THE BLOG
01/21/2015 08:15 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2015

This Life-Threatening Disorder Affects 1 in 12 Pregnancies.. And You've Probably Never Heard of It

When I became pregnant, I planned and researched everything from the best infant car seat to the top-of-the-line strollers. I spent hours back and forth between a papasan baby swing or the kind that you put your infant seat into. Should I get a high chair or the space-saver seat? Would the baby like to wear onesies or the kimono style tees. What I didn't research turned out to be the most important thing I wished I had: preeclampsia.

I woke up one morning and knew something was wrong. It was only five days after my second child was born, so I wasn't surprised to be feeling exhausted, but this seemed different. I was having a hard time catching my breath and just couldn't seem to focus clearly on anything I would look at. I told my husband that I felt off and he insisted I call the doctor. His insistence worried me, so I called. Then my doctor told me that I needed to get to the emergency room right away, which really worried me.

As mothers, we are so used to being the nurturers and caregivers that, very often, we make light of what we are feeling in order to continue on with the routine.

After many hours in the hospital, with blood pressure readings like 220/120, a nurse told me, "Sarah, you are suffering from postpartum preeclampsia." What? There I was, an educated mother of two being diagnosed with a disorder of pregnancy that affects 1 in 12 pregnancies -- YET it was something I had only briefly heard about, and I had no idea it could happen postpartum.

I was hooked up to a magnesium sulfate IV to prevent seizures or a stroke, petrified I might die and confused about what was really happening to me. The magnesium made me feel so sickly; I was on oxygen, I couldn't get out of bed and cried for three days straight wanting to see my babies again.

When I was discharged I decided to research what happened to me. That is when I found the Preeclampsia Foundation. Reading the boards on their site, I realized what happened to me was actually somewhat common. What I still didn't understand was HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT PREECLAMPSIA? HOW?? If 1 in 12 women suffered from preeclampsia, how did I not know more about it? This is why I decided to bring the Promise Walk for Preeclampsia to the Philadelphia Area. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to give back to other mothers.

Have you heard of preeclampsia?

According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, thousands of women and babies die or get very sick each year from this dangerous condition called preeclampsia. It is a life-threatening disorder that occurs in up to 1 in 12 women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Preeclampsia and related disorders, such as HELLP syndrome and eclampsia, are most often characterized by the presence of protein in the urine and a rapid rise in blood pressure that can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and/or baby. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.

Typically, preeclampsia occurs after 20 weeks gestation (in the late second or third trimesters or middle to late pregnancy), though it can occur earlier and up to six weeks postpartum. I have read so many articles, posts, stories all claiming delivering as the "cure" for preeclampsia. It infuriates me since YES, delivery helps many -- but too many woman suffer from preeclampsia postpartum. Mothers are so consumed in their new babies that it becomes easy for them to write off the signs of preeclampsia as anything serious and attribute it to exhaustion. My hope is that one day women are discharged with instructions on how to take care of themselves and, if they feel any of the listed items, to call their OB/GYN immediately.

I am now included in a group of about 4.5 million U.S. women who are at a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or a stroke within 5-15 years of their preeclampsia diagnosis. Now more than ever, I need to be vigilant about my heart health and my lifestyle.

In the 4 years since my diagnosis, I started up the Philadelphia/South Jersey Promise Walk for Preeclampsia and have helped spearhead fundraising of over $70,000. My family and I are very involved in every aspect of the walk planning. The walk requires months of planning, calling, soliciting, begging for money and raffle prizes, but it all comes together for four incredible hours on a Saturday morning in May. The walk is filled with preeclampsia survivors, their friends and family. We are all happy and emotional together. The isolation we felt from our preeclampsia experience is gone. We are among others who suffered and survived. We are among others that know what we went through because they've lived it. Together we celebrate what we have overcome, yet we always, always remember those who we have lost.

Editor's Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section.