How I Remained True To Jehovah’s Witness Faith During My HELLP Syndrome Diagnosis

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Pregnancy Complications

“I will start by saying this: While I view it as an amazing privilege to carry human life, it’s not my favorite thing. I never felt cute and glowy, I felt fat and sweaty. My back hurt, I was nauseated and just generally didn’t feel good.

The kicks and pokes were amazing except for the ones that came at 2 a.m. when my little ones were rocking a rave inside my expanding uterus and doing the jive on my bladder. I was filled with worry the entire time. I had miscarried once before, and I have a bunch of random weird diseases, and my biggest fear and hold-back in having children was passing one of these on to them.

In my first pregnancy I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease and spent my entire pregnancy terrified I was making my baby sick (you can pass on what is called Neonatal Graves’ disease, meaning your child is born with Graves because they have antibodies in their system). I felt like I was failing parenthood before I had really begun.

Pregnant Jehovah's witness with Graves’ Disease takes mirror selfie
Courtesy Jessica Rasimas

In the end, my disease did affect my firstborn. I had what is called Intrauterine Growth Restriction also known as IUGR. Basically, my body stops feeding my children because it’s nice like that. ‘You’ve fed off me long enough, fend for yourself’ type of deal.

It went undetected in my first pregnancy, thankfully the little stinker decided to come early on his own as most babies under these circumstances don’t have the stamina once their food supply is cut short and they are often stillborn. That thought still chills me.

He came at 37 weeks and 3 days. His labor was long and intense and just when I felt like there was no way to continue and they would have to forcibly remove the little guy, out he came, and I felt like a champ.

After many hours and a whole lot of pain, the second was out into the world. Everything stopped – the pain, and really my whole world. I knew at that moment I wanted to do that again.

My Second Pregnancy

Flash forward 7 months. I thought I had the flu, I was Facetiming my mom and mentioned that the dog was acting weird. The last time he behaved that way I was pregnant… Wait a second (insert instant nausea here). So yes, I wanted another baby, not that quickly though!

I hadn’t slept in 7 months. I freaked out, and then the morning sickness hit. I was already 8 weeks pregnant and morning sickness hit hard in week 9 and lasted until week 22. Fun times.

I saw a specialist in Calgary where my first was born. They termed me high risk due to the IUGR that I had with my first pregnancy and wanted me to stay in Calgary to be monitored closely. Ultrasounds and doctor visits every 2 weeks until the last month, and then the doctor’s visits were upped to weekly.

At 34 weeks gestation, I was put on bed rest and had daily calls with an acute care nurse. Every second day I had non-stress tests to monitor the baby and if I was having any contractions as well as check my blood pressure.

The only symptom I had of preeclampsia was elevated blood pressure. I was on medication to control my blood pressure as well as my Graves’ disease, neither of which was working. My blood pressure while on the high side wasn’t critical.

I had no signs of swelling and no proteins or markers for kidney or liver issues in my urine or blood. For 10 days I had contractions every 10 minutes all day and all night with no signs of progression and no dilation.

At 35 weeks and 6 days, I had my weekly doctor appointment with no scheduled ultrasound. I remember saying that morning that the baby was still moving but it wasn’t the same. He had slowed down as if he was conserving his energy.

My instincts were telling me that something was wrong. I went to my appointment. I had shown no weight gain and hadn’t gained inches in my tummy. Baby’s head had not dropped down low yet either.

I told my nurse and then my doctor that I wanted an ultrasound and if they wouldn’t do it, I would go to every emergency room in the city to get one if I had to because something felt wrong. They agreed to do an ultrasound, which revealed he had not grown in the week since his last ultrasound. It meant that my IUGR was in full swing and if they didn’t deliver him, he would not survive.

Inducing My Labor

It was 4:30 p.m. and they told me to be at the hospital at 7:00 p.m. as they were going to induce me. I went home and got my bag, saw my 14-month-old and my mom to then head to the hospital. I was nervous. With my first baby, there were no nerves, just excitement.

This time something just didn’t feel quite right and instead of squeezing my first baby, I was grumpy. To this day I hate myself for that. That could have been the last time I held him. The last memory I would have left him with was of a grumpy mom.

We waited forever to get a room, everything seemed fine and they took some base bloodwork. I remember getting nervous and telling my mom that if it ended in a C-section they should tie my tubes because me and babies don’t mix well. Boy was I right, little did I know I was about to have the scariest experience of my life.

We finally got into a labor room around 11:00 p.m. I had a nurse hooking me up to the baby monitor and the blood pressure machine. She explained how she normally did not work in labor and delivery, but they were short-staffed.

One of the OBs came in and explained they would first try to induce me by breaking my water. She tried several times but was unsuccessful. I was barely dilated, and the baby hadn’t dropped enough for them to reach. She told me she was going to order that I be started on Oxytocin to hopefully get the process started.

They started the Oxytocin around 12:15 a.m. and took some more blood work at the same time. Corey, my husband arrived right around that time. I started getting some contractions about 20 minutes later along with some pain in my upper right abdomen that wasn’t going away.

It wasn’t like a contraction in that it didn’t come in waves, it was constant. I started to complain, I asked to use laughing gas. It wasn’t helping me focus and breath through the pain, which was steadily getting worse. My mom knew then that something wasn’t right.

I could tell the nurse thought I was just a wuss and wasn’t taking it seriously, she gave me some fentanyl, but it didn’t do anything either. She then recommended an epidural, I agreed and remember thinking that they should do it now because I was pretty sure they were going to have to do a C-section anyways. I was certain something was wrong at this point.

The anesthesiologist came in and he gave me a walking epidural. At this point, he walked around in front of me, and his demeanor changed. He got really quiet and serious as he looked from the blood pressure monitor back at me, and then back to the monitor again.

He quietly told the nurse to get a doctor in there now. I glanced at the blood pressure machine and for some reason, the numbers remain very clear in my mind. 254/137.

I knew that something was very wrong and that I could stroke out or have a seizure at any point. They started a magnesium sulfate drip (which let me tell you makes you feel like garbage) and I remember telling my mom it hurt so bad I couldn’t breathe. I started telling her I was sorry, sorry because I thought she was going to have to watch me die, sorry because I was leaving my babies behind.

Three doctors came into the room holding paperwork and looking scared. I remember looking the one who tried to break my water in the eyes and saying, ‘You have to get this baby out of me.’ She looked at me and said, ‘We’re going to do that right now.’

She then said loudly, ‘She’s a Jehovah’s Witness, NO BLOOD LET’S GO.’ As a Jehovah’s Witness, we don’t accept blood transfusions. The anesthesiologist who evidently had not read my file was very upset by this, claiming he did not know.

He got in my face and told me I was leaving my children without a mother, and that I was going to die on that table. He said, ‘This is as bad as it gets. Are you sure that’s the choice you want to make?’

I knew I had to be calm if I wanted him to believe me. I felt a calm I have never felt before, I told him I understood and that yes, I was sure of my choice. He went over to my mom and gave her the same speech. She, like me, kept her cool.

Emergency C-Section

The next thing I knew we were on the move. They were running as fast as they could and yelling for people to move out of the way.

Suddenly I was in a very bright, white room with a window on one side that had blinds that were closed. The anesthesiologist put his hand on my forehead and told me he couldn’t put me out because if your brain gives up, so does your body. He explained this would be very painful and all he could do was try to numb it.

He continued talking to me and trying to keep me awake. I felt them cut into me, wow was that something else. It felt like they were using a red-hot knife like I was being burned open.

I felt some pulling and tugging and pressure and then a teary-eyed Corey was standing next to me. The anesthesiologist told him to keep me talking. I felt a yank and knew that the baby was out of me.

I asked in a panic, ‘is he breathing, is he breathing?!?’ then I heard the loudest cry and knew he was at least breathing. It was then the tiredness tried to consume me.

Corey asked what I wanted to name him. I remember mumbling I don’t know, and then Sullivan. They cleaned him up, wrapped him up, and brought him near my face, Corey asked if I wanted him to stay with me, while the nurses took Sullivan to the NICU to have him checked. I told him to not let that baby out of his sight, to make sure he was ok.

I could see my mom in the window that now had the blinds up on my left. I could tell by her face she was seeing too much of what was being done to me and that she was crying. I was hit hard by the pain and the desire to just fall asleep or pass out.

The anesthesiologist again urged me to stay awake, he kept asking me things and I kept thinking there was no way the human body can survive so much pain. To give you a sense of how urgent it was for me to receive the care I needed, the time between getting the epidural and having the C-section was less than 10 minutes. The anesthesiologist walked into the room around 1:00 a.m., and my son was born at 1:08 a.m.

Newborn lays in NICU with nurses monitoring him
Courtesy Jessica Rasimas

Maternity ICU Stay

They closed me up and immediately took me down to CT to check my liver, they stapled me closed because they were sure my liver would rupture and they would have to go back in and try to repair the damage.

I was taken to the maternity ICU where I had a nurse watching over me 24 hours a day. The following morning, I was taken to another CT, x-ray, and ultrasound all to check my liver and lungs. My heart rate and blood pressure were still high, my liver enzymes had climbed overnight.

When I went in my LD enzymes were 151 and by an hour before delivery, they were 1761, and the next morning they hit 1842. That was the peak, they later told me they don’t know how my liver took that much of a beating without giving up.

My hemoglobin was also very low, and my kidneys showed some damage based on the protein in my urine and the markers in my bloodwork though they held up much better than my liver did. My platelets were the biggest concern as they could cause me to bleed out and due to my stand on blood, there would be nothing they could do.

I had faith that no matter the outcome I would be safe in Jehovah’s memory. Normal levels for platelets are between 150,000 and 400,000 mine dropped to 27,000. If Sullivan had not been delivered when he was, I would have faced liver rupture and bled out, I could have had a massive stroke, seizures, brain bleeds, and kidney failure.

I was fortunate in that none of those things happened. My placenta abrupted right as they were delivering, and they were able to cauterize and prevent a massive hemorrhage which can happen even when your platelets are at a healthy level.

HELLP Syndrome Awareness

To this day it boggles my mind how we escaped some crazy things and managed to survive. Somehow my tough little stinker never once went into distress and for that, I am so grateful.

Often times the baby does not survive under these circumstances and worse yet more than 25% of these cases end in maternal death and 60% of babies do not survive. 25% doesn’t sound like much but when you think about it these are the odds: It happens in less than 1% of pregnancies. In Alberta about 55,000 babies are born each year, 5 women will face HELLP syndrome and of those 5 women, 2 will lose their life as well as 3 babies.

I believe a large part of my survival was my refusal to let my body give up, I was determined to hold my babies. I also knew my body and knew that something wasn’t right so I pushed for someone to listen.

Another factor is that a little over one month before my fight with HELLP another mother had been in the same situation as me. Only 14 minutes after her arrival at the hospital she was in a coma and 4 days later was declared brain dead. Because my excellent team of doctors recognized what was happening and knew they had to act fast it potentially saved my life.

It breaks my heart that she lost her life and her daughter has to grow up without her mom, and that because she died maybe I lived. For months I have grappled with these feelings. How do you make the most painful terrifying experience of your life and the moment your child is born (one of the greatest moments in your life) live in the same memory? If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Aerial view of Jehovah's witness woman holding newborn in NICU
Courtesy Jessica Rasimas

For now, I cope as best as I can, trying to be kind to myself and allow myself to grieve and deal with the aftermath of such a traumatic experience. My surgeons told us we could all (myself, my husband, and my mom) expect to have some PTSD and we definitely did. As his birthday gets closer and closer, I find myself reliving the experience over and over.

I don’t want to scare mothers to be, what I want to do is make them aware, that when things go bad in pregnancy they can happen too fast and come from nowhere. I want them to think about what could happen if they go to the doctor because something doesn’t feel right, and it turns out everything is fine vs. what could happen if they don’t act on those feelings? What good is a medical system if we are afraid to use it???

You are your own best advocate and you are the voice your child doesn’t yet have, listen to your body, trust yourself to know your body better than anyone else, and then push for the care you and your baby deserve.

You will never regret someone looking at you like you are paranoid and a worried mom because maybe you are, but I can promise you will regret nothing doing everything you can if something is wrong, why take the chance? I was called paranoid, but paranoia saved my life, so it doesn’t bother me one bit.

Motherhood is the most wonderfully frustrating thing I’ve ever done. It has amazing and beautiful moments and some days I want to rip my hair out because I’ve talked to a 2-year-old about poop all day and I’m covered in a baby’s spit up and who knows what else, my house is a mess, there’s no supper and laundry for a year.

Try to find the good in each day and when you find yourself feeling like a failure, call another mom and vent, tell someone how you are feeling. Self-care isn’t selfish. If you don’t care for yourself how can you care for tiny humans?

It’s ok to feel sad, mad, happy, and anything else. What isn’t ok is not talking about it and dealing with it in a way that will help keep everyone happy and healthy. And on days that you feel like you’re getting it all wrong here’s a quote from an awesome lady to keep in mind: ‘Stop allowing your fear of getting it wrong to color every beautiful thing you are doing right.’ – Rachel Hollis”

Jehovah's witness mother sits in chair with first born asleep in one arm and newborn asleep in other
Courtesy Jessica Rasimas

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Rasimas of Calgary, Canada. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more stories like this:

‘The OB showed me a second baby—twins! At 33 weeks, I had a feeling something wasn’t right.’: Mom survives HELLP syndrome to deliver twins

‘No matter what you do, don’t go home, go straight to the hospital.’ Next thing we were hearing, ‘It’s your baby or your wife.’: After 3 angel babies, mom survives Severe HELLP syndrome to birth miracle preemie

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