A mother’s heart

I take every beat of my heart seriously.

I probably pay more attention to each little thump in my chest than most women because there was a time when my heart gave out on me. I went into heart failure after Nicole, my oldest daughter, was born. More technically, I had peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare and often fatal form of heart disease that strikes women in their late pregnancy or post-partum stages.

I’ve talked about my disease before on this blog, but during American Heart Month each February I like to remind moms everywhere to take a moment to assess their heart health.

Moms always put themselves last on the to-do list. But it’s worth it — and I’m glad I listened to my instincts and my body.

When I was short of breath and tired after having Nicole, I thought it was normal. I thought I was a child-bearing wimp. But when I found myself out of breath walking to the kitchen in the morning, I knew something was wrong. The ER doctors brushed me off. The cardiologist almost did the same. I insisted on getting an echocardiogram. And there it was: my heart was failing.

Those first weeks were terrifying. Every time my heart would race or skip or I was short of breath, I was convinced I was dying. Images of my young husband facing life with a newborn baby girl swirled in my head constantly. Doctors’ warnings to never have another baby weighed heavy on my already sick heart.

It was a dark time. I never appreciated the importance of my heart until it gave out.

I was fortunate. I recovered. I even had a second baby thanks to doctors who helped me achieve my dreams. Those same doctors now tell me to count my blessings and not push my heart — or my luck — any further. My husband and I agree.

I am beyond lucky. I am here.

I don’t know what will happen in the future, and I worry about my heart all the time. But I do know that every beat is a gift. Every beat gives me one more minute, one more day, one more year with my two beautiful daughters.

And when I look at those smiling faces, my heart has never felt stronger.

Please take the time to check out healthy heart tips and warning signs for heart disease at www.heart.org. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, claiming more women’s lives than all other forms of cancer combined.

Has heart disease touched your family? What do you do to stay heart healthy?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, Stewart discusses it all while her 4-year-old daughter crams Mr. Potato Head pieces in her little sister’s nose.

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