I had HELLP Syndrome postpartum, but symptoms were present before I delivered in the form of protein in my urine along with a slowly lowering platelet count. I delivered at 35 weeks and 3 days. I had never heard of HELLP Syndrome so I had no idea how serious of a situation it was.
In June 2014, I went to my doctor to discuss family planning. I was reluctant, but wanted to be as prepared as I could be for it. To my surprise, on July 25, 2014, I had taken a positive pregnancy test and began with my routine prenatal visits on August 26th. Everything was going fairly well with my pregnancy aside from the severe nausea and vomiting I experienced daily. I was given Zofran to help and it was my saving grace. Everything went well from August to February. We found out we were having a healthy little girl in November and I continued to go on with my regular activities: teaching, teaching swim lessons, and staying as busy as possible.
I live in New Orleans, and Mardi Gras was on February 17, 2015 this year. We had been parading the days leading up to Mardi Gras. We had a blast that Thursday – Monday with a group of friends. On Mardi Gras Day, we took a 10-hour drive (which was reluctantly approved by my doctor) to St. Louis, MO for baby showers hosted by my husband’s family. My blood pressure was totally normal leading up to this trip (110/68). While in St. Louis, we ate great food which included my husband’s favorite local Chinese restaurant. That night, I noticed an uncomfortable feeling in my legs and looked down and my ankles and feet looked like balloons. I figured it was just the Chinese food and wasn’t too worried. I had a great time at the baby showers, but made sure to prop my legs up. My dad’s fiancée and my husband’s cousin are nurses and warned me about pre-eclampsia, but I was still convinced it was just the traveling and the Chinese food. I promised them I would keep them updated about my health. We finished the trip with my newly inflated limbs and headed back to New Orleans with frequent stops for me to walk around.
On Monday, March 9, 2015, I went to my doctor for a routine appointment. My blood pressure was taken AFTER my non-stress test since my doctor knew what a high-strung patient I was. My baby was doing great and I was feeling good so I wasn’t worried. I had modified my diet by watching my salt intake and was using essential oils to stay calm. Nothing could go wrong, right? Wrong. My blood pressure had sky-rocketed and was 169/109. I was told to pack my bags and go to the hospital for overnight blood pressure monitoring by my doctor. I was a very nervous and neurotic patient so he made it seem like a precautionary measure and allowed me to wait for my husband to get home from work. The nurses from my doctor’s office told me to treat it as a trial run to make sure I remembered everything when I had to go in for the real thing. I really think they knew it was going to be the real thing, but were trying to keep me calm. I decided that I was going to eat Wendy’s just to have something in my stomach that was going to keep me full for a while. My husband got home and started to pack. I was so confused. I told him that it was just monitoring and that he didn’t need to bring anything. He convinced me to pack like I would be delivering, so I did, but refused to take it in the hospital. I was in such denial, we even took separate cars so he could go to work in the morning and I could drive home after being discharged the next day.
We got to the hospital, went to triage, and within 30 minutes, I was diagnosed with severe pre eclampsia and had protein in my urine. They decided to induce at 35 weeks and 3 days. I was carrying very small and knew that my baby would be underweight in addition to being premature. After a 45 minute panic attack, my delivery room was ready and I was induced at 1:30 am on March 10th. My blood pressure was tested every 10 minutes by the machine. It was dangerously high the whole time. I had a second dose of CYTOTEC after the doctor discovered I wasn’t dilated. I got two doses of Demerol after my contractions got to be fairly intense and about a minute apart to ease my pain and keep my blood pressure from going too high. After they started the Pitocin, I got an epidural when I was only 2 cm dilated. Everything was going fairly well aside from my high blood pressure and swollen face. I delivered my baby at 5:35 pm on March 10, 2015 weighing 4 lbs 12 oz and 18 inches long. She was perfectly healthy as a premature baby, just a bit tiny.
We spent the night with her and I tried to sleep, but I had the worst nosebleed of my life. I needed washcloths to clear the clots from my nose. I felt as though it wouldn’t stop. I attributed the cause of the nosebleed to the sterile and dry hospital environment and didn’t think much else about it. Early the next morning, I was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome. The doctor’s had been drawing samples of urine from the catheter and I had my blood drawn many times so they were monitoring it throughout my delivery. They started the magnesium drip almost as soon as the doctor told me my course of treatment. Less than 15 hours after having my baby, I was practically chained to my bed with life-saving equipment: compression boots to keep me from having a clot in my leg, urinary catheter, IV catheter, blood pressure cuff, and the heart rate monitor. Thankfully, my husband was able to stay with me the whole time so that he could hand me my baby to nurse.
Although the first hour of the drip was absolutely awful, after that time, I felt fine and was running on pure adrenaline from having a baby. My blood pressure was still extremely high. My husband remembers the highest reading being 189/116. I kept getting my blood drawn and doctors were very consistent with updating us on my progress—which was not good in the first 12 hours. I was so loopy, I don’t remember much of anything. My husband told me that I had no idea how serious my condition was. He said at one point, the doctors told me I was very close to needing a blood transfusion and I very enthusiastically agreed that it was a good idea. The doctor’s informed us that I was at a severe risk of a stroke by what my vitals were reading.
Thankfully, after about 18 hours, I was starting to show signs of progress with my levels—platelet count was going up, liver function was getting back to normal, but my blood pressure was still high. I was STILL in the bed I delivered my baby in. I was covered in sweat and tears and was still laying on the same sheets that were on my bed when I was admitted into the hospital. I felt disgusting and miserable and felt like there was nothing I could do. Fortunately, my husband advocated for a sponge bath for me because I tend to not do well if I feel unclean. The nurses got me a sponge bath and arranged for a bed change (so I could rest in a bed that the bottom DIDN’T drop off) and I felt SO much better. I literally cried through the duration of my sponge bath because it was the best I had ever felt in days. After that, my vitals were slowly improving and I was off of the magnesium drip by noon on March 12th but was still under constant observation and wasn’t quite ready to be discharged to the postpartum unit.
On the evening of Thursday, March 12th, Arya became severely jaundiced due to a high bilirubin count so she was sent to the well baby nursery to go under the lights for 24-hours. It was a long 24 hours, and I had to go in and nurse her every two hours it seemed. I just wanted her to get better. For her being one month pre-mature, I feel very fortunate that that was the extent of issues we had with her.
While in post-partum, I was feeling much better, but was having trouble adjusting to being able to walk again. I felt like Bambi on my feet—very wobbly and unsure of my steps. One of the first things I did upon entering my postpartum room was take a long shower and CRY. I was off of the meds and was finally able to feel the emotions I was expecting to have about my birthing experience. However, these emotions were not joy and elation, but simultaneous relief and apprehensiveness. What had just happened to me? I had little to no recollection of my birthing experience and I feel as though I was robbed of that. My baby didn’t even feel like my own since I didn’t remember much about having her or my first few days with her. It was the most heart-breaking feeling in the world. I thought, “What hospital would let me take a new baby home without even believing she is mine?” HELLP Syndrome took away the good feelings of being a new mother.
We were discharged on Friday, March 14, 2015—in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on St. Charles Avenue. It was quite the adventure! I won’t lie—I considered taking Arya to her first parade right then and there! I continued to have high blood pressure for two weeks after delivering. My doctor told me if I had waited much longer, it would have been a much more serious situation. I still feel as though I never got to experience my child’s birth because I was mentally not there due to all of the drugs in my system leading up to her birth and immediately following it. I ask my husband frequently to recall the events, but everything revolves around my poor health and how it affected everything related to the birth of my child. It is also one of the only times I recall my husband getting noticeably emotional. It was a very scary experience for him and I had no idea the amount of stress he was under until after the fact. Today, we are all doing well. Arya is gaining weight appropriately and my blood pressure is back to a normal range. It was an experience that we will never forget and gave us many lessons that we learned about my stubbornness and our strength as a couple and also as a new family.