"After months of trying to conceive, my husband, Dylan, and I were ecstatic to find out in February of 2011 that we were expecting our first child. My first trimester was normal physically. I had morning sickness that didn’t seem to understand the word “morning.” I was exhausted, but excited. We didn’t even want to know the sex of the baby – we were looking forward to a good surprise.
My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly when I was eight weeks pregnant. The same day I was the driver in a major car accident as a result of the other driver running a stop sign. Despite the shock and depression that followed, an ultrasound showed my baby was still healthy and active.
At 27 weeks, my sister got married. It was a ridiculously humid day in August as we were expecting Hurricane Irene to hit (in fact, my sister had to move her wedding up a day because of the hurricane) so I didn’t think anything of it when my husband pointed out how huge my ankles were. From that point on, I no longer had ankles but I chalked it up to normal pregnancy swelling.
At 30 weeks, my blood pressure was “borderline high” so my doctor ordered an ultrasound and full work up of labs “just to be sure.” At the follow-up visit that week, I was informed that my labs were fine and she then began to discuss the baby’s weight. I don’t remember how much she said the baby weighed at that time, but I do remember turning to my husband and saying, “Oh, how cute!” The look on my doctor’s face when I made that remark told me that it was not cute; something was wrong. She then told me that the baby was slightly underweight for its gestational age and that combined with my slightly elevated blood pressure, I would now be closely monitored."
At 36 weeks, I had another ultrasound that showed the baby was still underweight and I still had “elevated” blood pressure. I was put on bed rest with the suggestion that I should be on my left side because my blood pressure lowered when I laid that way.
Four days into my bed rest, it was Monday, October 10th. I had a normal day and was just really bored. Dylan came home from work, we ate dinner, and then I had a strong craving for blondies. We didn’t have the ingredients in the house to make them so Dylan ran to the grocery store. I happily ate my blondie around 9 that night and then we went to bed. That was when all hell broke loose for me.
I woke up a couple hours after we went to bed feeling sick to my stomach. The rest of the night was spent in the bathroom. I couldn’t stop throwing up. Even when there was nothing left in my stomach, I was still dry-heaving. Before I was put on bed rest, a horrible stomach bug had gone through my workplace so I thought I was finally getting it.
Tuesday morning, I was able to keep down some jello, tea, and half a piece of toast but I called my doctor to let her know how sick I was and to tell her that I didn’t think I could make it in to labor and delivery for my daily monitoring. I didn’t want to pass my bug on to any of the other patients there. She asked me multiple questions: Did I have a headache? Was my vision blurry? Did I feel any pain in the upper right quadrant of my belly? These were questions she had been asking me at every appointment so I was used to them and answered no to all of them. She asked me if I had been able to keep anything down so I let her know what I had eaten. She agreed that I could stay home and made an appointment with me for first thing Wednesday morning. She also made me promise that I would come in if I had any of the above symptoms.
I felt better and better as the day went on. I had chicken soup for lunch and then felt so good by suppertime that I made bagel pizzas. I went to bed and then again woke up a couple hours later, sick as a dog again. I didn’t bother calling my doctor again or going in because I thought I pushed it too much by eating the bagel pizzas and my stomach just wasn’t ready for real food again yet. I tried to sleep in between being sick but I don’t think I really did.
Wednesday morning, I was able to eat some jello, tea, and half a piece of toast again. I went in for my appointment and reported that I had been sick again but that I had eaten breakfast and felt better. My blood pressure was still elevated but not more than it had been. My doctor sent me for blood work and to be monitored in labor and delivery and scheduled an ultrasound for the morning. They did a urine test as they do at all my appointments which tested negative for protein. Everything looked good so I was sent home."
When Dylan came home from work, he tried convincing me to go into the hospital. For some stupid reason, I still felt like I would be overreacting and I was also concerned that he hadn’t slept yet. I told him to go to bed since we had an ultrasound scheduled for 8 AM. At this point, my stomach was killing me. I was in agony. I had never felt such pain but again, chalked it up to the “stomach bug” I was having. At one point, I gave up trying to even watch t.v. Instead, I watched the minutes tick by on the clock.
Thursday, October 13th, I was now officially 37 weeks pregnant. At 7 AM, I woke Dylan for our appointment. By this time, I had begun to admit to myself that something was wrong and I told Dylan about my feelings. The drive to the hospital, which is roughly 10 minutes, was torture. The main road was under construction and every bump made me cry out. Dylan had never looked more nervous. By the time I made it into my doctor’s office (which was in the hospital), I could barely stand up. I remember panting to the secretary, “Get the doctor. Something’s wrong.” I was doubled over in pain.
The doctor was in the middle of a delivery so she asked the secretary to still have me do the ultrasound and to send me to labor and delivery afterwards. The ultrasound was another form of torture. I couldn’t even look at the screen because of the pain. I cried and cried while the ultrasound tech kept apologizing.
I somehow managed to get up to labor and delivery. A nurse took my blood pressure and blood was drawn for labs. My doctor managed to apologize to me in between two births that she was currently handling. It is such a small hospital that she was the only doctor in labor and delivery at the time. I was hooked up to an IV for fluids and I was put on a magnesium drip due to my escalating blood pressure. This was no easy task to get an IV in. I was so dehydrated from being sick that they could only get the smallest IV line in and it took two anesthesiologists to do it. They ended up having to put in four IVs in four different places in order to get the medicines I needed into my body. I had one on the inside of each wrist and one on the back of each hand. I still have a scar on the inside of my left wrist from the one that was there.
“You have HELLP Syndrome,” my doctor stated. “HELLP Syndrome? What’s that mean?” I was so confused. I had never heard of it. “It means your blood platelets are dropping and your kidneys and liver are failing. It means we’re having the baby now.” She then let me know that my numbers were high enough that she thought I could still be induced and that the ultrasound showed that the baby was healthy, despite being underweight. They estimated that the baby’s weight was 5 pounds and 3 ounces.
She ordered another round of blood work to check on my numbers. I sent my husband home to get some things for us and the baby since we rushed out so quickly. Inductions take a long time so I figured he had plenty of time. My doctor came back to give me the bad news: my numbers were declining rapidly and we could no longer wait for an induction, I needed a c-section. She then told me that they couldn’t do the c-section without having blood and platelets on hand. I am O negative and they didn’t have any in the hospital so they would have to wait for it to be transported from the blood bank 45 minutes away. She told me to call Dylan to come back in as soon as possible.
While waiting for the blood and platelets, my mother and sister arrived. My mother is a retired labor and delivery nurse so she went to speak to the doctor. When she returned, she told me that she agreed with the diagnosis and course of action. She then went and sat silently on a chair in the corner of the room. This was unusual for my mom as she is normally a talkative person, but I never even thought about it until afterwards. My sister braided my hair because I was worried how it would look in pictures. I’m in a life or death situation and I’m worried about my hair. It really just shows how much in denial I was about everything."
I was rushed through my goodbyes with my husband and family. Everything was a flurry of nervous activity. I was being wheeled through the hallway to the operating room when I heard the head anesthesiologist ask where the blood was. A woman replied, “It’s five minutes out. They’re stuck in traffic.” The anesthesiologist replied, “We need that blood here NOW! We are NOT doing this surgery without it. Get it here NOW!” The tone of his voice scared me. It was at this point that I realized that my baby and I might die.
I was quickly scrubbed down and prepped for surgery. The operating room was freezing. They put an oxygen mask on me and I began to panic. The head anesthesiologist let me know that it was going to be ok and he pulled the mask back so I could feel the fresh air on my face. Another female anesthesiologist named Erin was there and she kept stroking my hair and telling me not to worry. I will forever be grateful to her for doing that as it put me slightly at ease. I remember hearing the door open and a person said, “I’ve got the blood!”
The head anesthesiologist quickly put the mask back on my face and told me to count to ten. I didn’t even get to one. I told my husband some time later that I had a dream that I was in an arena and everyone was clapping and cheering for me. He told me it wasn’t a dream – everyone, including my own family members and hospital personnel, cheered and clapped when I was wheeled out of surgery.
I woke up by myself in recovery. They weren’t allowing family members down there due to a toddler who just had surgery and was freaking out. A nurse came in to check on me and asked how I was feeling. I responded, “Where’s my baby?” She told me not to worry about that and asked me again how I was feeling. I began to panic and I just kept saying, “Where’s my baby? I want to see my baby,” over and over again. She got another nurse who said, “Your baby is doing just fine. Relax and you’ll be able to see your baby in a little bit.” Why couldn’t the first nurse tell me that? I was worried that the baby had died.
I asked, “Are you sure? What did I have? Is it a boy or girl?”
“It’s a girl,” she replied. “A healthy girl who weighs 4 pounds and 15 ounces. Your husband is with her now.” She let me know that if I could keep down some ice chips, they would allow me to go see her. Half an hour later, I was wheeled in my bed down to the nursery. A nurse placed a crying bundle into my arms. Immediately, she stopped crying and I looked into the beautiful eyes of my tiny Eleanor Eve for the first time. It was 8:30 PM and she had been born at 5:30 PM.
Following her birth, all my blood work showed my numbers rapidly increasing. My doctor let me know that I was very lucky because a lot of women continue to decline even after delivering. She apologized to me for not recognizing it as HELLP sooner. She said it was very uncharacteristic of HELLP that I would “perk up” and be able to keep food down after the onset. She also let me know that I was her second HELLP patient, which I am very grateful for that because it enabled her to do a quick diagnosis once she saw me earlier that day.
I left the hospital five days after I had been admitted and thankfully our little girl was able to go home with us that day. As we walked down the hallway towards the main entrance, we passed Erin, the anesthesiologist who had been so nice to me. She and I almost passed each other without saying anything because neither recognized the other. I wasn’t used to seeing her in street clothes and she wasn’t used to seeing me standing! When it dawned on us, we both stopped and Erin broke into a big grin. She hugged me tightly and whispered, “It is so good to see you walk out of here.” It still gives me goosebumps to recall hearing her say that.
I feel that there were “breadcrumbs” as I call them from 27 weeks on. I feel lucky to have made it to 37 weeks with little to no effect on my baby. I was remiss that I ignored the signs and am very lucky that both my baby and I survived. Trust your gut instinct. I remember at some point before the ultrasound showed slowed growth, I commented to my doctor that my belly wasn’t that big and when would I look like a beach ball? She laughed and told me that I would look like a beach ball soon enough. I never did. When I delivered my second daughter at only 31 weeks pregnant, I was already bigger than I had been at 37 weeks pregnant with my HELLP baby.
I didn’t present many of the classic symptoms of HELLP Syndrome. I never had headaches or blurred vision. When the pain in my stomach set in, it didn’t feel concentrated to the upper right quadrant. It felt like my whole stomach was going to rip open. This may be in part due to the contractions I was having but they didn’t feel like I thought contractions were going to feel. They were sharp and radiated all over my belly.
Eleanor is now a healthy, active two and a half year old. She shows no signs of HELLP affecting her development in any way. She is now a proud big sister of baby Adelaide, who was born at 31 weeks due to severe preeclampsia, but no sign of HELLP Syndrome. It is my hope that with sharing my story and my symptoms that other women may recognize the signs and get medical attention as early as possible."