I was officially diagnosed with HELLP syndrome at 32 weeks in my pregnancy, but likely had it for a bit prior considering I felt very ill for at least two weeks before I went to the emergency room. While I had heard of pre-eclampsia, I had never heard of HELLP syndrome prior to my experience.
On a Sunday afternoon, two weeks before I delivered, I was outside picking weeds with my husband (something I really enjoyed doing while pregnant!) when I suddenly felt like I had the flu. It was late September, and still very warm out, so I was hoping it was something else. Later that day, I noticed I had some very painful lumps in my armpit that I decided were ingrown hairs. I felt better after laying down.
That following Friday the lumps were still present and not feeling any better, and I had noticed the baby was not as active as she normally was. I went to get checked out and saw the nurse practitioner. She said the baby's movement was fine, but I was having more than five contractions in an hour. Since they seemed to calm down, she did not think it was a big deal and I figured they were normal Braxton-Hicks. She was concerned about the lumps, since I did not feel ill, and wanted me to get an ultrasound done on them. I went in the next Tuesday.
During the ultrasound, I could barely stay laying down long enough for the technician to finish because of pain I was experiencing in my chest. It seemed to get better when I was sitting up, but not by much. After my appointment I went to work, and still felt bad-- like I had incredible heartburn. I was taking as many TUMS as I was allowed, and eventually took a Zantac. I remember calling my dad to see why the Zantac wasn't working, and being puzzled when he said that it "always" worked for him. I then decided that the baby was simply in a weird position, which was what was causing my pain and discomfort. I did not get any sleep the next few days because the pain was so terrible. By the time Thursday rolled around, I could not even breathe without wanting to cry. I felt exhausted, but never thought something was seriously wrong. These were "normal" pregnancy symptoms....right?
Finally, after texting my mom all day, I decided I needed to go home and try to be seen by my doctor. I called them as I was walking to my car, and could not even contain my tears. I told them that I was in so much pain, nothing for the heartburn was working, and I could no longer breathe easily. The triage nurse told me to try Prilosec, and if that didn't work, they'd see me the next day. I felt defeated. Still, I went and got the Prilosec, and took a bath. The pain intensified from there, and I knew I needed immediate help at this point. I called my husband, and told him that when he got home from work, he needed to take me to Urgent Care. I picked Urgent Care because I wanted to get in and out so I could be back home in bed in time to get a good night's rest before work the next day. When he finally pulled up to our house, I got in his truck and announced that the plans had changed, and he needed to take me to the ER-- and that we should go to the hospital we plan on delivering at as a practice run. I still am not sure what changed my mind, but boy am I glad it did.
I got to the ER, and they of course referred me to labor and delivery, but not before starting an EKG. They showed some concern because there were a few abnormalities on that test. Once I got to labor and delivery, they confirmed I was in pre-term labor. The "Braxton-Hicks" contractions were actually real contractions. My baby was trying to make her way out. I figured things would go smooth from there-- stop the labor, send me home. I asked what we could do about my pain, and was told that there was not much that could be done. At this point, I was thoroughly annoyed, and asked when I would be discharged, because I needed to catch some zzzz's. The nurse told me we were waiting on bloodwork, and then I'd be released. I rolled my eyes and muttered a "whatever" under my breath. About 30 minutes later, I hear someone outside announce "And this is why we wait for bloodwork!" I looked at Brad, and before I could say "That better not be about me!", the doctor walked in. She and the nurse had strange looks on their faces. The doctor pulled up a chair, and took a deep breath. She started shooting off a bunch of medical terms I did not understand. When I asked her what all this meant for me, she said "You're not going home until you deliver this baby." I looked at her, incredulous, and said "But...I am not due for seven more weeks. I can't be here for seven weeks." At that point, she genuinely looked sorry for me. She proceeded to say "I don't think you understand. Based on your tests, we believe you have a life-threatening condition called HELLP syndrome. The only cure is to deliver this baby." Things got pretty blurry from here. The magnesium drip was started instantly, and that made me loopy, to say the least. I didn't even have my phone with me to call my parents to let them know what was happening! I sent Brad home to pack a bag and check on our dogs, and to call my parents to update them. That night, I got moved to anti-partum and was basically in a waiting game until the high-risk doctor and neonatologist could come speak to me the next day.
After I got my visits from the specialists on Friday, I understood more about what was happening. My official diagnosis was Class I HELLP Syndrome, severe pre-eclampsia, and liver failure. I was told I wouldn't survive being pregnant more than 48 more hours. I never really googled HELLP, because I wanted to stay calm and positive. It was enough for me that the neonatologist thought our baby girl would have no real issues, being almost 33 weeks along. He was also going to see if they could delay delivery one more day so I could have the second dose of steroid medication to help develop the baby's lungs. (I am so grateful they were able to do this!) That afternoon, they started the "process" by dilating me with the balloon. That was not fun. The ridiculous contractions that accompanied it were not fun, either. Once again, I was getting no sleep, only now, I wasn't allowed to eat OR drink! I was exhausted.
Saturday morning I was greeted by my delivery nurse saying "Happy BABY day!" I started to get excited (even though at this point I could not even open my eyes from the magnesium). My doctor decided that with my platelets being so low, I needed a transfusion, so they completed that, and then came labor time. I was so out of it, even for this part. I remember my doctor telling me I needed to PUSH, and in my mind I was thinking "Nope. I am going to breathe this baby down just like they taught me in hypnobirthing class." I didn't realize the gravity of the situation, and that our baby needed to get out quickly, because I was bleeding big time. After twenty minutes, my doctor caught my attention and said "If you don't get this baby out in the next round, I am going to vacuum her out." I snapped to attention, and pushed like I never have before. Once our girl was shoulders out, my doctor had me lean over and pull her out the rest of the way-- something I REALLY wanted to experience. On October 11, 2014, just after 6 PM, our baby girl Beaux was born. That was the best moment of my entire life. He turned to the nurses in the room and said that they were going to give me two minutes with my baby on my chest. I will be eternally grateful to that man for remembering how important that was to me. Not a second past two minutes went by, and the nurses grabbed the baby and whisked her to the NICU. I would not see her again for three more days.
The next few days were tough. I was on magnesium until the Monday after delivery. During that time, I couldn't get up, and therefore could not go see my precious girl. This was hard. It was even harder when the days passed by and I realized I'd be leaving that hospital without her. That was a tough pill to swallow. I don't think I've ever felt a sadness greater than I did when I was sitting by the curb, waiting for the car to pull up to take my home, watching other parents go home with their newborns. I shed a lot of tears over the next few days. Seventeen days later, Beaux was able to come home. I am happy to report that she has done fabulous ever since! She is the baby we have always dreamed of, and this experience definitely makes us appreciate her just that much more.
I guess the biggest thing I took away from this experience was that no amount of planning or preparation can truly get you ready for welcoming a child into the world. We had planned for months our perfect birth, and the only thing that came out as we'd hoped was the perfect baby that we love more than anything.