MAY 22nd is World Preeclampsia Day
I skimmed the books, I had many friends who had children before me and talked with them frequently, I visited my Obstetrician regularly, I took a prenatal class – all the things a worried first-time mom does. All this, and HELLP syndrome was never discussed.
My first pregnancy was a hard one. I had frequent morning sickness that never went away. I was placed on Diclectin at about six or seven weeks because I couldn’t keep simple foods down. I was told it would fade as I got closer to my second trimester, but it didn’t. I read about how morning sickness was a good sign and that it meant my HCG levels were high, so I tried to take small comfort in this.
At our 18-week ultrasound, we found out we were having a little girl, and it didn’t take long for us to name her. I loved the name Addison (thanks to Kate Walsh’s character on Private Practice). When I told my husband, Adam, about the name he quickly asked for its meaning. I had no idea so I walked over to our computer and typed it in. This is what came up: “Addison is an Old English given name whose etymological meaning is ‘son of Adam.'” He didn’t need convincing beyond this.
For the rest of my pregnancy, things progressed fairly uneventfully, though I was tired and sick. I had adjusted to a new kind of normal.
Then, I hit 35 weeks.
I was sick more often, I started getting random nose bleeds, my face, legs and feet started swelling and I had this pain in my upper belly that wouldn’t go away, even when I slept upright. It often radiated into my back. I thought the pain could have been from Addison stretching out in my belly. I brought it up with my OB, and since my blood pressure and urine protein were normal she agreed with me. The pain was what it was, even though it forced me to leave work early.
I thought I was being a wimp about pregnancy, and that women for centuries before me had done it and lived to tell their tales.
Addison was stubborn. Forty weeks came and went and she showed no signs of coming. There were moments I cried from the pain in my upper stomach, but I believed it to be normal because that is what I was told. I thought I was being a wimp about pregnancy, and that women for centuries before me had done it and lived to tell their tales.
I needed to push through it.
Finally, 41 weeks came and after two days of pain and pushing, our beautiful baby girl was born, through induction, at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2009.
It should have been a moment for my husband and I to celebrate, to hug and kiss over. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Immediately after delivering, I cried out to the nurses about the pain in my stomach. It had gotten much worse. It had become unbearable. That’s when I started to fall into a deep, confusing haze. I don’t remember much of what happened next because I slipped in and out of consciousness.
From what I am told, the delivery team ran tests on me that showed my liver and kidneys had failed and my blood platelets had dropped to just 17,000 (the normal number of platelets in the blood is 150,000 to 400,000 per microlitre). My blood pressure skyrocketed and they kept telling my husband that if they couldn’t get it under control I could have a seizure or a stroke.
The hospital staff had wheeled Addison down to NICU at this point to run tests on her, and my husband had no idea where he needed to be. He was a mess over what was happening. I remember waking up in a different room with a few IVs hooked up to me and a nurse’s station set up beside my bed. I have no idea how much time had passed or what had happened. I would later find out that everything I had experienced was due to Class 1 HELLP Syndrome, and what happened to me is what happens when the condition goes unnoticed.
I was told they almost lost me.
What makes this experience even more painful is that all of the moments I had been dreaming about in the months prior – Addison’s first feeds, her first diaper changes, her first bath – were all done without me. They had to be.
It wasn’t until about three days after she was born that I was awake and alert enough to hold her. The emotions of what had happened and all that I missed hit me hard. My blood pressure spiked and the nurses quickly took her away. I knew prior to this that any spike in my blood pressure put me at greater risk for seizures. I sobbed as she left. It was around day five that hospital staff stabilized me and allowed Addison to stay in my room. Two days later, we finally headed home.
It took months for me to get my full health back. Due to the stress that HELLP put on my body and my mind, I didn’t produce milk. I worked with a lactation consultant for a month, and slipped into depression over another thing I couldn’t do for my baby. Finally – between the lactation consultant, my husband and my close friends – I was able to see how happy Addison was on formula and how she was growing and thriving. Letting go gave me an opportunity to work on getting my strength back and to start bonding with Addison in other ways. I missed so much of that in her first month.
And it’s because of this rarely talked about condition.
My blood pressure skyrocketed and they kept telling my husband that if they couldn’t get it under control I could have a seizure or a stroke.
HELLP Syndrome (H – Hemolysis, EL – Elevated liver enzymes, LP – Low Platelet count) has a global maternal fatality rate reported to be as high as 25 per cent and a fetal mortality rate of 7.7 to 60 per cent. With these numbers, it scares me that it’s not talked about (more, or at all). It is so dangerous because of how quick the symptoms progress. If you’re pregnant and are experiencing spotty vision, headaches, nose bleeds, nausea, heartburn, high blood pressure, swelling or pain in your abdomen, then please call your doctor or take a trip to your hospital and insist on blood work. Urine and blood pressure alone cannot always detect this condition – I’m proof of that.
Listen to your body. When something doesn’t feel right, fight for more answers. Educate yourself. Don’t expect that your doctors will tell you everything. They do their best, but there is so much to talk about around pregnancy that not everything you need to know will be discussed.
I’m pretty sure I knew in the back of my head that the pain in my stomach and back were not right, and looking back I wish I talked about it more.
I wish I had asked for more tests.
I wish I made me a priority.
Laura, 34, lives in Toronto, Canada. She is mum to Addison, 6, and Nolan, 3.
Visit www.preeclampsia.org for more information about HELLP syndrome.