VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Women usually expect to not feel well during pregnancy. But Cecily Foster knew something was wrong.

"I began to swell, so bad I couldn't even wear my own shoes," Foster says. "I was really tired, but [my doctor] associated that to what typically happens to a pregnant woman."

Shortly thereafter, "I went into my doctor's office for my weekly visit, and that's when then they noticed that my amniotic fluid was very low," says Foster. She ended up giving birth to her daughter four weeks early. 

And while mom and baby were OK after delivery, the worst was yet to come. "I woke up, and I noticed a pain in my chest," Foster says. "My first response was [to] go ahead and call my doctor... She called me back five minutes later and said, 'Go straight to the emergency room.'"

MAKING A MARK: Heart failure survivor supports other women living with heart disease

Challenging road ahead

Foster was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy-- a rare form of heart failure that occurred during her last month of pregnancy. "There was nothing that shows that something was going on- no signs and symptoms of the typical signs and symptoms of some sort of heart disease or heart attack," Foster says.

Foster had a challenging road ahead, as she worked to balance family, career, and health. "I couldn't even walk up a flight of stairs without stopping midway to catch my breath," Foster says. "It was very difficult to even tend to my baby because I was so tired... I remember sitting at my desk and not feeling good, and wondering, 'Am I having a heart attack?'"

But after years of adjusting to her new normal, she decided to help other women do the same. Recently, Foster became a support coordinator with WomenHeart, a national coalition for women living with or at risk of heart disease. 

"I don't want anybody to feel like they're alone," Foster says. "I don't want any other woman to get diagnosed with this and go through not just the physical rehabilitation, but just the mental rehabilitation by themselves."

A mission to educate, support

While women have died from heart disease, Foster says she's thankful to be a survivor and has made it her mission to educate and support other women on their journey. "We cried and we laughed and we hugged and we shared stories, and it was just an opportunity to just bond with people that were now my sisters," Foster says. "My 'heart sisters' is what we call each other."

Foster runs the WomenHeart of Hampton Roads Support Group. The next meeting is Thursday, September 19 at 6:30 p.m at Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk. For more information, visit the Sentara website. You can also email Foster at hrvawomenheart@gmail.com.

To learn more about WomenHeart, visit https://www.womenheart.org/.

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