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This post is from Sonja, who blogs about motherhood and more at Too Much Character
Even After I got HELLP, It Was Still Worth It
As an elementary teacher, at 38 weeks pregnant, I barely made it to my Spring Break. I was exhausted, but ready to tackle a few more projects for the finishing touches on our nursery with my week off of school.
Instead of setting up the last of the baby gear and a diaper station, a stomach bug lead to me throwing up at all hours of that first night into the next day. Let me tell you, being that pregnant makes it extremely difficult to bend over and toss your cookies.
After lots of rounds of this, I was concerned about the health of the baby. It was the weekend, so I went into Urgent Care to be seen. I ended up getting an IV to put fluids back in me. There was a urine screening done that found some protein, but I was told not to worry about it. I was told it was due to dehydration.
The next day when I was finally on the mend, I stood up and thought, “Did I just pee myself?” Then I got suspicious. After calling the nurseline, I was told to come in and get checked out.
With nervous excitement, my husband quickly loaded up our bags and off we sped to the hospital. Only to wait a long time.
Already Cracking His Dad Jokes
When we were admitted to our own room, it was St. Patrick’s Day, and my husband started making jokes about having a leprechaun.
My contractions were getting intense, so I ordered an epidural that provided amazing relief. Dan loved watching the chart showing contractions, and asked if I felt bigger ones. “Nope!” He then decided it was like watching the stock market. “Buy, buy, buy! Sell, sell, sell!” he chanted.
At this point my husband started a playlist with his favorite songs for labor. He played “Push It” and “Final Countdown,” and I was giggling at his choices. We were enjoying ourselves and couldn’t wait to meet our little guy.
The Fun Wore Off
My contractions started slowing down and I wasn’t making much progress dilating. As a result, I was put on Pitocin to speed things along. Speed was not the word to describe this process, as we were there for the entirety of St. Patrick’s Day and still no baby.
Now it’s tough to remember the order of all that happened during those 24 hours of St. Patty’s Day. It was long, intense, and distressing under those not-so-calming fluorescent lights. Apparently my water just trickled, so a doctor had to break it. The medical team was concerned that there might be meconium in the amniotic fluid, so I was informed there would be extra staff on hand for delivery in case it was inhaled into the baby’s lungs. I also developed a fever and needed some medication through IV, as well as an oxygen mask.
At one point our baby’s heartbeat dropped, which caused machines to blare their beeping while a medical team rushed into the room. I was told to get on all fours while they assessed the situation. Nothing kicked off some intense prayers like that moment with my husband grasping my hand.
Thankfully the baby’s heartbeat returned to a more normal range, but a doctor talked with us about the possibility of a C-section being necessary should that happen again. We signed off on paperwork just in case I needed to be whisked off.
Thank goodness that C-section was never needed. With the help of a peanut shaped exercise ball, I was positioned in ways that kept baby’s heartbeat steady. I later found out that when O was born, he had his umbilical cord partially draped around his neck and under an armpit, which explained the fluctuating heartbeat.
By the time I had finally made enough progress to start pushing, the epidural had worn off. I was informed that there wouldn’t be any more. I repeated, “so there is no more epidural?” paused, and then set my mind to the task at hand. I was just so done with the process and ready to meet my baby.
I cannot say enough positive things about my labor and delivery nurse who guided me through the contractions. She and Dan encouraged me with every push. My contractions had been consistent until the last push. Then it took FOREVER with the worst pain I have experienced as I waited for the cue to give it my final all.
Waiting for that first cry seemed to take forever. O was under lights being examined by a doctor and nurses when my prayers were answered with a feisty cry. Relief washed over me. He checked out as healthy, and for that I am forever grateful.
The moment he was placed on my chest was life altering. My little one, in the flesh. After a bit too eventful past few days, he was perfect and so sweet. Nothing prepares you for the amount of love that floods into your soul for your new baby, as well as the love that swells witnessing your partner step into their new parental role.
Complications For Me
I wish I could end my writing here, with my favorite part of the story. However, in the interest in educating other expecting mothers for being an advocate for their own health, I will elaborate.
O was born on a Wednesday morning. I was discharged on Thursday afternoon, after asking my doctor about being so uncomfortable with swollen legs. It was dismissed as being a part of the side effects from the drugs I was on for labor.
Once home, my legs continued to swell and I was miserable. That Friday, I called the number listed on my discharge papers for the home healthcare nurseline, and again was told that leg swelling was normal with the drugs I had for delivery. I took their word, and held onto the fact that a nurse was coming to my house the next morning to check on me and the baby.
My parents were nervous about the swelling that went up past my knees, so I emailed my ob/gyn to check in on her advice. There was a winter storm approaching, so I insisted that my parents drive back to Illinois to beat the snow.
Emergency Room Visit
A few hours later, I noticed I had received an email back from the ob/gyn nurse to call the triage number. When I explained to the nurse that the swelling was up to my thighs, she told me to immediately head into the ER. “Can you get there right away? Should I call an ambulance for you?”
There’s nothing as unsettling as having your husband rush to get you to the ER with a newborn, only to sit and wait for your turn with all of the sick people around your brand new baby. We quickly realized that we didn’t want our son there. Thankfully a good friend had the same car seat base as us, so we were able to send O home with her to be cared for away from all the stress and germs.
After being checked for blood clots, I was given a drug to help my body get rid of the water. The nurse told us I would most likely be heading home after other screening results came back. However, around midnight, my blood test results admitted me into the hospital because due to elevated liver enzymes. It turned out I had HELLP Syndrome, which is thought to be a variant of preeclampsia.
All of the fluids my body was retaining were dangerous to the point that my liver was being affected. That weekend I was given magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures while my body worked on getting rid of the excess liquid. All the while, my husband was suddenly caring for our newborn by himself. It wasn’t the start to parenthood that we had anticipated.
Serious Consequences Avoided
I was fortunate that I went in when I did. Having delayed treatment could have meant serious consequences for me and my liver. Instead, I was able to receive treatment and be monitored until there was an improvement.
In retrospect, I now wonder if I really had a stomach bug or if that was a symptom of the HELLP syndrome showing its ugly head before delivery. If a pregnant woman notice symptoms like nausea, blurred vision, swelling, or headaches, it’s something to contact her healthcare professional about.
Most cases of the HELLP syndrome happen before delivery, and having the baby cures it. For me, I was one of the few cases that had it develop after delivery.
Here’s the thing, mamas – if something feels way off for you in your pregnancy or postpartum recovery, keep talking with medical professionals until you are taken seriously. Same goes for the well-being of your little one. Trust your gut.
With a first pregnancy resulting in the HELLP Syndrome, I was closely monitored during my second pregnancy. That delivery was vastly different and so positive. My blood pressure was continuously evaluated and liver enzymes were checked during my third trimester. It was a night and day difference between the experiences.
The best part of both deliveries was meeting my little ones and watching my husband hold each one for the first time. Those are the moments that make the whole process worthwhile and worth repeating.
For more of Sonja’s funnier thoughts on motherhood, head over to Too Much Character.
If you’d like to add your own birth story, I’d love to feature you, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org