In hind sight: I did experience some visual disturbances. On two occasions I experienced what I would call "sun spots" about a month before everything happened. The first time I was sitting at my desk at work and suddenly could hardly see past these sun spots I was seeing (almost as if I had looked into the sun). It lasted shorter than a minute and I thought I had had an ocular migraine or something. It happened again a week or so later at a friends house.
Aside from experiencing nausea for the first five months and taking Diclectin for it, my pregnancy was pretty good. The next two months were even better, aside from gaining a lot of weight. Around seven months my feet started to swell terribly. I was limited to flip flops and stretchy flats. In hindsight it was not just my feet that were swelling. I had packed on almost 50lbs and even my face had taken a much rounder shape. I thought I was just gaining a lot of weight which can be normal during pregnancy. It did not cross my mind that I was retaining a lot of water. A short time after my feet started swelling, a co-worker recommended I start tracking my blood pressure. Over the next week or more, I noticed my blood pressure slowly creeping up, but nothing too concerning.
On my next appointment with my OB (June 22), my blood pressure reading was above normal (133/99). She came into the office and said she didn't like that reading and did a manual check. Which she said was much lower and normal. I explained about the swelling and how I had been tracking my blood pressure at home and that it was creeping up. She said the swelling was completely normal and to stop tracking my blood pressure at home - all is fine.
Two weeks later at my next appointment (July 6), I saw a different OB in the same office. Again, my blood pressure was high and now there was a bit of protein in my urine. She believed the reading and sent me over to the hospital for blood work. After the results came in that day, they admitted me and kept me in the hospital for two nights to ensure I got two steroid shots for my babies lungs - suspecting I have Preeclampsia and unlikely to carry to term.
On the day I got discharged (July 8), the second OB came in to tell me I have Preeclampsia. She prescribed me blood pressure medication, bed rest (leave of absence from work) and a plan to see her every few days. I wasn't too concerned since my sister was diagnosed with Preeclampsia and only ended up with edema (swelling of her legs and feet) and carried to term. I was pretty confident that I would do the same. That night (July 8), I started experiencing abdominal pain. Thinking it was heartburn, I took a couple Tums and went to bed. I had no idea the pain was coming from my liver - due to the high blood pressure.
By morning (July 9) the pain was unbearable and I was vomiting. I called my sister to see if she experienced the same thing with her Preeclampsia. She did not. I did not have a good feeling so we packed a few things in case they admitted me again and headed to the hospital. On route to the hospital my husband had to pull over so I could vomit again. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the hospital. He dropped me off at the main entrance and went to park his truck. I made my way into the hospital, nearly bent over in pain at this point. I walked up to the triage nurse, who was helping someone else at the time (I feel bad about that now!) and told her I needed to see a doctor. I explained that I was pregnant and just diagnosed with Preeclampsia and was in a lot of pain. She disappeared for a moment and came back to order my husband, who had just walked in the door, to get a wheel chair for me and take me right up to the maternity ward.
When we arrived they put us in a small room and started asking questions. I was not up to answering many so my husband answered most of them for me. The first OB I had, was on duty that day and of course, had no idea what could have been wrong since, as far as she was concerned, I was doing fine when she last saw me. I found I could not sit without the pain getting worse. The only slight comfort I got was by kneeling on the bed with my forearms resting on the back. They gave me a chalky liquid which I thought was for pain (still not sure what it was) but it did not work. A while later they hooked up an IV and started giving me morphine. Things got more comfortable but hazy after that. After being at the hospital for about three hours the blood work came back. The hospitals’ computer system was down so it took much longer for the results to get back from the lab. Once it was reviewed the decision was made to immediately ship me out to Orillia for an emergency c-section since they had a hospital equipped to handle babies under 34 weeks (approximately an hour and a half away). The last thing I remember is my husband telling me we are being transferred to Orillia. I knew what that meant and was not happy about it. It was not supposed to happen that way. It was too soon! I had a plan! We were going to have a natural birth and maybe even film some of the moments leading up to our baby girl coming into the world. My husband was going to cut the umbilical cord and I was going to hold her right after. None of those things happened.
The rest of my story was told to me by my husband and doctors since the morphine or that chalky liquid made things really hazy for me.
While we waited for the ambulance to arrive my blood pressure was reading 197/110, liver enzymes over 2500 and the proteins in my kidneys were at dangerous levels. When the paramedics arrived my husband was told he could not travel with me. He would have to follow in his own vehicle.
En route to Orillia, I had the first seizure. At that point the ambulance was detoured to Barrie (about 15 minutes closer) since it was unlikely my baby and I were going to make it to Orillia. My husband, who was on his way to Orillia got a call twenty minutes later letting him we had been detoured but the nurse who called, did not know why. When the ambulance arrived in Barrie, I was immediately taken in for an emergency c-section. I had the second seizure during the surgery. They delivered our daughter but she had no vitals. My husband had just arrived at the birthing unit waiting room when they called the Code Pink. I can't imagine what that would have been like. They had to resuscitate her three times but eventually got her breathing. She was then sent to the NICU. They inserted a breathing tube and sent me down to the ICU once the surgery was complete. That night (July 9) they suspect I am bleeding internally and send me to imaging where they found I was bleeding out from my uterus (due to low platelets). My husband then had to sign a waiver agreeing to a surgery to try and stop the bleeding (embolization?) and if that didn't work, a hysterectomy. Fortunately, the surgery worked and they were able to stop the bleeding. I required a couple of blood transfusions due to the blood loss and a few chest x-rays to monitor the fluid built up around my lungs.
To aid with the healing, they kept me in a medically induced coma the next day (July 10), which also happened to be my husband’s birthday. Best. Birthday. Ever.
On Saturday (July 11) they took out the breathing tube and had me on oxygen. The only memory I have from that day is hearing my husband’s voice telling me we had a baby and that she was beautiful. I have another short memory of seeing her dark hair. One of the NICU nurses offered to bring our daughter down to the ICU for us to meet. My husband and I will forever be grateful for this. I thought I was dreaming at the time, but I vividly remember seeing her head full of hair. It all seemed surreal though.
It was planned that they would move me up to the maternity ward so I would be closer to Vivian (our daughter). I was moved up to the ward and my husband wheeled me into the NICU to meet Vivian, a full three days after she was born. She was still in the incubator and one of the nurses brought her out for some skin on skin. I would love to tell you that I instantly bonded, but at that point, it still didn't feel real. Everything happened so fast, it had not registered. Also, at this point, I had no idea what had happened to us.
That Sunday night did not go well. Once my family and husband (who had to go home to look after our two dogs and get some sleep) had left for the night and I was to sleep, I found myself afraid to close my eyes. I was convinced that if I closed my eyes, I was not going to wake up. I made my way out to the nurses station to ask my nurse where the call button was in case I needed help. My nurse that night (Ingrid) came back to my room and sat with me. I still wasn’t able to sleep but she certainly helped calm my nerves. I will never forget her kindness.
The next morning (Monday), my husband came in and explained all that he knew. He said the doctors told him I had HELLP syndrome and we were very lucky to be alive. He endured the longest four days of his life, biding his time between the NICU with our daughter and the ICU with me. It took a few days to process everything but I eventually googled HELLP syndrome and realized the severity of what had happened to my daughter and I.
I was kept at the hospital until that Thursday (a full week later) during which time several doctors and surgeons came to check on me, but I had no idea who they were. I had a couple more chest x-rays done, blood work and constant monitoring of my blood pressure. On the plus side, I was able to go in and visit with Vivian whenever I wanted. I'd go in a lot during the night when I couldn't sleep.
It was about a week later, during one of my skin on skin visits with Vivian, that it actually hit. This was my baby girl. And I was never going to let anything bad happen to her.
My husband had to go back to work the next week, which caused some stress. I had just had a c-section so could not drive and we live about an hour from the hospital. We ended up looking at a few places near the hospital for me to stay for the month so I could be close to Vivian. All were too expensive or not available. It was a few days later we ended up getting blessed and a friend knew of someone with a basement apartment available. So for the next month while our daughter was in the NICU we all lived separately - my husband back home, our daughter at the hospital and me in an apartment in Barrie. It was stressful and lonely, but we made it through, the end goal getting our daughter home.
Our daughter grows every day and is perfect. She passed her hearing tests and appears to have no effects from the HELLP syndrome. After a month in the NICU she is now home and we are so thankful.
My blood pressure slowly went back to normal after about two weeks and I seem to have no other side effects. With some breathing exercises the fluid around my lungs cleared up and there appears to be no permanent damage to my liver or kidneys. I just had blood pockets from the second surgery which dissipated with time.
I almost feel too lucky to have walked away from all this. I would not wish this experience on anyone and want nothing more than for people (and especially doctors) to be educated on HELLP syndrome. I've learned early detection is so important and can mean the difference between life and death.
I wish all the very best to all you HELLP moms and babies.