I was 28-weeks pregnant when I started feeling like something wasn’t quite right. Physically I felt fantastic, but I was concerned about my small belly. I thought I should be bigger, I thought maybe my daughter wasn’t growing as she should. When I brought it up to my doctor, she chalked it up to my own small build. “It’s your first pregnancy, it’s normal,” she said.
At 36-weeks pregnant, I had a few high blood pressure readings. Once again my doctor was not overly concerned because everything else checked out. But we went ahead and scheduled an induction at 38-weeks.
At our next ultrasound, the technician felt the baby was small for gestation age. I tried to hold it together while she finished the procedure, but when we got back in the truck, I broke down.
“Something is wrong!” I sobbed to my husband. “She shouldn’t be so small!”
He comforted me and assured me everything would be OK, but I knew he was concerned too.
It was late in the evening and I started feeling a little off. I was 37 weeks and 1 day pregnant, and I thought maybe the fast-food burger I had eaten for dinner wasn’t sitting well. I tried to sleep but woke shortly later with very intense right shoulder pain. No matter what position I tried, the pain was relentless. I popped a few antacids thinking it was merely heartburn. It was the middle of the night, and I, naively, didn’t want to disturb anyone.
By the time my husband woke up at 2 a.m. for his night check (we were right in the middle of calving season), I was only getting more and more miserable. I rode with him over to the ranch since I couldn’t sleep anyway. That’s when the vomiting started. He checked the cows as I heaved behind a fence.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure it’s just food poisoning,” I replied.
We got back home and my exhausted husband was back asleep before his head hit the pillow. I was up and down, pacing, and horribly uncomfortable. I realized that the pain in my right arm had now moved into my chest. It was the strangest and most unrelenting pain I had ever experienced.
As an EMT, my training and logic told me that a physically fit 22-year-old would not be having a heart attack, but if I didn’t know any better, that’s what it felt like.
It had been the longest night of my life, and by 7 a.m., I couldn’t take it anymore. It finally dawned on me that something really could be wrong. I woke my husband with the intention of having him take me to my OB’s office half an hour away. We arrived there and realized no one was in the office that Friday. We had no other choice but to go to the ER.
I explained to the ER doctor what had been plaguing me. He suspected it was a gall bladder attack and offered me some morphine. I declined and realized I was now having regular contractions, which got me a ticket up to L&D. I was relieved to know someone would be checking on my baby soon.
I was checked in to L&D where they noted my blood pressure was extremely, extremely high. I once again began explaining to the on-call OB what I had been experiencing for the past 12 hours. She listened intently and leaned over to her nurse, “We are NOT leaving this room, I think I know what this is.”
My baby girl’s steady heartbeat thumping in the background gave me peace of mind while we waited for lab results.
When the doctor entered, she carried a solemn expression, “You are a lot sicker than we thought.” She paused as she pondered. “You have something called HELLP Syndrome, and it is very serious. Your platelets are dangerously low and dropping by the minute, you are in liver failure, and my strong recommendation is an emergency cesarean. We will also be putting you on magnesium which will cause you to feel very ill, but it is needed to prevent your body from any further damage.”
I glanced toward my husband as he started to tear up, I didn’t realize until that moment just how terrified he was. We agreed, and within minutes the anesthesiologist came to talk to us as the nurse placed a catheter. He recommended general anesthesia due to my low platelets making a very high risk of a hematoma forming on my spine post spinal block, which would likely paralyze me. I hated the idea of missing my daughter’s birth but agreed. My angel disguised as a soft-spoken, gray-haired OB, interjected and suggested a platelet infusion during surgery which would decrease my chance of developing a hematoma and allow for a spinal block. I would be awake during delivery. My husband and I were relieved.
In the blink of an eye, I heard my daughter’s first cry. My husband and I joined her in happy tears as we soaked in her features.
She was so small for her gestational age, only five pounds and six ounces, but she was stunning and such a fighter. She had been starved for nutrients as the placenta prematurely died and failed to do its job. I instantly felt an intense connection to this tiny and mighty girl of ours. We had fought a battle together and come out on the other side. After some dextrose, she was as normal as any other baby. And after a couple more fuzzy days on magnesium, my blood pressure and blood work started to return to normal. We were out of the woods.
Later on, I began to look up statistics on HELLP syndrome. I had never heard of it before and still had so many questions about what it was. The statistics were shocking. The infant mortality rate is as high as 60%. HELLP Syndrome is extremely rare, occurring in less than 1% of pregnancies.
I had zero of the risk factors, and I still developed it. I had never been told to watch for symptoms of it, but when I came across other women’s stories of this condition, a few words stuck out to me: seizures, stroke, cardiac arrest. This was nothing to take lightly. Some had survived, others were family members telling their stories and pleading for better education on the condition.
So mamas, trust your gut when you feel like something isn’t quite right.
Tell your friends, your sisters—don’t ignore strange symptoms. It may be rare, but it happened to me, and it could, heaven forbid, happen to you. I can only hope that everyone leaves the hospital with a healthy baby like I did.
I feel like my daughter and I are closer than ever because of what we went through together. I will be forever thankful for the blessing of her. I stare at her in wonder on a daily basis, and I hope that never changes. I will never know why the Good Lord takes some and spares others, but I am looking forward to the day when all the lost babies can be held by their mothers in Heaven. In the meantime, Jesus will perform that honor for us.