Somehow in debate about abortion and the beginning of man, the physical reality of pregnancy has been disregarded. It’s not just an inconvenient interlude. Pregnancy strains the body, sometimes in life-altering or even dangerous ways. It burdens the heart – literally. If the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, By allowing states to ban or strictly restrict abortion, the number of pregnancies will increase, and so will the number of people facing the health risks of pregnancy.
The abortion conversation focuses on fetal development, from the first pulsating heart cells to viability. Here is what happens to the woman: At four weeks of pregnancy, her blood volume begins to increase and dilates by 50 percent at birth. The heart beats faster to pump the extra blood, much of it flows to the uterus, placenta and kidneys. That kidneys expandable in size, volume and filtering.
Blood coagulation becomes stronger and peaks before birth, the body’s way of protecting against bleeding, which has always been a leading cause of birth-related death. However, due to the extra coagulation, compared to non-pregnant women of childbearing age, pregnant women have five times the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a painful and potentially life-threatening blood clot, usually in the legs. They are three times more likely to have a stroke; that the risk is even higher for black women.
In 2020, 861 women died for pregnancy-related reasons, most often from cardiovascular events. About 60,000 women had serious birth-related complications, a number that does not count severe conditions occurring prenatally or in the months after birth. About 7 percent of women develop Gestational diabetes and about the same portion has pregnancy high blood pressurewhich can lead to immediate as well as lifelong health problems.
Karen Florio was well aware of all of these facts when she became pregnant at the age of 33. As a maternity doctor in fetal medicine in Kansas City, Missouri, specializing in cardio obstetrics, she has helped many women navigate frightening medical scenarios. Sometimes she has advised others about the possibility of terminating a pregnancy due to life-threatening complications. But she could not imagine that she would soon be in the hospital and face her own struggle for life or death.
Florio had been the proverbial image of health. Before she became pregnant, she completed an Ironman triathlon. She played college softball. She had no pre-existing conditions. Then, at 28 weeks’ gestation, her blood pressure rose to 147/97. (Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less.) She had noticed that her face was swollen and that her weight gain seemed a bit high considering her careful diet. These turned out to be signs of preeclampsia, or persistent high blood pressure during pregnancy or after birth, which occurs in 5 percent to 8 percent of all births. “I think I missed all the signs because it never occurred to me that I could get preeclampsia, even if it is [a condition] I take care of myself all the time, ”she says.
As Florio’s blood pressure rose to 160/100, she developed headaches and spots in her vision. When her baby was born by caesarean section in week 31, mother and baby ended up in separate intensive care units. Preeclampsia led to swelling in the brain known as posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome, or PRESSURE.