Physically I was exhausted - I think I may have developed sleep apnea at that time as well - not sure if it was related or not, but I was only sleeping in 20-30 minute increments towards the end. I was vomiting, had diarrhea, nosebleeds and major pain and tenderness in the abdomen. My feet and hands were swollen as well. Post-partum, I had blurriness and my hemoglobin was quite low, resulting in an extra day in the hospital for monitoring.
Emotionally I felt as though my body had failed me, and I mourned for the pregnancy that I didn't get to have - the big belly pictures, packing my hospital bag, the VBAC, being awake for his birth, nursing him right away, rooming in, taking him home, etc. Still not over the trauma of back-to-back miscarriages before this pregnancy, I was very sad that I didn't get to be awake for my son's birth. I saw a therapist after the birth to help me work through the trauma.
My story starts at the end of 2011.
During the day of New Year's Eve, we threw a party for my parents who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary the following week. Despite being exhausted, I took a nap after the party so that I would have the energy to go out later and enjoy my family who had come into town. That night I went out to an expensive dinner with my brothers and ordered a steak that I didn’t touch. It is not like me to cancel on a night out, but I was in intense pain and my family commented that there was no color in my face. We went home and ended up calling my doctor. I hated to bother him on New Year's Eve, but I was very frightened. This was my fourth pregnancy, but only the second pregnancy that had gone this far. Having miscarried twice before, I was already on edge.
I gave my doctor a list of symptoms (chills and pressure) and he told me that it’s very possible that the baby was turning (he had been transverse) and he told me to rest. If things don't get worse, if there were no contractions, I should come into the office on Tuesday, which was still two days away. He also told me to modify my diet because I was probably going into a little bit of sugar shock, causing the chills.
Within another day or two I was back to being miserable. I still had chills despite modifying my diet, I had intense pain in the abdomen and couldn’t get comfortable or sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. My feet were double the size, I started getting nosebleeds, I was vomiting, had diarrhea, couldn’t eat, and prayed that I would make it through the rest of the pregnancy. With my next OB visit over a week away, I called to get in on Monday the 9th and told them that I absolutely had to be seen. I was fortunate that I had a textbook pregnancy with baby #1, so I knew that this wasn't just a rough pregnancy. I followed my gut which was telling me that something wasn't right, although I didn't know what that "something" was. I was so sleep deprived that I wrote down a list of all my symptoms because I was so uncomfortable and upset, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get the words out. Even a car ride up the road was worrisome for me, as I feared that I would fall asleep at the wheel. Only sleeping in 20-30 minute increments for the past few weeks, I became a zombie. When I got into the exam room, I broke down into tears and couldn’t even talk the nurse, so I just handed her the paper with my symptoms. They weighed me and I was down 4 pounds from the previous week from all of the vomiting. They checked my urine which was almost orange and had protein in it this time. They put me on the blood pressure machine and it read 158/92. The nurse made a face and took it again. She commented that the machine must be broken and took it manually because "there was no possible way that my blood pressure could be that high," but apparently it was. They put me on a non-stress test and baby was hardly moving. The nurse came back and said to go right to the hospital and not to dilly-dally. I called my parents and husband, swung by my son's preschool to pick him up (knowing I would otherwise miss dismissal) and headed over to meet my OB. As we drove I leisurely passed the ferry boats at the port and as I passed the ice cream parlor, my son saw the big ice cream cone and asked if we can stop for an ice cream. I promised him that later today we would get him some when Mommy is done seeing the doctor.
Having had low fluid at the end of my first pregnancy, I assumed that they would give me IV fluids and possibly keep me overnight for monitoring. I feared the worst case scenario, which in my mind at the time was bedrest. I was not seeing the severity of the situation at all.
I was admitted and put on an IV. By this time my husband had arrived and they had drawn blood. I started making some phone calls to cancel the class I was scheduled to teach later that day. My OB came to see me and said that based on the blood results they may want to give me a c-section that night. I was in disbelief and within ten minutes some more blood results came back and my OB says “Heather we are prepping the OR and you are getting a c-section right now.” It turns out that my liver had stopped functioning and my platelets counts were so low that it was too dangerous to give me a spinal and so they were going to knock me out completely with general anesthesia.
The next few minutes were a total blur. They had the NICU nurse come to see me and tell me that she’ll be in the operating room and taking the baby when he comes out. They rolled in a sonogram machine to determine where the baby was so the doctor would know where to make my incision. They brought me forms to sign, and they were explaining what was going to be happening , but I heard none of it. I was hysterical crying because I knew that it was too early for this baby to be born and I felt as though I had no control over the situation. Since I was not having contractions, I never in a million years expected that I was having a baby when I walked in. There was no time for questions. There was no time for me to even come up with questions. There was only my doctor's orders - this baby needs to come out now.
In retrospect I realize that the "pressure" I was feeling in my abdomen was not from the baby but from my enlarged liver. Had I better verbalized that to my doctor, maybe we would have done the blood test the week before and caught the HELLP syndrome sooner. Still, I thank my lucky stars that I didn't have a stroke while I was home alone with my first son. I am thankful that I didn't ignore my gut feeling to see my doctor a week before my next scheduled appointment. Had I waited, I probably would not be sitting here typing this story today. HELLP syndrome is scary stuff, and I now tell every pregnant Mommy to listen to your gut - If you think something isn't right, don't dismiss it. Your gut feeling could save your life.