooler makes it part of my consciousness…how much has happened – how much more of our story has been written since the first chapter – how much stronger we are from the day when preeclampsia made its effort to shatter our world.Fast-forward several years to present day, and it is here at The Promise Walk that, in humility and profound awareness of life’s fragility, I stand.
It was on the day that is reserved on our calendars to celebrate love, that I learned I was pregnant.Valentine’s Day 2009 – I was living about 400 miles south of here, but I know my family could feel my excitement across those many miles.I fell deep into the bliss of first time pregnancy.Everyday I read to my unborn child about the cow that jumps over the moon and in the kitchen, we cooked together while singing, and we even did a little dancing between the slicing, dicing and seasoning.
I was fortunate to, overall, have a healthy pregnancy.Yes, I had my share of morning sickness and sciatica.Good test results and my age seemed to work to my advantage and so, perhaps, that is why I was neither aware nor informed of some of the complications that can occur during pregnancy or in the postpartum.And that is why three days after delivering my son, I felt completely helpless when the word “seizure” filled the airway as I was wheeled out of my hospital room and rushed to begin treatment for what I was later on told was postpartum preeclampsia.
About one week before my due date, I was feeling “off”.Call it mother’s intuition, but I just knew I wasn’t making it to my due date.And then, conveniently, on my way to my regular doctor’s appointment, my water broke.
More than six hours passed and there was little progress.At that point, the doctor came in to see me and ordered a sonogram.As the machine was being wheeled in and set up, in sweet, yet anxious ignorance, I reminded the doctor that I did not want to know the gender of my child until his or her birth.In his response, he stopped in his tracks and panic washed over his face.It was one of those looks, marked by fear, that a patient never wants to see in her physician’s eyes.
And just like that, my overall healthy pregnancy began to unravel.
“There is nothing more I can do,” he said, “The only way to safely delivery your baby is through a C-section.”It was imperative they moved quickly, and so, in the midst of a situation that I was ill-prepared for, I was rushed to the operating room.
Through God’s grace, nearly a half hour later, my miracle was placed in my arms and I welcomed my son, Mark, to this world.
I had planned for a natural birth and candidly, I was unaware as to the specifics of a C-section and that it, in fact, is major surgery.In recovery, I was told the quicker I get up and walk, the easier it would be in the long run.And so, in that first day of recovery at the hospital, I got up, and I walked.Yet, as the second and third day of recovery passed, something, once again, felt “off” and a severe headache remained persistent.
It was the night before I was to be discharged when the hospital photographer came in my room to take a photograph of my son.I sang to my son, in Greek, his favorite song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, and he seemed to soak up each moment in the spotlight.As we were settling down for the night, a team of nurses and medical staff stormed into my room.They informed me that my blood work numbers were poor and warned me that if they did not start treatment immediately, I was at risk for seizures.
And so, once again, I found myself in a situation ill-prepared for and my life, as my son’s life merely days before when he faced his childbirth complication, lay in the hands of my medical team.In the urgency of the situation, I was instantly wheeled out of my room.I kept looking back to find my son.I felt helpless, scared and worried.
My mind raced:Seizures?What are they talking about?What does that mean?What happens if I seizure?Please stop that from happening to me…I don’t want that to happen!
Where is my son?
The nurse warned me I was about to endure the worst feeling of my life.And then, the 24-hour magnesium treatment began.My body felt as though it was on fire and burning from the inside out; yet, even worse than that was the feeling of helplessness and the unknown – when I looked at the miracle beside me who was far too young to comprehend his mother’s battle, who was a survivor himself, and I wondered if I would make it out of the hospital to raise him and see all the wonderful things he would accomplish in his life.Then, I distinctly remember thinking, “This can’t be it.He needs his mother.”And pulling strength from the deepest place within me and from the gift my mother brought to my bedside and lovingly placed in my son’s bassinet, I grew stronger and became determined to survive.
I know I have much to be thankful for – family and friends who bless me with their unconditional love and are unwavering in their promise to walk beside me and my son.The compassionate hearts that keep us in prayer and who lit a candle for us when we found ourselves on our beds of infirmity.
My gratitude also extends to the medical team that helped deliver both my son and myself safely.As I walk today, it is also these people that I remember, in particular, a nurse named Lisa, whose kindness and compassion made me feel human, again, after the sensation of my body burning extinguished.
It is a moment I will never forget – the instant the hospital’s sliding doors opened and I emerged with my son as we made our way home together.It is a feeling I will never forget – the sun’s warm rays through the gentle fall breeze that tenderly touched my face.
I returned home with the deepest appreciation for the every moment we are blessed to breath and live; yet, I also returned home with fear.The fear that comes in the aftermath of postpartum preeclampsia – the one that stemmed from the continuous blood pressure readings in the hospital and those numbers that had been on their upward elevator ride.
After two months of blood pressure medication and the daily blood pressure readings, it was time to live life unchained to that machine.
One second.The aforementioned may seem like an insignificant unit of time, but the decisions made and actions taken by physicians and nurses in that fleeting measurement of time – one second, two seconds, three seconds – what occurs in brevity alters lives permanently.And the results are polar opposites:a mother and child returning home together and promising to keep fighting on behalf of those who did not get the chance to walk, yet, instead were given their wings in the aftermath of those mere seconds…the angels that touched lives and were lost in the time that is supposed to be the most beautiful in a woman’s life…
And so, with you, I walk.I walk for the mothers who lost their lives to give life; I walk for the children whose angels are up in heaven.I walk for the mothers who cannot physically cradle their children in their arms; yet, their love endures forever and their existence remains alive in their mother’s heart.
I walk for my son to remind him to always maintain his hope, to never lose his faith and to always keep on fighting.
Like you, this cause is extremely close to my heart.And with you, I have vowed not to remain unchanged by my experience.
Four years ago, when I first learned of the Preeclampsia Foundation, I felt comforted by this community that is comprised of caring, compassionate individuals, and when I walked in my first Promise Walk, I felt strengthened, where the rain that fell that Saturday morning, was welcomed as it seemed to wash away the pain of yesterday and enabled a new woman to emerge from the storm.
Preeclampsia has defined me.It is a part of my and my son’s shared life story.
Postpartum preeclampsia attempted to take much away from my son.For everything this life-threatening disorder tried to rob him of, through God’s grace, it has returned an unexpected gift.
Though my bank account states otherwise, I feel like the richest woman; for, I know, from both my medical battle, as well as, a personal one, how quickly a world can be shattered – a heart can be broken.And so, with this profound awareness of life’s fragility, my son has a mother who can teach him not only why it is important to stop and smell the roses, but also how to plant and grow a rose from ruins.
All mothers and their newborn children deserve to write the first chapter of their shared story in peace; they should have the chance to fill the pages of their book with countless milestones and moments.Every tiny hand deserves to have their mother’s hand to hold.
There is strength in numbers.And with each stride we make here today, may we be brought that much closer to a world where preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy no longer threaten the lives of mothers and their children, and may each step you take find you closer to being more at peace than you have ever been before.