This is part 3 of my pregnancy story. Read part 1 about trying to conceive with pcos here, and part 2 about my pregnancy here.
Pictured here is me at my worst, in the hospital before Bella's arrival. I didn't realize it at the time, but in this photo my body was shutting down and so was Bella's inside of me. For comparison, you can see photos of what I *normally* look like on other blog posts, or on my instagram, which is not like this! I joke now that I looked like a cyclops. Very scary.
So, back to my pregnancy pains.
I am at home, and I had been up all night, only sleeping when my tylenol would give me about 2 hours of relief between the doses I had been taking like clockwork every 4 or 6 hours for the past week or so. For some reason I was still convinced that this was all normal pregnancy pain. I was just entering the third trimester and friends were telling me it gets really uncomfortable, so I just thought I was experiencing the normal uncomfortablness. In the middle of the night, I ran out of Tylenol. I was in so much pain everywhere and googled what time the closest grocery store would open. My body felt achey and feverish like when you are sick. The store opened at 6am so I drove to the store one mile away at 6am, bought the pain reliever, took it in the car, and came back home. When I got home I told adam I really wasn't feeling well. I remember just crying into my pillow from the pain and constantly going into a fetal position with my head in the pillow because no position made me feel good. We got on the phone with his mom and she knew of the symptoms I had been having the past few weeks. She told me she saw a photo of me from 4th of July and that I really didn't look good at all and that I look really swollen, and that I should go to the ER because I might have preeclampsia. At this point I had a horrible migraine. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror to see that my face was incredibly swollen, and starting to tingle. My eyelids were swollen, and I just remember my nose tingling. I didn't know if I was swollen from crying, but this seemed like more.
So we drove to the closest ER just a few miles away, which is at the hospital I was supposed to deliver at. This is the morning of Sunday, July 7. I walk in and tell the person at the counter my symptoms. He immediately looks worried and says something like "ok. um I think, yea, hold on." He then came through the door with a wheelchair and told me to sit down and I start crying because he seemed so worried and I didn't understand why I needed a wheelchair. Adam is with me and they take us back to a room where they have me immediately put on a hospital gown, and start running all sorts of tests. I think first was my blood pressure which was through the roof at 200/118! For comparison, a normal blood pressure reading for a pregnant woman should be around 120/80. Everyone was very panicked at this point and they told me I'm on the verge of having a stroke, which explains the numbness/tingling in my nose and the horrible headache. The reason for the high blood pressure was because high blood pressure is one *symptom* of HELLP syndrome, not to be confused with high blood pressure being a *cause* of HELLP syndrome. I did not do anything wrong to cause the high blood pressure. It came out of nowhere as a symptom of the HELLP syndrome that my body was going through.
I think they took my blood next. They called my OBGYN but she was not working that day, so one of her partners was on call and came in for her. He was asking me all sorts of questions and seemed like he was really thinking hard and quick, and I could tell everything seemed very urgent. More and more nurses and specialists kept coming in, taking more blood, putting an iv in my arm, and told me I need to go on a magnesium iv because I'm on the verge of having a stroke, and the magnesium will slow my body down but may make me feel nauseous, hot, and give me blurred vision. I think around this time they told us they think it might be preeclampsia, and that I need to be transferred to another local hospital that has a level 4 NICU incase I have to deliver early, so I don't have to be in a separate hospital from my baby. At this point they put a catheter in me, and transferred me to another bed so they could wheel me into an ambulance. I was very scared but also in a lot of pain so I just had my eyes closed a lot and I think all the nurses were trying to keep me calm to not raise my blood pressure more. I've always been very healthy so I've never even been in a hospital as a patient, let alone an ambulance. They advised Adam to drive behind the ambulance to the other hospital, while two paramedics rode in the back of the ambulance with me. They didn't talk the entire way. I kept my eyes closed. It seemed like a long drive, about 20 minutes. On the way there, Adam called my mom and she met us at the hospital. He was probably very scared in this moment.
Once I got to the new hospital, they put me in a pretty large, nice room. I guess this is the side where women deliver babies. I remember some of the nurses. Adam seemed so calm and kept spirits high and hopeful, making small talk with all of the nurses, and putting my favorite shows on the tv. A specialty OBGYN came in and assessed me, then gave us the game plan. He said something along the lines of "ok this is not just preeclampsia, this is what we call HELLP syndrome. I'm looking for these few things to classify this as HELLP syndrome, and you have all of them. The only way to cure this is by getting the baby out. So we are going to give you two rounds of steroid shots to help develop the baby's lungs, and in two days, we will take her out via c-section." He continued to talk but I remember immediately crying and Adam interrupting and saying something like "wait - so we are going to have the baby in two days?" The doctor then explained more, and brought in a neonatologist to explain the chances of the baby's survival and what the baby's experience will be in the NICU after the delivery. Then they brought in a NICU nurse to show us how small her first diaper will be, after I asked how big she would be. I have one I will take a photo of - it was *very* tiny! All this time I am supposed to be remaining calm to not raise my blood pressure more. So we had to really limit any visitors and tell them to be very calm in the room. I don't know if the nurses or doctors had separate conversations with Adam or my mom, but I'm sure they were reading some really scary things on google. No doctor or nurse ever told me that the death rate of women with HELLP syndrome is 30%. I thought to myself that the baby might not make it, but I had no idea that I was at risk of dying too.
What is HELLP syndrome? You can read all about preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome here. But in short, according to The Preeclampsia Foundation,
"HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Both conditions usually occur during the later stages of pregnancy, or sometimes after childbirth.
HELLP syndrome was named by Dr. Louis Weinstein in 1982 after its characteristics:
H(hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells)
EL(elevated liver enzymes)
LP(low platelet count)
HELLP syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, especially when high blood pressure and protein in the urine aren't present. Its symptoms are sometimes mistaken for gastritis, flu, acute hepatitis, gall bladder disease, or other conditions. The mortality rate of HELLP syndrome has been reported to be as high as 30%. That's why it's critical for expecting mothers to be aware of the condition and its symptoms so they can receive early diagnosis and treatment."
It is important to understand that preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome are not caused by something that the pregnant mother did wrong during pregnancy. Both can happen to very healthy women for reasons completely unrelated to health, diet, weight, activity level, etc. This is really hard for a lot of people to understand, especially women who get it. We often rack our brains over and over, wondering what we did wrong during pregnancy to cause this to happen.
What I've gathered from a ton of research and personal education from some of the best high risk OBGYNs in the state, is that my placenta was not properly functioning. My body and Bella were competing for survival instead of the placenta working symbiotically between me and Bella. There is question about how preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome are caused. But most research points to something to do with my body rejecting the father's foreign DNA, not allowing the placenta to properly form. It happens so early, during the plantation phase. This is okay during the first half of pregnancy, but once the baby starts getting bigger after 20 weeks, women who have preeclampsia will start to show symptoms. It is said that there is about a 20% chance of HELLP recurring in subsequent pregnancies, but some say that if it is with the same partner, the chance decreases more because there won't be as much of a 'foreign DNA' issue as there was with the first pregnancy. Also, baby asprin is the only proven medication to help prevent preeclampsia.
So back to the hospital - At this point, they had started giving me Percocet for pain relief because my back was still in *so* much pain, and I was also on the intense magnesium iv. I threw up when they first gave me the pain medication because I think it was just too much for my body. The magnesium was having really bad affects on me. I could only see with one eye open. If both eyes were open, I would see double like I was really drunk but worse. My dad and brother visited, but I probably looked pretty scary. The magnesium also made me really wobbly, I couldn't walk to the bathroom without support from a nurse.
I don't think I lasted a full two days before needing to have the c-section. I didn't sleep much because the nurses came in very often to monitor me and the baby. They kept losing the baby's heartbeat with the monitor strapped to my stomach, and I was in so much pain that I kept having to move around to find a comfortable position. I remember joking with the nurses that I was going to name Bella "juice" because it seemed as though they were keeping her alive inside of me by making me drink cups of juice every 30 minutes or so. They said it was to 'wake her back up' so they could find her heartbeat. Pretty sad looking back, it seems like they were losing her inside of me but they wanted to wait until the very last possible hour to take her out, to give the steroid shots time to work to let her lungs develop inside of me. The night before the surgery I remember crying to the night nurse as she fixed my iv, telling her how scared I was to have a c-section because I knew nothing about c-sections. I asked if she had ever had a c-section, and she said no, but confided in me that she was actually newly pregnant, but that nobody knew yet so don't tell anyone. I thought it was nice that she confided in me and it brought me a little comfort.
This whole time Adam was sleeping in the hospital with me. He would leave the room to talk to his family or my parents on the phone to update them. Looking back, I realize he must have been so scared. But something inside of him must have just clicked on because around me he was calm and positive, which is exactly what I needed. If he were a stress ball or freaking out, this all would have been a completely different situation for me.
On delivery day, I was supposed to have the surgery at a certain time, but my pain was so horrible that the doctor said "Okay we need to get this baby out right now. Are there any other surgeries scheduled right now?" So they gave Adam a jumpsuit, gave us a quick rundown, and next thing I know I'm being wheeled through the hallway into the surgery room.
See my next post titled "Emergency C and The Magical Mystery Bus Tour" to read about my c-section, panic attack, and hallucinations. Coming soon.