May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that begins around 20 weeks into a mother’s pregnancy when the mother develops high blood pressure. Preeclampsia’s mean, ugly sister is HELLP syndrome. HELLP stands for H- hemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells) EL- elevated liver enzymes (liver function) LP- low platelets counts. I am sure you are thinking, “I’ve never heard of of a mama having HELLP, what is that?” Well, here is my HELLP story.
I was 34 and in law school when I was pregnant with my first child. My doctor told me I was a high risk pregnancy because of my age and school stressors and, instead of listening to his advice, all I heard was “you are too old to have a baby!”
Instead of listening to my doctor, I decided that reading What to Expect When You Are Expecting, would tell me all I need to know. But, I never made it to page 532. Had I read this section I would have known about HELLP Syndrome and I might have known that I was in for a rocky ride!
Early in my pregnancy, I had high blood pressure issues that I dismissed as normal under the circumstances. Over the course of a week I swelled up like the ninja in Big Trouble in Little China and just thought that every pregnant mama has a little swelling. At about 30 weeks I was having serious spicy food cravings. My jam was spicy Italian sausage and peppers! After devouring a bowl of this deliciousness, I started having incredible abdomen pain, nausea and dizziness.
My hubby drove me to the ER and I was going downhill fast. The nurses put me in a wheelchair and whisked me to the elevator. When the elevator doors opened, I passed out. I don’t remember much else of that day, or any day until my baby was three days old. So, the rest of my story is pieced together from my husband, mom, sister, friends and family.
My doctor was delivering a baby at another hospital, so the nurses hooked me up to a monitor and waited for his arrival. While waiting, I had a seizure, and another seizure, and another.
By the fourth seizure, they strapped me to the bed so that I would not fall out. The bruises left on my arm looked like I had been beaten with a sock full of rocks. Once my doctor arrived, he checked me out and told my family that he would do his best to keep my baby and I alive, but he needed their prayers. Let me tell you, the prayer warriors were in full effect that day!
After being in surgery for hours, my doctor came out of the operating room and told my husband that our little boy was strong and healthy, but that my liver and kidneys were failing. I flatlined once and thankfully the medical team revived me, but there was no guarantee I could survive a second one. The doctor told my husband that he needed to prepare himself to be a single father. I can’t imagine the pain he felt hearing those words. Or the anguish my mother and sister felt knowing that they may lose their daughter and sister.
I, on the other hand, struggled to recover from my organ shutdown. I remember two things during the 48 hours after my son’s birth. I remember my husband showing me a video of our son as he was lying in an NICU incubator and not being able to comprehend why he was there. I also remember telling the nurse I needed to go to the restroom and escaping down the hall to try to find my son.
Looking back on it, the thought of me scooting down the hospital hallway wearing the unflattering hospital gown giving everyone a show, brings a bit of levity to an otherwise heavy situation.
I was eventually released from the hospital after about a week and my son was released after a month. Ten years later, Mason is just as the doctor first described him – tough as nails! I tell my story because I want other mamas to be aware of the warning signs and seek medical attention at the first sign of the symptoms. I also want mamas who have experienced preeclampsia or HELLP to know that you will make it through!
Pregnant mammas, if you have any of these symptoms, you may be experiencing Preeclampsia:
- Rapid weight gain caused by a significant increase in bodily fluid
- Abdominal pain
- Severe headaches
- Change in reflexes
- Reduced urine or no urine output
- Excessive vomiting and nausea
- Vision changes
HELLP Syndrome symptoms include:
- Vision problems.
- Pain in the upper right abdomen (liver).
- Shoulder, neck, and other upper body pain (this pain also originates in the liver).
- Nausea and vomiting.
Don’t discount these symptoms as “normal” or a “phase”. Seek medical attention! I ignored the warning signs and wished I hadn’t.
As always, we at OKCMB recommend talking to your doctor first to discuss any medical concerns. Every situation is unique. We are not physicians, and we are just sharing a personal experience, not offering medical advice with this post.