The beautiful Bethany Jenkins and Harper (20 months).
Bethany and her partner, Angela, were able to conceive Harper after four rounds of IUI using banked donor sperm. She had a "textbook pregnancy" and uncomplicated delivery. Five days after Harper was born, Bethany returned to the hospital after feeling poorly. Her heart was racing, she'd had painful swelling in her legs and feet, and crackling in her lungs. They were able to see Bethany quickly in the emergency room and after blood work and a CAT scan they learned she was experiencing Postpartum Cardiomyopathy. There was a lot of uncertainty regarding Bethany's heart function and prognosis at the onset. She was told straight away that it wasn't recommended she have any more children which was quite a sting just days postpartum. She was also asked how breastfeeding was going (to which she replied, she was barely started) because she was likely going to have to quit so she could be treated.
Bethany and her partner had to leave Harper home with her mom and after about 24 hours in the hospital she was finally able to have her come up to stay with her. The possible inability to breastfeed weighed heavily on Bethany and while she was told to focus on her own health, that was nearly impossible after just giving birth. Knowing Harper may be her one and only drove her desire to continue nursing even further. After 4-5 days in hospital Bethany was discharged with mild heart failure and an uncertain future.
The medications to treat cardiomyopathy include a beta blocker and ace inhibitor but Bethany's doctor wasn't comfortable putting her on both medications with her continued breastfeeding. She felt pushed at every turn to stop but knew that wasn't the right choice for her. Bethany finally found a support group online that provide a lot of personal accounts as well as the opinion of a MD who reassured her that there were treatment options available.
Bethany eventually switched care providers to a new doctor 2.5 hours away. The doctor was supportive of breastfeeding and comfortable putting her on both medications. After over a year, Bethany's condition finally began to improve and today her heart has mostly recovered. While Bethany is doing well today the anxiety over having her condition remains. She is at increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest and as it wasn't possible for she and her partner to marry until recently, she feared dying and leaving her daughter orphaned.
Harper is still happily nursing today and Bethany is grateful she advocated for herself. She knows women who have went on to have more children after a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy but her doctors have strongly discouraged it due in part to the length of time it took her to recover. They plan to use the same donor to conceive their next child, which Angela will carry.
In hindsight, Bethany's symptoms of cardiomyopathy began during her third trimester. However, because so many of the symptoms overlap (fatigue, swelling, etc) it's difficult to diagnose. There is a possibility that there is a genetic component and she's preparing for the day where she needs to speak to Harper about the possibility of her also being affected. Bethany hopes that sharing her journey not only helps in her own healing but educates others who may experience or be at risk for cardiomyopathy.