My first pregnancy was full of surprises, including finding out that– SURPRISE! Ten days before my wedding–my nausea wasn’t wedding nerves, but morning sickness. At my last wedding-dress fitting my boobs were spilling out the top, not because it was that time of the month, but because I was pregnant!
I was in total denial. I couldn’t be pregnant: I wasn’t married yet! I ended up being almost 8 weeks pregnant at my wedding and feeling pretty crappy, even with the anti-nausea pills the doctor had given me. My morning sickness lasted through the end of the first trimester, and then I felt great; I was so excited to be married, with a baby on the way.
Unfortunately the feeling good lasted only a couple of weeks. I had horrible tailbone pain from about 18 weeks on, and my desk job did not help. After 24 weeks, my weight really started to increase, even though I wasn’t overeating. Soon after that came the swelling and the purchase of old lady orthopedic shoes for work because my feet wouldn’t fit into anything else. I really started to feel awful on Christmas day when I was about 29 weeks. My stomach was upset, and I just didn’t have much of an appetite, but the rapid weight gain continued.
I knew pregnancy wasn’t easy, but I started to wonder, “Is it really supposed to be this bad? Is this normal?” Not wanting to be an obnoxious, super-complaining first-time pregnant mom, I figured that everything must be normal. I didn’t hold anything back from my doctors, but when I went to my regular visits everything seemed fine. No red flags.
On Monday, January 25, 2010, I went to my regular appointment at 33 weeks and started telling the doctor how horrible I had been feeling– tailbone pain, nausea, foot pain, etc. She said, unfortunately, that’s just what happens toward the end. I went to work every day the rest of that week and through the weekend. On Thursday night I randomly had a nosebleed; I wasn’t quite sure what to do because I had never had one before, but I’d always remembered from TV that they would stuff toilet paper in the person’s nose and tell her to hold her head back. However, a quick Google search and almost choking taught me that that is NOT what you want to do. You actually want to tilt your head forward, and it should stop in about 10 minutes. But 25 minutes later, my nose was still gushing. Right when we really started to get worried at around 30 minutes, it stopped.
The next day at work I felt pretty bad. I tried to keep my feet propped up to ease the swelling, and my nose and throat still felt weird after the nosebleed. I felt like I needed to clear my nose, so I breathed in really hard, and all of a sudden I felt something in my throat. When I ran to the bathroom to spit it out, I discovered that it was a huge blood clot about the size of a quarter. It totally freaked me out, but I knew it was just from the nosebleed. Should I call the doctor? No, it was just the nosebleed.
Saturday and Sunday were tough. Although I did not feel like moving, I worked both days. Then I started to notice that my urine was really dark, no matter how much water I drank. I called my older sister, who had had preeclampsia during her first pregnancy, and asked her if it was protein in my urine. That’s what they always tested at my doctor appointments. Would I be able to tell? She told me I should definitely call the doctor. It was Sunday then and my friends at work were telling me to call because I was so swollen. Well, what are they going to do on a Sunday? I’ll call tomorrow.
On Monday morning I was running errands with my mom and called my doctor’s office to see if they could fit me in. I told them I had gained seven pounds in one week and that I was really swollen. They worked me in that morning, and I asked my mom if she would mind coming along. They weighed me and yes, I had gained seven pounds in one week for a whopping total of 59 pounds at only 34 weeks. My doctor was worried about my swelling, and I did have protein in my urine. When they took my blood pressure, it was 121/80: still normal, but high for me.
As a precautionary measure, my doctor sent me over to the hospital for more testing. She ordered blood-pressure and fetal heart-rate monitoring, as well as blood work. At this point, I really wasn’t worried. I thought, well, I guess I have preeclampsia. They’re probably going to put me on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy. As I lay in the hospital bed sending jokey texts to my sisters and talking to my mom about the nurse being totally rude, I didn’t realize that my blood pressure had shot up to 155/95. I glanced over at the monitor and told my mom, who said not to worry–it was probably just nerves. Then the snippy nurse (ironically, this nurse eventually became my favorite) who wouldn’t give us any info or let us know when we would be able to leave came in and asked if I had ever been anemic.–No. Before I could even ask why she was back out the door. Now I was worried. What’s going on? Why is my blood pressure rapidly going up? Why am I still being monitored? My doctor told me an hour, and it’s been two. Why won’t anyone tell me anything?
A new nurse suddenly came in. Finally! Someone’s going to tell me something. “Well, you aren’t going to be leaving today. Your doctor is coming up with a plan of action and will be calling you on that phone soon.” What!? Plan of action? What does that mean? She informed me that the doctor would explain, but they needed to get the baby out.
Instead of a phone call, my amazing doctor sprinted across the street to the hospital and explained that I had an extreme form of preeclampsia called HELLP syndrome (Hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low blood platelets). She told me that because my body had become toxic, and the only recourse was to get the baby out via an emergency C-section. I was at Baptist Beaches Hospital, which does not have a NICU. She told me that they would normally life-flight me downtown, but they didn’t have time. If anything was wrong with the baby, I would remain at Beaches and they would life-flight the baby to Baptist Health Center downtown.
The whole time everything was being explained to me, I didn’t really realize how serious my condition was. I was so worried about the baby that I just kept praying that he or she would be okay. When my doctor said, “Normally we would life flight you downtown, but we don’t have time,” I thought it was because they wanted to get the baby out before something happened to it; I didn’t realize they were actually afraid that I wouldn’t make it.
It was all so much to take in. Luckily, my husband was on a job nearby and made it there really quickly. We had decided not to find out the baby’s sex, but we had narrowed it down to two girl names and two boy names. We quickly discussed the options and made a semi-decision; we would finalize it once we saw him or her.
The delivery-room nurses were still discussing with the anesthesiologist whether to put me completely under for the C-section or whether I should be kept awake because of my blood platelet count. In the end, they decided I should be awake because they were afraid I would slip into a coma.
The whole C-section experience was surreal and happened so fast. I felt really hazy and just wanted to know my baby was okay. Eight minutes after they gave me the spinal, my doctor lifted her in the air and she let out a feisty scream as my husband yelled, “It’s a bo…GIRL!” He got confused when he saw the umbilical cord. Teeny Elizabeth Kingsley weighed only 4 pounds, 11 ounces, but she still scored a 9 on the Apgar scale and had no need for the NICU.
Two hours later, I was on a high, so happy to have my healthy little girl with me at last. They told me she would have a hard time breastfeeding because she was a preemie, but she latched on right away. I had to be put on magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures and help lower my blood pressure.
The high was gone the next day when I started to feel really bad again. My legs became so swollen that I couldn’t even bend them at the knees. My blood pressure was still very elevated, and the magnesium sulfate was giving me a horrible migraine, making me feel like my whole body was on fire. Right as all these things were happening, some visitors came into my room. I felt awful, looked awful, and did not want to see anyone. I started to panic, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by nurses pumping meds into my IV. I was knocked out for a couple of hours and finally got some sleep, but my blood pressure was still high.
The three days following my delivery were awful. On Wednesday night my blood pressure skyrocketed to 200 over 105, and they had to start taking it every two minutes until it eventually went down. Finally, on Thursday I started to feel better and was off of the magnesium sulfate. That was when everything started to sink in. When my old pediatrician–who also became Kingsley’s doctor–came to visit, she said, “Geez, Meg, I’m so glad you called that morning! To think that if you had gone about your day without coming in, you would have just stroked out on us–scary!”
What? I mean, I knew it was bad, but I could have died? For some reason, that just hadn’t occurred to me. I was so worried about the baby that I didn’t even realize everyone was actually worried about me and wondering whether I would make it. Before my own experience with HELLP Syndrome, I had never even heard of it–it was definitely NOT in my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting!
In the two weeks after Kingsley’s birth, I lost 30 pounds; for eight weeks I was on blood pressure medication and iron supplements. After that, I was pretty much back to normal except for the 29 other pounds I needed to lose, but I was happy to have both my little fighter and my health.
Now, almost three years later, I’m finally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone who’s heard my story or knows how Kingsley was the first year or so (that’s a whole other story!) always asks, “Are you scared to do it again?” Well, my chances of having HELLP Syndrome again are lower, and they will monitor me more closely throughout my pregnancy. And this time around, I know what is and isn’t normal; I will happily complain about everything this time! And yes, I do want to do it again because I want a different experience. I want to have a healthy pregnancy and a normal delivery. I know that may not happen, but I still want to try.
UPDATE 5/20/13: I wrote this back in December with an optimistic outlook on baby number 2, but the truth is I’m kind of scared. I am so thankful that I made it through with a healthy baby girl that is thriving and gives me joy every day. When it really came down to thinking about being pregnant and possibly having this happen again, it started to make me feel really anxious. I am now a mom to a beautiful, smart 3-year-old girl who needs me. What if something happened and the outcome was not positive? I’ve been struggling with these feelings the last 5 months since writing my post and as much as I wish to have a healthy and normal pregnancy and another baby, I’m not sure I’m in the right place mentally yet. I plan to meet with my OBGYN and a high-risk doctor to talk about some of my concerns before I proceed.