Nicole is a Madriella Doula and a Nursing Assistant. Here she tells her story of overcoming prolactinoma, a condition that caused her to temporarily lose her vision during pregnancy how it led her to commit her life to serving new mothers as a Doula. Visit her Facebook page to see some of the great work she is doing. 

I never thought I would be taking this path in my life. It did indeed turn out to be one of the best paths I have ever embarked on. I knew after my own personal birth experiences that I had a duty in my heart to help others. I knew that the system we have today is flawed, and there needs to be more for mothers out there. We need to do better through birth, postpartum, and grieving mothers.

My first birth experience was traumatic, to say the least. I was a first-time mother, who was never supposed to be able to have children. I had a prolactinoma, which is a tumor on my pituitary that secreted prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone secreted from your brain that produces breast milk. Therefore, in return, it would be hard for my ovaries to generate ovulation. For years, endocrinologists told me that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible, with my prolactin levels, to get pregnant. When I was 25 years old, by some miracle, I conceived. I however was not trying, it just happened. My endocrinologist was not convinced and ordered blood tests to confirm along with an ultrasound. Which all came back positive, I was indeed 5 weeks along.

My pregnancy carried along well, up until about 20 weeks. I started getting these intense migraines. I had an appointment with my family doctor, as my obstetrician could not get me in anytime soon. My family doctor prescribed my medicine for nausea associated with the headaches and told me to take Tylenol. When I finally was able to see my obstetrician, the migraines had progressed. She informed me this was a normal occurrence in pregnancy and to keep taking Tylenol. However, she was aware I had a prolactinoma.

I was about 30 weeks pregnant when I started losing my vision. I started from the sides and kept progressing in a blur. I went into labor and delivery this time, crying. I was so frustrated and terrified, why was I losing my vision, and having these migraines? Something in my gut told me something was not right. I was again met with this; this can happen in pregnancy, and vision changes are normal. I explained again, I could barely see, with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was almost choking on my own words, trying to advocate for myself, but I had no idea if this was in fact normal or not. Still, I was met with the same diagnosis. They treated me like a first-time mother who was over-exaggerating. Feeling completely defeated I retreated home.

As the weeks progressed so did my vision loss and migraines. I looked up at my child’s father, visibly in distress. He asks “What is wrong, are you okay?” he sounded worried. We were both worried, we knew something was wrong. “No” I answered, “I cannot see you, I cannot even see your face,” I wept. Crying made the migraines worse, but I could no longer hold them back.
I went in for my appointment at 38 weeks. That day my regular obstetrician was not in, so I saw someone else. This man had been in practice for a long time. I told him all of my concerns, and how many times I had gone up to labor and delivery with my symptoms. He ordered me an MRI. “We want you to be able to see your baby when he is born,” he stated. I was so relieved and yet terrified at the same time. The MRI proved what we had all feared. My prolactinoma had grown ten times its original size and erupted into my brain. This caused bleeding in my optic nerve. Which explained the vision loss. I was rushed to the University of Michigan by ambulance. I had a cesarean section and brain surgery. Since I was under general anesthesia and sent to the ICU after surgery for bleeding, I did not meet my son for two days.

Obviously, this is a wrapped-up version of the story. It does not go into detail about what I went through following my son’s arrival. Could better care have stopped this? We could never really be sure. One thing I do know for sure is there is something missing in patient care in obstetrics. I believe that thing that is missing is time and understanding. Sometimes Doctors just do not have time to go into every little detail that we would like to discuss. Sometimes things are missed, and just like me, some of us are scared to advocate for ourselves when we know something is wrong.

This is where I began my journey. In the midst of my second pregnancy. Everyone thought I was insane to become pregnant again. I had my mind set that I was going to get everything I had missed with my son. Even though my son will always be my miracle baby, I felt cheated by the experience. I set into research. I came to the realization that vaginal birth after a cesarean was possible. I found an amazing doctor who was willing to take me on as a patient with the intent of a VBAC. This doctor changed my whole perspective on OBGYNs as a whole. He was compassionate, kind, and understanding and went above and beyond to make sure I always felt heard. I realized we need more of this kind of doctor. I feel the world of labor and delivery is missing this aspect. It truly is not every day you feel heard in this field.

My pregnancy went on and at 40 weeks, I had not progressed. I was in tears, I need this VBAC, and I needed to heal from my past birth trauma. I was in a VBAC group that had given me the strength to advocate for myself. I begged my doctor to let me keep trying to go naturally and wait. It did not take anything more than those words and he was completely okay with it. I was healthy and so was my baby. I was shocked because after talking to the entire moms on the VBAC group this seemed to be unheard of, many moms have seemed to be rushed into a C-section or an induction.

I thankfully went into labor naturally at forty weeks and 3 days. I had no idea what contractions felt like so I did most of my laboring at home until my boyfriend convinced me to go in. My mom had me convinced it was not real since I was still talking through them, and she could not through hers. That just goes to show every single experience is different. My nurses were amazing; my birth was fast and unmediated exactly how I wanted it. I had a nurse who believed in me, and every time I turned down the epidural convinced me I could do this and helped me with breathing techniques. I gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-five-ounce baby girl. I got back everything I wanted; I experienced everything I had missed.

When telling people my story, most women had no idea you could even have a VBAC and had no idea what it was. I became highly aware of how much some women did not know. Not that they were unintelligent in the least but sometimes in our OBGYN appointments we do not get the time to ask as many questions as we would like. We tend to feel like a burden, this is where I began to think, about how I could help these women. All women.

This is when I stumbled upon Doulas. I was in awe of it all. I weighed it over in my mind, is this something I could do? Yes, it is. In fact, I felt so enlightened. I felt like everything I went through with my birth experiences, could shed light on so many others. I just needed the proper training to succeed. I signed up for the classes, and here I am today a certified birth and postpartum Doula and I am not stopping there. I plan to take all courses available to me. I went a couple of steps ahead, and signed back up for schooling, in hopes and dreams of becoming a midwife. I became certified as a nursing assistant and attended my first birth as a doula, all in the same year.

That first birth was magic. I know it will not always be, and sometimes it will be difficult. I had to know if this was something I could do and if I could handle it. In addition, I ended up doing that and so much more. I made my client feel at complete ease. I left the hospital that day knowing I had embarked on the right path. Knowing I was made to be a Doula, and possibly so much more.

Learn more about Prolactinoma and Pregnancy here:

Prolactinomas in pregnancy: considerations before conception and during pregnancy

Prolactinoma and pregnancy – a series of cases including pituitary apoplexy

Managing Prolactinomas during Pregnancy