Ep 35: Tomeka’s Birth Story and Her Experience with Preeclampsia

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Episode #35: Tomeka's birth story and her experience with preeclampsia

Disclaimer: Before you click the play button, I just want to give you a disclaimer that today’s episode is a birth story involving stillbirth. If you’re not comfortable with this topic, then you may want to skip this episode.

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, and it occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most women who have preeclampsia do not have a stillbirth, however, when left untreated, it can be both dangerous for you and your baby.

Today’s episode is a birth story about a brave woman named Tomeka Isaac who was diagnosed with preeclampsia and experienced the devastating pain of stillbirth with her son Jace. In this conversation, she’s going to share her story as a means of finding purpose through her deep pain.

Following her painful experience, Tomeka and her husband Brandon started a non-profit called Jace’s Journey to bring awareness to black maternal health and eliminate disparities regarding it through education, advocacy, communication, and community engagement.

Stillbirth is one of the most difficult challenges any soon to be moms can ever face but Tomeka was brave and strong enough to come and discuss what is obviously a painful and difficult topic.

In this Episode, You’ll Learn About:

  • Tomeka’s pregnancy and birth with her baby son Jace
  • What is preeclampsia
  • How Tomeka found out she has preeclampsia
  • Tomeka’s thoughts on her physicians and her experience in the hospital
  • How Tomeka is dealing with the grief brought by stillbirth
  • Tomeka’s advice for women and pregnant women

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Speaker 1: Today is a birth story episode. And warning, this birth story involves a stillbirth, so if that may be too much for you, then you may want to skip this episode.

Speaker 2: Welcome, I'm Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, a board certified Ob Gyn physician, certified integrative health coach and creator of The Birth Preparation Course, an online childbirth education class that will leave you feeling knowledgeable, prepared, confident, and empowered going into your birth. Quick note, this podcast is for educational purposes only and it's not a substitute for medical advice. See the full disclaimer at www.ncrcoaching.com/disclaimer.

Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to another episode of the podcast, episode number 35. Thank you so much for being here today. Today's episode is a birth story episode and it is a birth story from an exceptionally brave woman named Tomeka Issac. Tomeka and her husband, Brandon experienced a devastating stillbirth with their son, Jace and Tomeka is coming on to share her birth story as a means finding purpose through their very deep pain. Tomeka and Brandon have also founded Jace's Journey, which is a nonprofit organization that is passionately working towards eliminating the disparities in black maternal health through education, advocacy, communication and community engagement. Now this is a longer episode but it is worth every single minute so we are going to go ahead and get right into it with Tomeka's birth story.

: Nicole: Hey Tamika, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking about what I know is a very difficult story. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge to help other women do what can be a really challenging time.

: Tomeka: Thank you for having me. And like I said, thank you for having a platform for the discussion because I think a lot of what I've learned since our situation is that a lot of people don't talk about what can go wrong when it doesn't always turn out the way we expect it. So I thank you for, you know, allowing me to actually share my story in the hopes of actually helping someone else share their story and to know that there are other people out there that they can connect with and maybe help them heal.

: Nicole: Yeah, exactly. So why don't you start off just by telling us a little bit about yourself.

: Tomeka: I am born and raised in North Carolina. Kinda been here my whole life. I work in compliance, so I am a compliance officer, actually I'm transitioning jobs right now. Funny enough, I was actually a theater major undergrad.

: Nicole: Interesting.

: Tomeka: I love to shop. I love shoes and blazers and handbags. I love people. I laugh a lot and I'm just kind of, I'm chill, I'm very chill person. I love movies and stuff like that. But overall I'm just real chill.

: Nicole: And what about your husband, your family?

: Tomeka: My husband. So my husband, I met him like 10 years ago.

: Nicole: Oh Wow.

: Tomeka: Actually it was a little longer than that. We've been together a total of six years. So we were married almost four years ago. And I tell people, like when we first met, he was like, that typical boy that had a crush. You know, like every time I see him, he would like put me in like a headlock or some weirdness, you know, like weirdness. And he always like, looks at me with the side eye, and then he finally grew up. So about six years ago, he grew up and we actually started dating and got married. And like I said, it was a little under four years ago.

: Nicole: Okay. Awesome. Awesome. So let's talk about your pregnancy and the birth of baby Jace. Is that how you say it?

: Tomeka: Yes. Yes. Baby Jace.

: Nicole: Well, how about we start with, what was your prenatal care?

: Tomeka: So we found out I was pregnant in October of 2017. We had been trying probably about almost two years at that point. So I am at right now 42 so at that point, when we first got married, we were kind of gonna wait, you know, like, oh, let's be married for a little bit first. And then I'm like, I was 39 so I was like, eh, let's just go ahead. So we started trying, we actually tried for a year with, you know, no luck. So I went to my Ob, you know, cause I had gynecology every year, get a pap smear and all that stuff. So I just went to him and we talked a little bit about it and he ran some tests and he was like, well your egg count is low, maybe you should consider in vitro. So a kind of scheduled appointment with them and an endocrinologist and we went to the appointment, and I got some blood work done. But there was just something about that to me that didn't feel right. So I just got the blood work done. They did the genetic testing and stuff like that, but I never really went back to actually get in vitro. We just continued to try. And then we finally in October found out we were pregnant with Jace. And it's so funny because he didn't believe me.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: I mean, and it's so weird because I had like made, like a onesie that I got from Target I think. And I just put Baby Isaac, ironed like some letters on, I put baby Isaac on it and I had taken two pregnancy tests at that point. He had to work that day. So I put them in a little box and, but you know the pregnancy tests like in a Ziploc bag and stuff like that. And I wrote like, you know how you can go online and figure out like what the due date is and when you're going to hit the third trimester and all that stuff. So I wrote all the information in a card and gave it to him and he's looking at me like, are you serious? I said I would never play this joke on you.

: Nicole: Right.

: Tomeka: You know, we were super excited and hadn't had any morning sickness. The only reason why I knew I was pregnant was because my cycle didn't start. And my pregnancy was amazing. Like he was an amazing baby to carry. Like no morning sickness. I didn't really gain a lot of weight. He did normal stuff. I didn't have any crazy cravings or anything like that at that point. I assumed my prenatal care was fine. Again, I'm a very chill person, so it's kinda like I've been going to my doctor for years. I didn't have a reason not to trust the process. I didn't know exactly what the process was and what was required. So I didn't know what I didn't know.

: Nicole: Gotcha.

: Tomeka: And early on they told me that I was high risk because of my age and he put me on a low dose of baby aspirin to help prevent me from getting preeclampsia. And you know, I pretty much followed every thing they asked me to do. So I ended up being an anemic also. So they put me on iron. So I was taking the prenatal vitamins, the aspirin every morning, and then the iron pills, you know, throughout my pregnancy.

: Nicole: Your pregnancy overall was very smooth?

: Tomeka: It was very, very smooth. Like I can't complain at all.

: Nicole: Did you have an opportunity to even start thinking about getting ready for birth? Had you done anything to prepare for that at all or no?

: Tomeka: Like, I didn't really have a plan, you know, I was just kind of like waiting on nature to kind of take its course. They did say, you know, because of my age that they would probably induce me, I think it was 37 weeks just because they were saying the longer we go because of my age, the more risks there was to the baby.

Speaker 3: Nicole: Okay. So then when did things change?

: Tomeka: The night of Mother's Day 2018 I woke up that night and my stomach hurt. So it felt more like, it didn't feel like a sharp pain. It felt more like a stomach ache.

: Nicole: Okay. And how far along were you at that point?

: Tomeka: 35 weeks and about three, four days. You know, I got up, it was like probably three, four o'clock in the morning and my husband knows specifically what time and I tred to use the bathroom and it kinda didn't and like I couldn't go. It literally felt like a stomach ache and I had eaten some weird stuff, you know, like a weird combination of stuff at my mother in law's house. I was like, yeah, I probably shouldn't have done that. So I threw up, I threw up a couple of times and then it kind of just went away. I was thinking constipation at the most, right? So Monday morning, well I woke up and I felt sore, you know, like when your body feels sore. And I just assumed that it was because I was throwing up and throwing up, you know, for a while. So I was like, oh, I was probably just sore from throwing up, but I didn't feel well. And again, I'm thinking like in my head maybe I got food poisoning from this mixture of crap. I texted my manager and I told her I'm not feeling well. I literally said I think I have like food poisoning or something. And I took the day off and kind of laid around. My husband was worried because I don't call into work, so he asked my best friend to come over and stay with me. And so I laid in bed like all day. I mean, there really wasn't a lot going on.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: I was just tired, so I was just laying around and then I asked her to come help me go to the bathroom or whatever. And she did. And when I stood up, I passed out.

: Nicole: Oh my God.

: Tomeka: Yeah. So I actually came to, and I could hear her, she was on the phone with 911 and in my head, this goes by really quickly, but I know in actuality it was like a longer period of time. But they actually came and you know, they got me and they had to put me in like this weird stair situation to get me downstairs. And I was Kinda like in and out. I remember them asking me questions about like, you know, who was the president? Do you know what day it is? You know, the usual stuff like that. And they got me down.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: I went on the back of the ambulance. They rushed me to the closest ER, which is actually in North Carolina. So I got there and you know, by the time I got there, a lot of my family members that live here, or mostly friends. But you know, they're family. A lot of them were at the hospital by that time. So my husband was there and I had been talking to my mom like on the phone, like on and off. Cause my best friend, she was actually talking to my mother when I came to and so she just gave me the phone and I was telling my mom that, you know, keep me awake, you know, just keep talking to me or whatever. So we finally got, you know, to the ER and my husband was there and I remember being on the phone with my mother and I was like, they don't know what they're doing because they were like hooking me up the IVs and ultrasounds and all this stuff and it just got really weird, like a lull kind of just went over the ER room and I told her, I was like, I don't think they know what they're doing.

Speaker 3: Nicole: So you weren't at a labor and delivery?

: Tomeka: No, they took me to the ER.

: Nicole: Did that hospital have a labor and delivery?

: Tomeka: Yeah, they do.

: Nicole: Well then why? Okay. Well, you know what, keep telling your story. Yeah. Because usually, I mean in my experience, if you're over a certain weeks number of pregnant, you don't go to the ER, you pretty much straight to labor and delivery.

: Tomeka: Nope.

: Nicole: Okay.

: Tomeka: Yeah, I was in the ER. They did the ultrasound and that's when that kind of lull happened. And then, somebody came in and they were like, we don't hear a fetal heartbeat. And me and my husband were devastated like we were like, what are you talking about? Like what do you mean? And then she proceeds to tell me you have helps in your own. And I'm like, what is that? So they had taken labs and stuff and realized that my protein levels were really high. I have a friend that used to be a labor and delivery nurse and when she saw my urine, she's like, Tomeka, had they not been doing urine tests on you? And I was like, no, because she thought that how dark it was. She was like, it was almost black. And I'm like, yeah, I never noticed that. I don't know if it was something that happened suddenly, but that's what she said. And then they said, well, we're going to have to induce you but we can't do it here so we're going to have to transfer you to the main hospital. So I was waiting to get transported and there was hardly...

: Nicole: Do you mind me asking when they told you there was no heartbeat, did you, I think like, like you said, what does that mean? Can you get the heartbeat back? This is one of the things that it's always awful to communicate that type of information, but I feel like sometimes we do it in a way that's confusing for families. Did you feel confused by what was going on?

: Tomeka: I was confused that whole entire time. I was confused because like I said, I felt like, I think they were just trying to figure out how to tell us and it was like a really awkward moment. I was confused because I was out of it. Like I was literally dying and had no idea I was dying and then I just remembered hurting, you know, like literally just hurting. And then I didn't ask any questions. It's just I think in my head I knew because of how awkward it was at that moment. So no, I just, I asked them, I was like, can I have a c-section? Because I really did want it be induced and then to have him and him not be alive, you know? I just felt like that was really cool.

: Nicole: And did you have any issues with blood pressure at all?

: Tomeka: So my blood pressure, the highest it ever got was 22 over, I think it was like 80 so it's not preeclampsia high, but my normal blood pressure is probably about 110 over 70 okay. At the most, you know, my blood pressure is very normal.

: Nicole: So you get there, you find out unfortunately that your baby has died and you have HELLP syndrome. And let me just say real quick for everybody who have no idea what that is, this is the most severe form of Preeclampsia where it affects your liver, it affects your platelets and your ability for your blood to clot. Sometimes it'll affect your kidneys. So all of a sudden you're being told all of these things and then they say they want to transfer you to another hospital.

: Tomeka: So I'm waiting and this hospital wasn't the hospital I was actually supposed to deliver in. It was just the closest one. So when they were like, well, we need to transfer you I say, well can you transfer me to the hospital that I'm supposed to deliver in because that's where my records are? That's where my doctors are and stuff like that. She called them and all of this is really weird. Like, you know, looking back like the things that they were telling me, it was just really weird. So what they said was they didn't have anybody there to monitor my heart because my heart rate was like between 140 yeah, it was high.

: Nicole: Yeah. Yeah, that's high.

: Tomeka: It was high and it kept going up and down. It was never normal and it would not be normal for like three weeks after that. So we're waiting and they said the other hospital couldn't take me because they didn't have anybody to monitor my heart. They couldn't do the induction there because they didn't have anybody to monitor my heart. So they were transferring me to Main. I'm in transit to Main when one of the surgeons looks at my record, looks at my labs and realizes I'm bleeding internally.

: Nicole: Oh my goodness.

: Tomeka: So the ER had no idea that was bleeding internally and they were about to induce me. It just so happened about the grace of God, they didn't have anybody to monitor my heart, because if not I would have died. So I don't know any of this is going on. I'm in the ambulance at this point on my way to Main to be induced on the labor and delivery floor when the call comes in that I have to go into emergency surgery as soon as I get there. When I get there, there's a room full of surgeons, literally TV room full of surgeons. It's like ER, Grey's Anatomy, all of that. And one of them said to me, we're going to give you a c-section. And I remember being really confused again because we had just had the conversation about not being able to do the c-section. And at that point they put me out. I'm unconscious. They cut me open, they get him out, I'm bleeding.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: There's a liter of blood in my abdomen. There's a hematoma on my liver that's the size of a softball and they can't stop the bleeding. I had two surgeries.

: Nicole: A hematoma, everybody, is a big blood clot on the liver. And then you said you had two surgeries that night?

: Tomeka: So they opened me up. They took him out via c-section and then they did exploratory surgery to figure out what was going on. And then that's when they found the Hematoma or the blood clot on my liver. And then they kept me open because they packed my abdomen with what I guess what we would call sponges. Just trying to stop the bleeding and I almost coded I think. And they had to do it again. So they had to go in twice that night to actually take the sponges out and put the sponges just back in.

: Nicole: Oh my gosh. Do you ever remember them saying something called DIC? It's when your blood doesn't clot properly and it can happen with preeclampsia where your blood just doesn't clot. Right. And you can just bleed and bleed and bleed.

: Tomeka: No, I don't remember.

: Nicole: Okay. Yeah, it's not a big deal. So they took you back to the OR, did the packing, I'm sure you had gotten all kinds of transfusions and things by this point.

: Tomeka: Yeah, there's lots of transfusions. I almost went into cardiac arrest once, and this is from my husband, the details of the first two days of me being there from that moment where I said C-section, I would not wake up completely until Wednesday. So that Monday I didn't wake up until Wednesday and when I woke up, I didn't know anything about the first two days. All I knew was that Jace had died and they said they were giving me a c section.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: So I literally a few times at night apparently almost died and they really weren't sure if I was gonna make it. So my whole family of course was brought in to the hospital. My mom lives in Tennessee so she came and everybody was there. So I woke up Wednesday morning and it was just really weird cause I was of course swollen and I was intubated. I was hooked up to every tube you could possibly think of. I had a wrap around my abdomen because I was still open. They still hadn't closed me up and my mom, because Jace had been in my room the whole time because they didn't know if I was going to wake up and my family, you know, they were able to visit with him and love on him and stuff like that and she asked me if I wanted to hold him and I said, well I shook my head yes because again I'm intubated and I can't talk.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: And they were able to take the mits off because I think like the nurses were like trying to get him out of the room because he had been in the room so long and it was kind of like a really rushy situation. So I can't see, right. So I wear contacts medically necessary contacts and I didn't have those on. I didn't have my glasses. So I'm like talking to my family, trying to get them to understand that I can't see. So even if I held him, I can't see right now. So my best friend actually had my glasses, so I had to borrow Brandon, who's my husband. I had to borrow his glasses and I think I held him maybe, I don't even know. It was a very brief period of time. It was just like for me, like after all that, you know, we went through and that moment is the hardest because I felt like, or I feel like it was stolen from me because I never, I didn't get to say anything. I couldn't say anything. I couldn't really see him. And it was just so, it was so rushed. And so confusing because of course I'm just waking up and they're trying to get him out of the room and my mom is, you know, trying to do her best to like hold herself together.

: Nicole: Oh my God, that is so hard. And I'm sorry.

: Tomeka: Just to know, like on the other side of it, like it could have been avoided like, well we didn't have to be in that situation that they put me in to where I didn't get to say goodbye to my son and it completely changed my life. You know, because I stayed in the hospital like I was in ICU for I think about 10 days. I moved around a few times because they were trying to regulate my heart rate, which would not regulate. They had cut me open. So I think they finally closed me up maybe Saturday for sure. But they had to also install mesh because they cut me so deep. I had that point, had a hernia, which I still have. So I was in the hospital from May 14th until June 1st. They released me June 1st and I had a fever, but I had a fever for like the whole time I was there every night I would have a fever. So I was home for about a week and then that Friday, which would have been June 8th I had a home health nurse because at that point I had a wound vac, which is basically, well you know what it is though, it's like a machine that it's connected to a sponge that drains your abdomen or your surgery scar with fluid. It helps your body to heal faster, basically is what it's supposed to do.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: So I had that and I had a home health nurse, so she came and changed it out and that night person reason, it started leaking. So I had to call her and bring her back and she was like, okay, this smells really weird. I need for you to go back to the ER. Mind you Jace's memorial or his funeral was the next day. So at eight o'clock at night, June 8th we go back to the ER, you know how ERs are, so we're there forever. Five o'clock in the morning, they are like, we want you to be admitted to the hospital. We think you have an infection. And I'm telling him, I'm like, my son's funeral tomorrow. And they're like, well you can go but we need for you to come back as soon as possible. Me and my husband were kind of just like, it's five o'clock in the morning. My son Jace is buried next to my father, which is like an hour, well actually three and a half hours away from here. So my husband and I made a decision that we were not going to go to his funeral and my mom and his mom and our families would just kind of like hold it down, kind of like take care of it. We also missed his funeral and I missed the other opportunity I would have to actually physically say goodbye to my son.

: Tomeka: I ended up staying in a hospital for 28 more days. So the infection was in my liver. So I had to have a surgery so they cut off part of my liver. It ended up being seven surgeries and I can't recall all of them right now. So yeah, it ended up being seven surgeries. I was in the hospital for a total of about 45 46 days. And, and when I came home I was connected to a drainage pump for my liver. I had a drainage pump for my lungs because they had started to build fluid and I had the wound vac. I literally had, I think fever from the time I went back to the hospital on June 8th until probably a week before I got out. Like every single night I would have a fever because of the infection. I was on so many antibiotics and you know, the nurse was like, I think you've had more visitors than anybody I've ever seen.

Speaker 3: Nicole: Well that's nice. As you were at least surrounded by love.

: Tomeka: And I'm sure that part was, you know, talking about how did you get through it is really what it was. And you know from the loss of Jace, I think me having to fight to get out of the hospital, kinda like pushed the grief aside for a moment to tell me you were focusing on your life like you were trying to live, trying to live. And they, I mean for a while they really didn't know what was happening. Like they didn't know and then like everything that they had done was just something they figure out because the one doctor, her name is Dr. McCave and I call her my angel because she's the only one that saw the blood in my abdomen. When she realized it was there, she called in four teams of surgeons. So those four teams figured out how to save me. So what they did for me, they had never done because anybody who has ever had help as severe as I did they're dead. I mean when you have like a surgeon telling you that you're a miracle, like that's deep, you know?

: Nicole: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's deep. So how long did it take you to get disconnected from the wound vac and the tube from your liver?

: Tomeka: So the liver, it's an amazing organ. Right? So I think the wound vac, I got released in March, well I went back to work in October, so probably no, wait, I think it was August because my cousin got married in August and I was able to go to her wedding. And so I think it was August that I got released from the moon back. And then I think I got cleared from the liver in August too. No, that, that may have been September. But I literally still have a small hole right now that, because they cut me so deep it's still taken a very long time for it to heal. And where it fits is like right where my bra hits, because I would try to like not cover it to get it some air. Because in my head and needed air and I think my bra would hit it and kind of open it back up. So it literally still is a very tiny hole that's like right at the flesh level that is still trying to like close over. I actually have multiple hernias so I can literally fail my bowels because I don't have abs because they cut my abs and moved them to the side. So I will have to have another surgery to get meshed to place over to fix the hernias. So I'm still healing. Like my body is still healing, you know, I'm physically able to do pretty much anything.

: Nicole: But you're still not 100% yeah.

: Tomeka: Yeah. Not at all. No, no, I'm close.

: Nicole: But you know, I mean you're out a year now, right?

: Tomeka: A little over. Yeah. Yeah. Like I got out of the hospital July 5th of last year. Okay. So, yeah. Right. So I know like at this moment I was still in the hospital.

Speaker 3: Nicole: Yep. Oh my goodness. Now did you have a chance to talk with your doctor after all of this?

: Tomeka: Never. Nope. Was that by choice or you just didn't want to go back to him or...

: Tomeka: No, I didn't want to go back to him. When I left the hospital, I went and I looked at my records because a lot of people, whenever they realize what happened to me, they were really shocked. I didn't really understand why everybody was so shocked because I guess I didn't know enough about all of it. I thought it was just like a one off. I don't know, I just I didn't know what happened. You know, I didn't know how it happened. I didn't know why it happened. I didn't know what happened. Even like people were telling my mom like, they really should have caught that. Like they should have caught something.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: So just to give you a little bit of insight on me, cause I was at the point where I was going to the doctor every week, they said he was measuring small and they sent me to get an ultrasound and they didn't really say anything about the ultrasound, but they didn't seem like there was a problem. Like that it didn't seem right. Like anything was wrong. Well actually you know what? They couldn't see the flow of the umbilical cord. It was blocked according to my records. So the next week was May 10th and I went back to the doctor and they said he failed a non stress test. So they sent me to get another ultrasound at maternal fetal medicine. On May 14th Jace was dead.

: Nicole: Did you ever feel like his movement decreased or anything? You said you didn't feel well.

: Tomeka: He was moving Sunday night or Sunday before, you know, I got sick and I didn't notice that it was like different, you know what I mean? Like he was moving fine to me. I wasn't counting kicks. I probably should have been.

: Nicole: No no no no. But it wasn't that you felt anything different?

: Tomeka: No, I didn't until you know, my stomach started hurting and then looking at, you know, the way people describe like HELLP pain, it didn't feel like pain. It felt like I just needed to use the bathroom bad. But they didn't test me for anything. So the last urine sample they gave me was in November, which was my second appointment. They did blood work on March 22nd which was the first day of my third trimester, and that was it my whole pregnancy. My blood platelet count was like 114,000 when I got to the ER. Which is low, which is definitely low.

: Nicole: Yeah. Obviously I don't have your records and I can't second guess or you know anything that happened, but it sounds like you're saying that they hadn't checked your urine at any of your visits except for, you said they did the verification of pregnancy and then that was it, but you had been getting your blood pressure checked at every visit, I presume.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: Yep. They checked my blood pressure, but I was also high risk, so it's, it's kind of weird.

: Nicole: This is so heartbreaking of course. And it's also one of the things that I'm feeling, I'll just give you my perspective as an OB GYN is that preeclampsia can develop so quickly, which is why we're very fearful of it. When things do happen, it can be very difficult to know kind of what's going on. Obviously I can't second guess and see whether or not anything could have been done differently or even if I can honestly say that even if I had checked your protein and your protein was a little, I don't know what with the other stuff going on though with the ultrasound and I'm just thinking out loud and just wish that I could give you an answer or some understanding of what happened because it's just so devastating.

Speaker 3: Tomeka: You know, I've talked to people since, you know, all this has happened and I get exactly what you're saying. Like if given the situation is, you know, my blood pressure wasn't high, which it wasn't, and you didn't check my urine, which was somehow not standard for me, but standard for everybody else.

: Nicole: That I don't understand, you know?

: Tomeka: Yeah. It's just kind of like I get it, I get it is possible that it developed so fast that they weren't able to catch it, but I'm in compliance, that's my life. So it's kind of like, it angers me that you tell me, that I'm high risk for something and medically anything can happen. Right? You can apparently get preeclampsia and not have high blood pressure. Right? So what are your other tests for this?

: Nicole: That's the problem.

: Tomeka: And there's obviously not enough known about it to dismiss a test, you know, because of, you know, certain circumstances or certain situations you can't always account for one thing. I didn't have high blood pressure. Jace measured small. He also failed the stress test. For me holistically, maybe let's do another test. She is high risk for Preeclampsia. She is over the maternal age or that setting that tells you you're old. You know, I understand where you are and that you don't understand. Right. But I understand your viewpoint. I understand how you're thinking about it. And I do too, I get it. But I also understand that there's a standard of care. So if you tell one of your patients that they're high risk for something, it is your job to make sure you're testing them for that thing that they're high risk for. And yes they were checking my blood pressure, but I can guarantee you I am not the first person to ever get Preeclampsia and not have high blood pressure or HELLP syndrome. And I know because I'm in Facebook groups with a bunch of people who have had the same situation.

: Nicole: It's very tricky being honest and giving you my perspective as an Ob Gyn, but I obviously see your perspective that you want to have known that in this particular situation that everything possible was done. And not saying that it would make you feel better necessarily, but maybe you could have a little more peace about it, if you felt like everything had been done they possibly could do.

: Tomeka: Peace, yes. To prevent me and my son from what we went through.

: Nicole: And you don't feel that way right now.

: Tomeka: And they can't say they did.

: Nicole: Right. I agree. Yeah. They can't, they can't say they did. So has your doctor at all reached out to you to talk about never.

: Tomeka: Nope.

: Nicole: Never contacted you?

: Tomeka: Nothing. Never. Have not heard from that practice. Because you know, like a lot of practices these days have you go to different doctors because "Oh, we don't know who's going to deliver your baby, so we want you to meet everyone. So out of that practice I probably went to like, five of them. But my main Ob Gyn and the one I had normally gone to for regular pap smears and stuff like that, he had taken like a management role. So I'd only really seen him the first time, my very first appointment. And then I think like one other time. But no, I've not heard from the practice or him and they know.

: Nicole: Right. So let me ask you this. Do you think it would have made you feel better if someone had reached out to talk to you about what happened from the practice?

: Tomeka: I don't think so. I think it would've been a really hard conversation. And I honestly never really expected them to reach out to me and people have asked me that before. Like you're not the first person that asked me that question. But I don't know, like I don't think it would've changed anything.

: Nicole: This is just so heartbreaking and again you are phenomenally strong for coming on and being able to discuss what is obviously a very painful and difficult situation on so many levels. How have you been able to deal with this grief?

: Tomeka: I have a lot of support. My husband is amazing. Locally we actually go to, it's called Kinder Mourn and what they do, they're nonprofit organization and they were actually recommended by one of my friends who's a social worker and a few of the nurses at the hospital because they kind of specialize in stillbirth therapy, like grief therapy when it comes to like losing children or children losing parents and things like that. So we started as a group, like say we did a group therapy session and it was very helpful to talk to other people who have been through similar situations. And I say similar situations because I've met a lot of people, I won't say a million, but yeah, a met a lot of women because I've kind of become an advocate for black maternal health specifically and I've met a lot of women who have had similar situations, but I'm always still kind of on this island by myself because of like you said, like this situation is, it's so different. It's like just.

: Nicole: It's very rare.

: Tomeka: It's very little different. Yeah, it's rare in the aspect of how everything played out, like how everything happened, but it's literally like people given birth, well the maternal mortality rate is high, well higher than it should be. I'll say that Kinder Mourn has actually helped those as far as like therapy and you know, communication and trying to figure out like our lives after this. How to move forward.

: Nicole: What are your lives like now? How are you moving forward?

: Tomeka: They're crazy. Oh my God. So much has happened in the last year and like if I tell you, you're going to be like, seriously, really that's not possible. So I told you we were buying a house, now we're trying to sell our old one. I actually got laid off from my job but I have a new one. We had a miscarriage. When I tell you this year has been like up and down, over and under. I literally started a new job this week. I literally flew back here to South Carolina last night. And then we're just, you know, trying to move, trying to schedule. Like it's just been a crazy crazy year. We started a nonprofit it's called Jace's Journey and you know, we're basically trying to bring awareness to black maternal health because we have the highest rates of maternal mortality and maternal morbidity and stillbirth in the country and we don't talk about it and I just don't want anybody else, if I could help it to go through what I went through. It pains me like it keeps me up at night knowing what I know now. You know what I mean? Like going into this, I had no idea that I needed to know way more than I knew when I got pregnant. I trusted an industry to do what they were supposed to do. And I trusted my doctor to do his job or to do their jobs to the best of their ability. And I feel, and you know, people may not agree with me that they didn't. And I feel like if we can let people know, hey, you know, I didn't know the symptoms of Preeclampsia for a fetus. Anytime I've ever talked about Preeclampsia prior to me getting HELLP syndrome, everybody always talks about blood pressure. So for me, oh well I know how Preeclampsia, my blood pressure is fine, but I didn't know you could get HELLP syndrome without having high blood pressure. I didn't know that.

: Nicole: It's not common, but it does happen. Yeah.

: Tomeka: You know, I didn't know the other symptoms of Preeclampsia. See, I didn't know about the protein in your urine. I didn't know about those. I didn't know that, you know, me being high risk should have caused concern for more tests. I didn't know that.

: Nicole: I hear exactly what you're saying, but I hope you're not beating yourself up about that because you're not expected to know that.

: Tomeka: And that's the thing. I wasn't expected to know about it, but I feel like we have to know now. You know what I mean?

: Nicole: Yeah. Or at least have some basic knowledge. Please don't beat yourself up that you know, if you would have known something different that there could have been a different outcome. I hope you don't feel that way and put that pressure on yourself at all because you were doing all the right things, all the right things. Yeah.

: Tomeka: Thank you. I just, I don't know.

: Nicole: You're just an amazingly strong, brave woman is what you are. You really are.

: Tomeka: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.

: Nicole: And I hear what you're saying that unfortunately it is a system where in like five minute visits that you do need to arm yourself with more education and that's what it sounds like you're doing with your work in your foundation.

: Tomeka: That's our goal. That is our goal.

: Nicole: Well we are just about out of time, but I would like to the please mention and we'll, I'll link all this in the show notes. What are the, you know, web addresses and places or Facebook or wherever. Where can people find you?

: Tomeka: I am on Facebook as Tomeka James Issac. We also have our nonprofit Facebook page, which is in Jace's Journey. I have an Instagram, @jacesjourneyinc. I'm on Instagram as @Mrs.JamesNowIsaac. And I think that's it. I am on Twitter, but I don't tweet a lot.

: Nicole: Gotcha. So I had that, but I don't really use it. Yeah. So one final question. What would be your most important piece of advice that you would tell women who are listening to this? If they're pregnant, what would be your one most important piece of advice?

: Tomeka: Advocate for yourself? Ask questions. No matter how crazy they are, ask questions. And if you don't like the answers find another Ob. Just knowing your body. Yeah, I didn't really have a lot of symptoms and stuff so I can't really relate to people said my doctors weren't listening to me and stuff like that because I didn't really have any pain until it was like at the end, like I said, it really wasn't pain but know your body pay attention to it. Count the kicks and you know, I didn't really notice a difference but count them cause there probably could have been but I wasn't really, it didn't seem like anything was wrong. So I didn't think anything was wrong until everything went wrong. Do some research, reach out if you're pregnant and you just want to talk to somebody about being pregnant or what to expect or talk to somebody that's been through it. And you know, for people who have gone through stillbirths or HELLP Syndrome or Preeclampsia, if you need an ally, reach out to people. And talk to them because your story can help somebody in the long run and you can probably save a life. So just know your body, advocate for yourself, if things that seem right, they probably aren't.

: Nicole: Well, your story is undoubtedly going to help so many women and I cannot thank you enough for your strength, your bravery, for your courage, for your grace to come on and share your story today. I am very, very grateful. Thank you. And I know the listeners will be too.

: Tomeka: Thank you so much. It's been pleasure. I really appreciate you again for even having a platform for people to even share their stories. So thank you for that.

: Nicole: You're helping me understand even more so the importance of having this type of platform because you've just given me a window that I've never really had before and it's important. You know, I've just learned so much personally I can't even, I like wrap my mind and heart around this whole situation is just, oh my goodness. Like I said, you're just incredibly brave and strong, so thank you.

: Tomeka: Thank you.

: Nicole: Well, we will stay in touch and I will link to all of that stuff that you talked about in the show notes and please take care with everything with your move and the new things that are happening and new job and all that stuff.

Speaker 1: Tomeka: Yeah, it's crazy. I'm telling you.

: Nicole: Yeah. All right, well you take care.

: Tomeka: Bye bye. You take care.

: Nicole: So obviously that was a very difficult story and I am very grateful that Tomeka did take some time to share her story with us. Tomeka is so strong. I actually talked to her for a bit after we recorded this conversation and I really admire her so much. After the end of every episode, I do something called Nicole's notes and here are my notes for this episode. And really it's just one thing that I want you to take away and that is that this is not typical for Preeclampsia. Most women who have Preeclampsia do not go on to develop HELLP syndrome. And most women who have Preeclampsia do not have a stillbirth. Stillbirth itself actually is not very common. So I don't want you to walk away from this with that sense of overwhelming worry or fear that this is likely going to happen to you because it's not. Unfortunately, bad things, however, do happen in pregnancy.

Speaker 1: Nicole: Sometimes it's someone's fault and sometimes it's not. It's always incredibly difficult when this happens, but again, know that it's not common. I am so thankful that Tomeka came on with us to share her very difficult story and she's just so brave how she's trying to make the best out of her baby Jace's son's death. All right, so that is it for this episode of the podcast. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on Apple podcasts that's formerly known as iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. And I would really appreciate it if you leave a review in Apple podcasts. It helps other women buy my show and it helps the show to grow.

: Nicole: Also, let me take a quick moment to remind you about my free online class, how to make your birth plan the right way. I do this class live, so not very frequently. You can register for it at www.ncrcoaching.com/register. That link will be in the show notes. Women love this class and I know that you will enjoy it too. Then next week on the podcast, I have another episode on Preeclampsia. I actually have a maternal fetal medicine specialist who's going to come on and kind of really break down Preeclampsia for us, what it is, what the risks are, and some ways to prevent it potentially. So come on back next week. And until then, I wish you a healthy and happy pregnancy and birth,

Speaker 2: Today's episode is brought to you by Women's Wellness Coaching by Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins. Head to www.ncrcoaching.com to check out my free one hour mini course on how to make your birth plan as well as my comprehensive online childbirth education class, The Birth Preparation Course with over eight hours of content and a private course community. The Birth Preparation Course will leave you knowledgeable, prepared, competent and empowered going into your birth. Head to www.ncrcoaching.com to learn more.