Jennie’s story of heart failure after childbirth
Jennie Warren became critically ill within days of giving birth to her son Michael. She tells Sarah Brealey about developing peripartum cardiomyopathy and her slow recovery - read the story or watch the video.
Like most new mothers, Jennie Warren was looking forward to life with her baby. But two days after coming home with Michael in 2014, she says: “I woke up and felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I had no energy and was short of breath.”
She assumed this was due to her long labour, or breastfeeding, but it turned out to be a lifethreatening heart condition.
We’ve been told I might not be able to have another baby. That was upsetting, but we’re glad we’ve got Michael
Jennie, 38, from Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, had peripartum cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and weakened in late pregnancy or following childbirth. It can be mild or severe and is difficult to diagnose, as symptoms, such as fatigue and swollen ankles, are similar to those of pregnancy.
Jennie was diagnosed following an echocardiogram. “I was told I had heart failure as a result of peripartum cardiomyopathy,” she says. “That was a big shock. I was moved to the cardiology ward straight away. I broke down in tears and thought I was going to die. I started to write a goodbye letter to my loved ones.”
Jennie was prescribed beta blockers and ACE inhibitors. “It meant I had to stop breastfeeding,” she says. “That was heartbreaking, but I have pictures of our last feed. Letting Michael go home from hospital without me was hard, but his dad, Will, looked after him; that gave them a special bond. They came in every day. Michael gave me something to live for.”
When Jennie came home, she was still weak. Friends rallied round and her mother came to help. “There were a lot of emotions,” she says. “I was angry one minute, shocked the next minute, confused the next. It was like a grieving process.”
A year later, Jennie is still taking medication but is back at work as a paediatric nurse two days a week, doing eight-hour shifts instead of the 12 hours she used to.
Many women with peripartum cardiomyopathy make a complete recovery, but there is a high risk of a relapse in future pregnancies. “We’ve been told I might not be able to have another baby,” says Jennie. “That was upsetting, but we’re glad we’ve got Michael.”
Jennie also developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Women who develop this are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes afterwards. Jennie now has type 2 diabetes, which she controls with diet and medication. She says: “I’ve lost weight and I make the time to go walking and running.”