‘I was crying uncontrollably. There was no heartbeat. I tried to pray, but all I could say was ‘Hail Mary,’ over and over. It felt like a sick joke.’: Mom loses son to pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, ‘He would have turned 7 this year’

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“It’s been 7 years since I experienced my near-miss and lost my baby boy, Peter Joseph. In light of that, I’d like to share my story in my own words.

In case you are not aware, a maternal near-miss is defined by the World Health Organization as ‘an event in which a pregnant woman comes close to maternal death but does not die.’ There are several criteria and I met two of them. This has been difficult to wrap my mind around since I did not realize at the time how close I came to dying. The more time I spend in the world of advocacy, and the more I learn about preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, the more it blows my mind I’m still here, mostly unscathed. It truly is a miracle.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was September 29, 2012, and I had been feeling really tired and sore that week. Just on a whim, I took a pregnancy test while Nick was preparing to head to work. After a minute or so, both lines came back very clearly. I was pregnant! I ran to show Nick and I could barely speak. All I could do was shove the test in his face and say, ‘Look!’ He was elated. I immediately called my parents and they came to celebrate with me. Later that day, we told his parents as well.

I went to the doctor and had it confirmed. I was indeed pregnant! Unfortunately, my progesterone levels were pretty low. Nick began giving me progesterone shots, but around 8 or 9 weeks, my levels dropped dangerously low. We feared I was going to miscarry. After all, my mom had four miscarriages. I was the only child that had survived. It was a very scary time, but eventually, my levels went back up. I was referred to the high-risk obstetrics group since I only had one kidney and had pelvic surgery before.

From the beginning, I remember I felt very ill. I immediately began retaining fluid and swelling much more than was expected at that point. I was nauseous all the time, although I never got sick. I developed vertigo (inner-ear dizziness) and had to miss a lot of work. I was working for a temp agency at the time, and I feared telling them the news. I struggled to keep silent and give excuses, but eventually, I was forced to tell them the news. About 3 to 4 weeks after that, I was let go for reasons I do not understand.

Our friends were so excited for us! Then, two close friends of ours had their baby, who they knew had anencephaly, a congenital birth defect where the brain and skull do not form. He passed away shortly after birth. It was so hard to be there for them and think of my own little child inside. I remember sitting in the last pew of the funeral at the church, sobbing uncontrollably while holding on to Nick. I prayed, ‘Dear God, please don’t let this happen to us. I could never handle losing our baby.’

A month later, I was feeling a bit better and was over vertigo. We needed the money, so I went back to Macy’s where I had worked before. After 2 weeks, I already had to go to the hospital and get checked out for pelvic pain. My back and feet were so sore, I was forced to quit.

After this, we were able to have our first detailed ultrasound at 16 weeks. I was in love! We did not know the gender yet, but we knew he was perfect in every way. I also began to feel Peter moving at 16 weeks, much earlier than anyone else I knew. Once I began feeling him, I was so excited! It was like the pregnancy became real. Although I was having a lot of back pain due to pinched nerves, I began shopping for baby things. We decided we wanted to find out the gender of our baby.

Around 18 weeks (end of December), I was having so much back pain, they decided to do another ultrasound that is normally reserved for 20-week pregnancies. During this, we found out we were having a boy! I have never seen Nick so proud! My mom and I began looking for blue baby boy clothes, and Nick and I decided on the name Peter.

The month of January became more and more difficult for me as the pregnancy progressed. I had to spend a lot of time in bed and my swelling really got worse. Eventually, my morning sickness came back and I just did not feel right. I had a doctor’s visit on January 28 and was given a clean bill of health. After this, I really took a turn for the worse, but none of my symptoms were unusual for pregnancy. I had no idea at the time how sick I really was.

On Saturday, February 2, 2013, I woke up, made breakfast, and then developed a splitting headache. I had migraines in the past, but this one was pretty bad. I made Nick turn off all the lights, the TV, and everything, and went to sleep hoping that would help. When I woke up, it was worse. I was seeing all kinds of weird shapes in my vision (auras). I was sensitive to light and sound, and I felt really nauseous. I stayed in bed all day, and when my in-laws invited us to dinner, I stayed home and told Nick to go without me. My swelling got worse, as did my headache.

I called my mom after he left, and she suggested calling the physician line for our OBGYN group. Maybe they could recommend something. I got a call back from the doctor and she suggested I come into maternity triage at the hospital to get checked out and maybe they could give me something for my headache. I called Nick and told him to finish dinner and get home. Little did I know, this would be my last time at home for over 2 weeks.

When we arrived at the hospital, my blood pressure was 164/99. The nurse let me rest for a while and took the blood pressure every 15 minutes. They tested my blood and urine and waited for the results. We waited in a very hot room and I almost passed out. My blood pressure did not go down, and when they got my urine test back, the protein was 0.8. The norm is 0.3 or below. The resident doctor came in and told me I might have preeclampsia. I was admitted for observation for 24 hours. I had heard of it but had never bothered to read up about it since it only happens to 5% of women.

We called our parents, who started heading to the hospital, and I got a room in the Special Care OB unit. When I got to the room, my blood pressure was 180/110, and the nurse called the resident. They gave me blood pressure medicine through my IV, which had taken five painful tries and two people to put in because of my severe swelling. I had to collect a 24-hour urine sample and measure my input and output. Our parents left at 3 a.m. and we tried to sleep. So many people came in and out, checking my blood pressure, taking blood for testing, asking what I wanted to eat on the menu, etc.

The next day, my blood pressure was still up, but not as high. I was given an oral medicine to take for that and was put on strict bed rest. The rest of that day was a blur because I did not feel well, and several people came to visit me. Nick was able to be with me and stay at night because I did not have a roommate. I was told I would be there until the next day at least.

That Monday, the results of my 24-hour urine test came back still elevated. My head still hurt and my blood pressure was in the 150s, even with medicine. The doctor released me that afternoon, saying I would have to be on bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy. My parents took me home to stay at their house because Nick was working two jobs and couldn’t take care of me. I slept fitfully and woke up the next morning feeling really bad, but not being able to pinpoint why. I took my blood pressure with my parents’ cuff and got a reading of 215/120. I called the doctor’s office and they made an appointment for me that morning.

At the hospital, I tried to walk up the entrance and started to blackout. My mom got me a wheelchair and we got up to the doctor’s office. My blood pressure was 165/100 and I was extremely lightheaded. The doctor admitted me to the hospital, back to the same room again. My mom was staying with me day and night, and Nick and the rest of our family were visiting when they could.

By the time I saw a doctor next, I was told I definitely had preeclampsia and I would be staying at the hospital for the rest of my pregnancy, which they were hoping would be to about 36 weeks. I would be on strict bed rest and monitored constantly. I was 23 weeks along, so I was preparing for a long haul. Over 3 months in the hospital was a daunting prospect, but I could not have imagined what was ahead of me.

The rest of the week was a blur, with more tests and up and down days. They gave me a series of steroid shots to help improve Peter’s lung growth, in case he had to come out early. They also sent in a NICU doctor to give me a terrifying talk in the middle of the night about the fact there was a 20% survival rate at 23 weeks and if Peter was born before 24 weeks, they normally do not resuscitate. We prayed I could make it to 24 weeks and celebrated when I finally did. Peter was passing all of his tests with flying colors.

On the weekend, my mom took a break and Nick stayed with me the whole time. On Sunday, my headache was worse, but I was okay until that night. My mom was back with me and we had just decorated my new, big single room. My mom had gotten a blowup mattress to stay with me at night. It was going to be a long night.

As we readied for bed, I started coughing (from pulmonary edema) and saw blurriness and black dots in my vision. I did not feel well and had the nurse check my blood pressure. It was in the 150s. I laid down again, but I still could not sleep. The yucky feeling I had begun to associate with high blood pressure got worse. I finally woke my mom up and called the nurse again to check me. My blood pressure was 168/107. The nurse called the doctor, who had me take another dose of medicine, and we waited about 30 minutes to check it again. It was higher at 174/111. Another dose of medicine and it was up to 180 now. What was happening? The medicine was supposed to make it go down, not up. I took another dose and it was still in the 170s. My head was killing me, and I felt terrible. They sent for the anesthesiologist to try and run another IV into my swollen and bruised hands. The doctor ordered another blood pressure medicine through IV because I had maxed out on the other one. Finally, my blood pressure had gone down to the 140s and I could sleep. That was almost the worst night of my life and my nurse spent almost the whole night in there trying to stabilize me.

When I woke up that Monday for breakfast, my head hurt so badly, it hurt to hold it up. The doctor was concerned and ordered a consult with a neurologist. They also ordered morphine for my headache. It did not help much, and I hallucinated when I had it. All I wanted was to sleep but people kept coming in to see me about this or that. My vision was blurry, and I was sensitive to light. I was severely swollen, and my acne was worse than I had ever seen it. I did not want to look in the mirror because I did not even recognize myself. I looked about 9 months pregnant due to all the extra fluid and I could barely open my eye. I kept having nosebleeds and my nose was swollen shut.

Later that night, my mother-in-law came to visit after work. My head still hurt really badly, but I had at least had a chance to nap. I began to feel lightheaded and really out of it. I do not remember what they talked about at all. I started to get dark shadowy shapes in my vision and wavy lines in my line of sight. I felt so bad, I could not even speak to say how bad I felt. I had bad pain where my liver was, which had been going on for a while. My vision started to go somewhat dim. At this point, I had an out of body experience. I thought I was going to die.f

The nurse came in to take my blood pressure and it was in the 160s again. My second 24-hour urine test revealed that my protein level was up. At this point, I was developing HELLP syndrome. The doctor wanted to give me the IV blood pressure medicine again, but they had to monitor Peter’s heart rate too. Suddenly, his heart rate began to dip. The nurse said he might have sat on his umbilical cord. It went back up, but it went down again. She called the resident to take a look. His heart rate was going up and down and my blood pressure was still high. They decided to send me to labor and delivery so I could have a nurse with me at all times.

When we got to the room, the resident checked my belly with an ultrasound machine and could not find a heartbeat at all. Before I knew it, the resident, nurses, and I were running down the hall like in a movie. I was crying uncontrollably because there was no heartbeat. I tried to pray, but all I could say was ‘Hail Mary,’ over and over. My nurse from the other unit stayed with me and just held my hand, telling me I wasn’t alone.

When we got to the operating room, about 10 to 15 people gathered around me. They practically ripped my clothes off, started an IV in another spot, and had me lie down on the operating table. People started asking me questions all at once. I could hardly remember my name, let alone what time my last meal was. I was so scared. They hooked me up to a fetal monitor and there was his heartbeat. I nearly passed out. I remember someone slapping my cheek a little. They tied me to the operating table and put my hands out. My head was hurting so bad and I was barely conscious. What was going on? Things were moving so fast, I could not keep up.

The doctor told me we were going to monitor Peter’s heart rate for 30 minutes and if it dipped again, they would put me under and get him out immediately. Somehow my mom begged and pleaded enough, and they let her in. She had to suit up first like the nurses and doctors. When she came in, I was completely naked on the table and shaking uncontrollably. She got them to cover me with a warm blanket, held my hand, and told me Nick and the rest of the grandparents were on their way. 30 minutes went by with no more problems. Dr. S told me I was so sick, Peter was being affected and he needed to come out tonight. They would wait until Nick was there and I was stabilized to do the c-section. They needed to check my platelet count before they decided whether or not I could have an epidural. My nurse finally left after staying past the end of her shift to be with me.

Finally, everyone arrived after I had gotten back to my room. We were excited we would see our son that night, but really scared to have him come out so early. I was so sick still, I don’t remember much of that time. Nick suited up to come to the delivery with me. The doctor came in to give me an epidural (my platelets were just barely high enough) and the nurse did a few other things to ready me for surgery. Then it was time to go.

I was told the deacon from our church had arrived to baptize Peter right after he was born. When I was in the operating room, Nick held my hand. I was able to be awake for the surgery. There were at least 15 people in there, between the surgical staff and the NICU staff. At 10:22 p.m., we heard the doctor say, ‘Baby,’ and a nurse ran across the room with Peter in her arms. There was no crying, no sound at all, and I had no idea if he was alive or not. After they had stabilized him, they invited Nick over to see him. He took a picture on his phone so I could see our son. He was so tiny. I’m told he was baptized in his tiny incubator as soon as he was stable. It took about 25 to 30 minutes for them to finish closing me up, but it felt like forever. They put me on a drip of magnesium sulfate to help lower my blood pressure and prevent me from having seizures. The mag caused my nervous system to slow down so I fell asleep every few minutes.

I went back to the labor and delivery room and I remember my throat and mouth were so dry, but they wouldn’t let me have a drink. Finally, I was able to get some ice chips. The rest was a blur. My family told me I fell asleep in mid-sentence. I don’t remember much of anything. I was completely paralyzed from the ribcage down, due to the epidural. A room was made ready for me where the rest of the new mothers stay. On the way there, they took me, bed and all, into the NICU to meet Peter. I was so out of it, I hardly remember anything. He was so tiny and helpless. He weighed 1 pound 3 ounces and measured 11 and a half inches, barely larger than my hand. He was on a ventilator and a feeding tube.

When we got settled in the room, Nick was so tired he fell asleep right away. I was on and off asleep because of the magnesium. My parents went down to clear out my other room and take everything to the car. A nurse was monitoring me closely. She gave me some juice and graham crackers. I fell asleep with food in my mouth and with a drink in my hand, spilling everywhere.

When we woke up, we were told Peter was doing really well. Nick went down to visit him while I rested. My swelling had gotten so bad. My feet looked like balloons and the skin was stretched so much, it hurt. I could not even sit up without help. A lactation consultant came in to teach me about pumping milk for Peter, but I was so groggy, we had to ask her to come back later. My blood pressure had gone down and I was starting to lose fluid, but I was still a mess. I only got to see Peter once that day, but I got to encircle him with my hand. He started to move like crazy when I talked to him. His body was so perfect, despite the fact he was so tiny. We were so proud of him for being such a fighter. We rested well that night, knowing our son was safe.

The next day, we were told he was very sick and that evening, the NICU doctor came up to my room to tell us to get down there right away to help him stabilize. The first time we got to hold him was also the last. He kept getting worse and worse. Later that evening, we had to make the tremendously difficult decision to remove life support. We were shocked and heartbroken to have lost our first child.

We both crashed that night. I woke to find my milk had come in for the baby I would never get to feed. We cried as we heard the sound of a baby crying in the next room. The nurses and grief counselors were very helpful, but there was not much anyone could do to ease our pain. It was very hard to be in a room in the mother-baby unit. It just reminded us constantly our baby was gone. On the way down to the car, we rode with a mom who was taking her baby home. All I could do was cry. To make things worse, I ended up with postpartum pre-eclampsia at about 5 weeks postpartum, although it was mild and did not require a hospital stay.

After going through my traumatic birth experience, I saw a series of counselors. I was just so shocked what was supposed to be a happy time ended up being a nightmare and ultimately, a tragedy. I ended up with flashbacks to some of the more traumatic parts of my illness and loss and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. I didn’t think my heart could ever be whole again. I felt so different than my other friends who were moms. They had their children, but I didn’t. It all felt like a sick joke.

All of my writing and my advocacy is done in memory of my son, Peter, and so other moms get to bring home their babies. He would have turned 7 this year and been in 1st grade.”

Courtesy Lauren Doud

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lauren Doud. Visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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