blood clots pregnancy

Kathleen Gilding and her baby.

Last fall, my husband, stepson, and I found out that our family was growing. I was expecting a baby girl! I had a fairly easy pregnancy. I was able to keep up my normal activities, work, and stay active doing CrossFit. Despite the “new mom worries” and googling each and every little twinge or pregnancy symptom, it never occurred to me to worry about a blood clot.

Then, leaving work one evening at 32 weeks pregnant, I mentioned to my friend that my left leg felt sore and heavy. We chalked it up to being eight months pregnant. But the next day, the pain persisted. I noticed swelling and discoloration in my leg. I mentioned this to my midwife at a routine appointment that morning. She recognized the signs of a blood clot (swelling in both legs is normal in pregnancy; one leg is not) and sent us to the UVM Medical Center immediately. I was admitted to Labor and Delivery and eventually diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in my external iliac vein.

A New “New Mom Worry”: Factor II Prothrombin

I met Dr. Mary Cushman, and she suggested we do some testing to see if I had any genetic clotting disorders. With my active and healthy lifestyle, no smoking, no recent travel, and no family history, I didn’t have any obvious risk factors other than pregancy. The results came back showing that I have Factor II Prothrombin, a clotting disorder. I was released from the hospital and sent home to do twice daily blood thinner injections, with multiple follow up appointments, blood draws, and questions about what this meant for me and my baby.

My new mom worries increased as I found myself researching Factor II and its implications. I worried about a pulmonary embolism (when the existing clot breaks off and travels to the lungs. This can be fatal), and there were links between Factor II and stillbirth and slow fetal growth. Because I was on a blood thinner, it wouldn’t be safe for me to have an epidural during delivery. I would most likely have to be induced if the clot didn’t resolve. I worried about the safety of the blood thinners while breastfeeding. I worried that not feeling well would impact how well I could care for my daughter. What would this mean for us long term?

Meanwhile, Hematology worked with my OB practice. They were close to coming up with a plan for delivery when my water broke at 37 weeks!

Labor & Delivery and Post-Partum Life

I was grateful to not have to be medically-induced, and that I was near full-term. All of that worrying and my delivery ended up being quick and uneventful and resulted in a perfectly healthy baby. I continued the blood thinners for several months postpartum, was able to nurse my daughter, recovered quickly, and felt quite well overall. A follow-up ultrasound showed that the clot had resolved. I wouldn’t need surgery or blood thinners any longer.

I’m happy to report that I am back to all normal activities, work, and exercise, and have no lingering symptoms, such as residual swelling or heaviness in my leg. I do wear compression socks at work and for travel.

As Dr. Cushman told me, experience is a good teacher. Now I will be aware of the symptoms of DVT during any future travel, surgeries or pregnancies, and I am more motivated than ever to maintain a healthy lifestyle knowing that I have a clotting disorder and history of DVT. I share my story NOT to add to the long list of worries that expecting moms have, but to encourage others who may be in my shoes. I would have loved to have found a story like mine with a happy ending!

Kathleen Gilding is a radiation therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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